“The media and creative industries aren’t representative of real people and their lives.”
Discussing the flaws in New Labour ideology, Nathalie Olah speaks just as she writes: astutely and with a keen eye for the analytical. Brought up in a working-class family in Birmingham, Nathalie studied English Literature at Oxford University before moving to London to work as a journalist.
Frustrated by the disproportionately middle- class environments she encountered as a student and young professional, she wrote Steal As Much As You Can: How to Win the Culture Wars in an Age of Austerity in 2019. Diagnosing the ways in which austerity and middle-class hegemony impoverished the arts throughout the 2010s, she concludes the book with a hopeful gesture towards the future. Rejecting the imperative towards assimilation, she encourages working-class creatives to defiantly “steal as much as they can” from a system that stacks the odds against them.
Your book has a powerful political message so I’m curious, when did you first become politically engaged?
I think I always have been. When I was a kid I used to watch things on the news and ask my parents about them. I came of age when Tony Blair came to power and, because that was a very strange time, my political engagement has just built from there.
And when did you start becoming aware of the scale of class inequality in the UK?
I went to Oxford University, which is obviously full of really posh people. Even then I didn’t think of myself as a working-class person, I just experienced a huge amount of prejudice and felt very out of place. It’s only as I became older that I realised the reason was that I came from a different class.
Is this where the idea for Steal As Much As You Can came from?
It was just an expression of everything I’d been thinking and feeling over the previous decade. Hundreds of people I knew felt the same way, so I was wondering why it hadn’t ever been put down on paper and turned into a book.
What were you hoping to achieve?
I wanted to write it as an act of solidarity with anyone who feels the same and to allow people who read it to feel angry and bitter and to not shy away from that. I wanted to empower the next generation to use these feelings in their creative and artistic output.
Steal As Much As You Can feels like an important tool for a lot of people working in the creative industries but do you think that, in the age of social media, writing like this holds the same influence it once did?
I think writing definitely does have the power to change things still. Articles still go viral and I’m always excited about how analytical and critical a lot of them are. People are reading and there is a huge appetite for critique.
How do you think we can begin to change the UK’s creative industries and media sector for the better?
The private sector only accounts for seven percent of all schools in the UK, but most of the staff of magazines and newspapers come from private school. That’s an issue because it means that the media and creative industries aren’t representative of real people and their lives. There needs to be more pressure on companies to hire people from state schools and working or lower-middle-class backgrounds.
12 June 2020