A government-backed advertisement appeared on social media indicating a ballerina could retrain in cyber security. The advert depicted a ballet dancer tying her shoes with the caption “Fatima’s next job could be in tech (she just doesn’t know it yet).” The campaign promised to equip people “with the essential cyber skills needed to set you on a rewarding career path”.
Essentially, this advert encourages workers in creative industries to, as the tagline states: “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” due to the job market being thwarted by Covid-19.
The entire campaign was terribly executed and has since been pulled after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden disowned it, describing it as “crass”. A chorus of officials agreed, with one number 10 Downing Street spokesperson admitting it was “not appropriate”.
Speaking as someone who has friends in this sector and has seen how incredibly dedicated they are to their craft, I understand the uproar that this advert has quite rightly caused.
The use of a ballet dancer for this advertisement is particularly unnerving; it is no secret how physically and mentally intense being a ballerina can be. Ballerinas subject their bodies to grueling measures; from the hours spent training everyday to building up the strength to perform certain moves, ballet is not something to underestimate.
In the AOL original series, City Ballet, one particularly determined ballet dancer had 3 surgeries on her ankle, surgery on left knee and her lungs collapsed due to the extent she was pushing herself to become a better dancer. This is a common occurrence among dancers. Many suffer from lifelong disabilities. Behind the ethereal image they convey, is the strength and stamina needed to excel in this art.
Mentally, this craft can become draining, with many ballerinas speaking out about feeling pressured to maintain a particular shape and diet to maintain the elegant ballerina look. This is not just a hobby. Ballet dancers are dedicated athletes and should be treated with respect.
Imagine being so dedicated to fulfill your dream that you endure the crushed feet, the relentless hours training and muster the strength to continue after rejection in an extremely competitive industry, to then be told you should think about retraining in another government-backed sector. Several charities warned that there has been a significant rise in depression and anxiety levels among the countries musicians and road crew.
Even the making of this advert is contradictory in itself – the campaign wouldn’t have existed if the creative industries ceased to exist. Multiple sectors of the arts industry were needed to create the poster: the layout by a graphic designer, clothes and shoes by a fashion designer, make-up and hair by a make up artist and of course a ballet dancer.
Since this ad surfaced, there have been multiple memes making fun of the ad. One stated “Rishi’s next job could be in Wagamama (he just doesn’t know it yet)”. Another was edited and shared on twitter says “Fatima could keep the job she loves (if the government decided to give a f***).
The US photographer of the image used, Krys Alex, was unaware that her image was being used until the advert began to be criticised on social media. She spoke about being “devastated” that her image was being used in this way.
The Chancellor of Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has since denied encouraging workers in the arts industry to retrain. He claims that he was merely speaking generally about the need for some workers to “adapt” and highlighting “fresh and new opportunities” for people who can no longer do their old job.
It seems evident to me that in times of hardship the government needs to treasure the creative industries more than ever before. The arts sector brings in billions of pounds and is a massive export globally for the UK – we rely upon them. Perhaps the government, and everyone else involved in this tone deaf campaign, should spare a moment to consider the richness the arts bring to our national culture before callously discarding the trade.
Words By Pia Cooper