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Last week, Newsnight editor Ian Katz mistakenly made public a Twitter comment intended to be private. In describing the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury as “boring, snoring Rachel Reeves”, he went beyond embarrassing himself and his programme, he pointed up a tendency which diminishes a great deal more than politics.
Reeves, who had just returned to frontline politics from maternity leave, had prepared herself with for the interview with a proper sense of seriousness: “What do you want from the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury?”, she asked. “I really prepare for every interview I do. I make sure I know all of my facts. I guess what I don't do is think: 'How can I make this sound really glamorous or exciting?' Because I don't think that's what people want. Glamorous and exciting are probably not two things you'd want from someone in charge of public finances. You want someone who's steady, who's serious, who's responsible – and I hope that I tick those boxes. I'm not a pop star or a movie star or a comedian, so I'm going to continue to be serious about the issues, and take them seriously.”
It is an attitude for which no one should need to apologise and which should be received with the respect it deserves. Serious work merits a serious response and the growing tendency to treat with levity or scorn anything which makes a demand on attention and intellect is dispiriting. Because there is a place for the light and the easy, that does not mean that it must be ubiquitous nor that its antithesis must be equated with tedium or eupnoea. Richard Hoggart's comment on seeing a rack of CDs in his local library labelled 'easy listening' sticks with me: “How about 'difficult listening, but worth it'?”
Seriousness may be daunting. It may be inappropriate in some situations but without it, we easily fall into a shallow, shrieking hedonism which has nothing to do with that refreshing lightness of spirit which must have space to frolic if we are to be whole.
Most which has worth asks reciprocal effort of us – whether in understanding political thinking and policy making or in nourishing engagement with a great work of music, art or literature. It is in that interchange that dignity is conferred on us as co-creators. Seek always to be entertained or titillated and that is all you will get. To make that a habit of life is a chosen impoverishment.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet