Last night, Britain voted to leave the European Union in a stunning upset to those who believe today’s political decisions are made according to John Oliver monologues. Already, the British exit—or as its known by its terrible, mid-’00s nu-rave band name, Brexit—has seen deep ramifications, from David Cameron resigning as prime minister to the world paying attention to Lindsay Lohan. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is thoroughly divided between those “Leave” supporters who view this as a victory for British sovereignty and against “elitists”—as well as their far-right agitators eagerly pushing their anti-immigration agenda—and gobsmacked “Remain” voters who see this as a win only for xenophobia and shortsightedness. With the pound falling to its lowest level in decades, international markets panicking in response, the United Kingdom potentially on the verge of breaking apart, and Liam Gallagher threatening to leave, it’s safe to say that England is in a general state of chaos, with the political and economic reverberations of this thing possibly not becoming clear for years.
But that all sounds super complicated. What does this mean for the average, apolitical, blithely pop-consuming American moron? Here are a few things to consider:
There’s a reason 282 British actors, musicians, authors, and other assorted artists signed a public letter of support for staying in the EU—everyone from Benedict Cumberbatch to Keira Knightley to Patrick Stewart. As they noted, “Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.” With limitations on artistic collaborations across borders—borders that may now require separate working visas to cross—and lack of the EU funding that many British productions rely on, there’s fear that these restrictions could severely hamper their productivity and creativity, which depends on “a vast network of talented people, companies and institutions across Europe.”
Unfortunately, as the Brexit vote marks the one time no one wanted to listen to Patrick Stewart, that vast network could soon find itself having to navigate a host of new financial and legal roadblocks. “This is likely to be devastating for us,” said Michael Ryan, chairman of the Independent Film And Television Alliance, in a statement to Variety. “This decision has just blown up our foundation—as of today, we no longer know how our relationships with co-producers, financiers and distributors will work, whether new taxes will be dropped on our activities in the rest of Europe or how production financing is going to be raised without any input from European funding agencies.”
As with most things in these gibbering, morning-after times, much of that is pure speculation—but as we’ve seen already in the Dow dropping, the not knowing is very much part of the problem. “Producing films and television programs is a very expensive and very risky business and certainty about the rules affecting the business is a must.” Ryan said. And with so much uncertainty in the air, at least in the short term, that production is likely to slow significantly—if not halt altogether, until United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage stops gloating long enough for British people to hear themselves think.
Variety also gathered seven other likely consequences from U.K. industry figures, including the possibility of fewer British films and TV shows being distributed across Europe (and vice versa); difficulties in British productions shooting abroad, and European cast and crew coming to work in England; and the end of financial support from the EU’s Media Program, which helped make movies like Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or-winning I, Daniel Blake possible. Together, these things could translate to smaller budgets, fewer productions overall, and Doctor Who not being able to visit Paris again—all of which are potential negatives for fans of British film and TV, as well as pop culture in general.
It’s likely you heard about this already, as the surest way to get Americans to pay attention to something happening on the other side of the Atlantic is to put it in terms of Game Of Thrones. Even before the vote, dire warnings were issued that HBO could soon decide that filming in the fantasy series’ home of Northern Ireland is way too expensive without backing from EU programs. And yet somehow, this wasn’t enough to sway disenfranchised working-class people in the British midlands. Nor was the public plea for Remain voiced by Daniel Portman, a.k.a. Podrick Payne—despite Podrick being one of the few unreservedly likable characters on that entire goddamn show.
Of course, as with most stories about Game Of Thrones’ future, it’s probably not worth getting all worked up about right now. For one thing, Northern Ireland, like Scotland, didn’t vote to leave the EU—it voted to remain, and again like Scotland, there’s been a call for a referendum on Irish reunification. It’s already been shot down, but point being, there are plenty of other, far more important tangles to be sorted out first, and over a long period of time. And with only two seasons left of the show to film, and the negotiations for the U.K. leaving the EU likely to take years to process, it’s entirely possible that the production could be wrapped before any of this actually takes effect.
For another thing, HBO doesn’t seem to think it will pose any problem: It issued a statement this morning saying, “We do not anticipate that the result of the EU Referendum will have any material effect on HBO producing Game Of Thrones.” Its confidence stems from the fact that it hasn’t taken any money from the European Regional Development Fund for a few seasons, and the tax incentives it receives from funds like Northern Ireland Screen aren’t expected to be affected either.
So, Game Of Thrones seems likely to be moving forward as normal, provided HBO doesn’t fall prey to the general air of fear and unease surrounding this whole thing, of course—or, you know, the domino effect on international markets doesn’t wipe out HBO entirely. But by that point, you’ll be using your TV as a fire pit to roast squirrels, anyway. And besides, now that the show’s not beholden to George R.R. Martin’s books anymore, who’s to say the producers can’t just sidestep dealing with this whole thing and leave all those Westeros locations behind? Fuck ’em! Who’s ready for an entire season in Dorne?
If you were on Twitter last night, you probably noticed that the most uniformly negative, nigh-apocalyptic reactions were coming from U.K. musicians—and again, for good reason. While people like Damon Albarn and Lily Allen obviously had more universal cause to soberly pronounce that “democracy has failed us” or that young people are “really, really fucked,” there’s a more practical side to their worrying, too. The days leading up to the vote were filled with ominous prognostications of what this whole mess could mean for British musicians, who rely on the relative ease of selling and touring in European markets. And as always, it’s likely to be smaller bands and labels who will suffer the most.
While monoliths like Live Nation and Eventbrite have already proudly told Billboard that it’s likely to be “business as usual” when it comes to booking their huge shows across the continent, artists who don’t have that kind of backing are about to face a whole lot of new headaches, with no one to handle it for them. Again, there’s the possibility of their having to acquire visas for every single country on their itinerary—an expensive, frustrating procedure that already precludes so many U.K. bands from touring America, now multiplied across potentially dozens of nations. Along with that comes the dreaded “carnet,” a document detailing every single piece of equipment you have with you, and which costs between £1,000 and £2,000 to cover you for a year. Not to mention, there’s the hours spent untangling all that bureaucratic red tape, which is enough to make any musician just give up. Altogether, it’s likely to be far too prohibitive for smaller, indie artists who are just looking to spend a few weeks of playing shows across the continent, meaning many fledgling bands will never get the international exposure—nor the interaction with artists outside their homeland—so crucial to their development.
“On a creative level, it would set back the U.K. by a number of years. Music from the U.K. is so exciting, it’s so cross-pollinated—why would you wanna pull up the drawbridge on that?” asked Rob Challice of the booking firm Coda Agency Ltd., who took part in Pitchfork’s thorough breakdown of what Brexit could mean for the British music business. Not only would smaller U.K. artists likely balk at taking on the expense and burden—and in turn, promoters would shy away from assuming that risk on their behalf—but European artists could do the same by not visiting the U.K. in turn.
If you care in the slightest about Britain’s musical contributions to the world, the possibility of its scene becoming closed-off and exclusionary, as well as smaller bands never getting the chance to flourish, should cause you some modicum of concern. (Even if, on the upside, all this encroaching fear, rancor, and economic turmoil might end up producing the next Clash.) And you should be doubly worried about British record labels—and kind of just file that under your worry over record labels in general. While Drew Hill of Proper Music Group, Britain’s largest independent distributor, reminded Pitchfork once again that no one really knows what’s going to happen yet, he explains, “With the majority of British music actually manufactured in Europe, many U.K. labels will need to pay more to have their stock manufactured, and U.S. labels will make less back from their U.K. sales.”
That’s generally bad news for an already-struggling industry that doesn’t have a lot of margin for any sort of loss. And with import and export duties now likely to be tacked onto everything that comes out of those European pressing plants, that means smaller labels in the U.K.—as well as here—could suffer greatly. Furthermore, all but the most mainstream of artists could find it difficult to get their albums pressed and stocked; independent record stores will lose out even more to big-box retailers who have other revenue streams to support them; and prices will inevitably go up for consumers.
Particularly if you’re a vinyl collector, this sucks. As Spencer Hickman of boutique horror soundtrack label Death Waltz Records mused on Twitter last night, it’s highly probable that pressing vinyl in the EU will become so expensive that production will slow and sales will naturally dip, and the recent “vinyl boom” will be all but over. And if you don’t care about vinyl, it’s worth noting that some are even predicting this could bring a swifter end to the long-predicted death of the CD, which—however you might feel about those ugly little things—would again cut deeply into the profits of labels already struggling to stay afloat.
In a slightly more abstractly affecting terms, there’s also concerns about how copyrights will be protected now across Europe. Currently, the European Commission is looking to create what it calls the Digital Single Market, which would streamline and unify rules governing the trade of digital content. Britain saying “Fuck off” to all that means it doesn’t have to abide by the EU’s decision, and it’s possible the British government could work to formulate its own new copyright rules—and thereby take on the fight against companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, all of whom are constantly seeking to exploit and bend them. However, while that sounds positively thrilling, most industry people who spoke to Pitchfork seem to agree: It’s better to have a whole bunch of European countries taking on Google than the U.K. by itself, which has not historically been quite as fervent about standing up for copyright holders, and really, really seems to like money from big companies. Again, this could be bad news for labels and artists who are constantly grappling with how to get paid when most music is consumed via those internet gatekeepers—particularly when their other revenue streams from physical product and touring are simultaneously being diminished.
So in summation, what does this all mean for us, the distant, American consumer dipshit? As with so many things about this, maybe not much in the short-term—or at least, nothing that we can accurately predict. But the fact remains that all of these British industries rely on a certain sense of worldwide stability to prosper, and it’s hard to see any of them feeling especially bullish right now about making all the music, TV shows, and movies we rely on to distract us from stuff like economics and international politics. Like the rest of us, they’re watching this whole thing play out with a mixture of confusion and vague terror that’s not especially conducive to creativity. And perhaps the most horrifying thing about it is that we’ll all just have to wait and see.
On a slightly more positive—and far more cruelly mercenary note—now’s a great time to buy any U.K. import records you might have your eye on! And pretty soon it’ll never be cheaper to just book a plane trip to the U.K. yourself, so you can see firsthand all this awesome culture as it’s being threatened by forces we’ve still yet to fully comprehend. Also, there’s probably going to be another great John Oliver monologue this weekend. So we’ve still got that.