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Fatima cyber ad

A brief explainer on the government’s dystopian Fatima cyber ad

The culture secretary has been forced to distance himself from a poster suggesting a ballet dancer retrain, as thousands criticise parliament’s continual belittling of the arts

Last week, a tweet by ITV News attributed a quote to Rishi Sunak, in which the chancellor appeared to suggest that those in the creative industries who have been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic should simply retrain and find other jobs. The broadcaster later deleted the tweet, clarifying that Sunak was referencing workers in “all walks of life”, as opposed to just in the arts.

This edit doesn’t make the message any less callous. As writer Tristan Cross said in a Dazed op-ed last week: “Having Sunak effectively shrug and tell you, ‘Your career is no longer viable, find another’, as your entire professional livelihood abruptly immolates in front of you is not much of a comfort.”

Now, the government appears to have doubled down on its ignorant belittling of workers, with an ad campaign encouraging people to retrain in cyber security. One poster in particular has drawn mass criticism – it features a photo of a ballerina, with the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet).”

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has been forced to distance himself from the campaign, which he says is “crass” and was not created by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. In a statement, he continued: “This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security. I want to save jobs in the arts, which is why we are investing £1.57 billion.” Confusingly, a Downing Street spokesperson has also criticised the ad, asserting it’s “not appropriate” and has now been taken down.

However, as pointed out by former antisocial behaviour officer and author, Nick Pettigrew, the viral ballerina ad seems to be part of a 2019 government campaign, which targeted those in other industries, not just the arts. Replying to those on Twitter who observed that the campaign references events from 2020, Pettigrew linked to a report which confirms that the campaign ran from April 2019 to March 2020.

The campaign – which also features retail workers and labourers – is being reshared in light of Sunak’s comments, in order to highlight the cruelty underlining current Tory policy on retraining. It’s also shared against a backdrop in which unemployment is at its highest level in two years, youth unemployment is on course to more than triple, and fresh lockdown measures could see another swathe of workers lose their jobs.

The nightlife industry is already reporting major losses due to the government’s 10PM curfew – a rule which has been criticised as “arbitrary”, and which is facing legal challenges. England’s night time economy and hospitality industry leaders are also preparing to challenge new lockdown restrictions, which could see pubs, bars, and restaurants closed in areas with rising infection rates.

Last week (October 4), Cineworld announced that it was having to close all of its cinemas indefinitely, due to the postponement of the new James Bond movie, threatening the jobs of some 5,000 employees.

The cyber campaign may also further impact the mental health of UK workers, many of whom are facing uncertain futures in a jobs market that’s experiencing a severe shortage of work – particularly for those in the arts. Over the weekend (October 10), several charities warned that there has been a significant rise in depression and anxiety levels among the country’s musicians and road crew. 

It also stands in contrast with the newly-announced “survival fund” for arts organisations across England. Revealed today, over 1,300 theatres, museums, orchestras, and music venues are set to receive a share of £257 million from the government to help them survive the next six months.

However, while the Tories may posture as doing all they can to support the arts, it’s clear they regard creative jobs as self-indulgent hobbies, as opposed to serious careers. “What if Fatima doesn’t want to work in cyber?” asked one Twitter user. “What if she’d rather continue working in a career that she’s, no doubt, given years of her life to? How about the government realises that the industry she already belongs to is profitable, viable, and world beating?”

“Tories think only *their* kids deserve to join the profession of their dreams,” said Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the editor-at-large of left-wing news site The Canary. “That’s how we’ve ended up with talentless mediocrities across the media-political class. Because while Fatima is expected to bin a life of training for ‘cyber’, little Hyacinth will take her place.”

Memes mocking the ad have quickly spread across social media, suggesting what careers government figures should do instead of ruining the country. “Priti’s next job could be volunteering in Calais,” says one, “Dom’s next job could be in the prison laundry,” reads another, referencing Dominic Cummings’ controversial breach of lockdown rules in May. One edited ad shared on Twitter reads: “Fatima could keep the job she loves (if the government decided to give a fuck).”

The ironic thing about the government’s simultaneous disdain for the arts and boner for the economy is that the creative industries contribute £111.7 billion a year. “The collapse of cultural production would have a disastrous domino effect on all manner of interdependent industries,” Cross continued in his Dazed op-ed, “including those that the Tories traditionally hold dear.”

“Culture is more than an entry in a ledger, a zero in a bank account, a harvested revenue stream, and a glint in an unscrupulous shareholder’s eye,” concluded Cross. “Culture allows us to make sense of our lives, to savour it, and share it with our fellow human beings. Culture is a small recourse to an otherwise miserable existence which would have us wake every morning only to try to make efficient use of ourselves as a unit of capital, a vessel by which this hellish joke we call ‘life’ becomes tolerable, maybe even meaningful. By any measure, it’s not something we can afford to lose.”