An Inspector Calls is Priestley’s call to action: he wrote the play to challenge the social structures that dominated before both world wars; social structures that triumphed class, wealth and gender over our common humanity. The play was his warning against returning to the type of individualistic society which did not consider the needs of the greater good. The broad success of his play, the fact that it is still being taught in schools and shown in theatres, highlights the popularity of its message. However, the play is not representative of a broad section of society: it tells the story of a white upper-middle-class family, and whilst it explores their interactions and relationships with people lower down in the social hierarchy, notably Eva Smith and the Inspector, and to a lesser extent Edna, it does not represent a range of voices; nor does it contain characters who are not white or not British.
Priestley’s play, however, is not alone. There are fears that the arts and theatre in the UK currently are unrepresentative of modern society: those who are able to work in the arts tend to come from privileged backgrounds, something that is no doubt aided by the fact that many of the low-level entry positions are unpaid internships. These fears are backed up by Panic! 2018, a project ‘led by sociologists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield that investigates inequalities in the cultural workforce’. At the core of this project lies a paper, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, which outlines how people of working-class origin have been excluded and continue to be excluded from the creative industries. The paper, which is based on almost ‘300 hours of interviews with creative professionals collected following a national survey in 2015’, touches on various complex issues. Firstly, it outlines the prominence of meritocratic beliefs by those who hold power in the creative industries, which suggests that the situation is unlikely to change as they view effort, not socio-economic background as the root of their success. Secondly, it highlights the continued exclusion of those from working-class origins: in both the 1981 and 2011 census, ‘Young people from upper-middle class origins were disproportionately represented in creative jobs, compared to their numbers in the economy overall’, whilst those from working-class origins were under-represented.
Thirdly, it outlines the dominance of unpaid internships in the cultural industries, which can exclude those who cannot afford to do them. Finally, it draws attention to the differences in taste that exist between those who work in the creative industries and those who don’t. These differences can act as a barrier to getting a job in the arts and can limit the existence of stories that those from working-class backgrounds can relate to. An unrepresentative cultural scene thus becomes a self-perpetuating problem.