Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Representation of the Working Class in Popluar British Film and Soaps

A. State you’re discussing the representation of the wc in popular film and in soap operas on TV.
B. We tend to think of the rep od wc on the screen in the angry young man films (circa 1960) as a radical shift from views of the past – but heavily influenced by representations from but they were heavily influenced by previous images of wc culture from literature, journalism, art and photography dating between the 1880s and 1940s (see Eley and Rob Shields in http://heworthmediastudies.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/roots-of-working-class-representation.html - such as?
C. What we’re dealing with is re-presentation as much as representation – and this is something that continues to this day – writers and directors don’t just base their representation on reality but on versions of reality.
D. Key area of change with the AYM movies is that the working class was no longer marginalised as in the past when it could be said that representation seems to reinforce Gramsci’s theory of hegemony – explain it… look at the slideshare at the address above…
E. What was the representation of wc life like in those AYM films – a little bit of detail about Sat Night Sun Morning would go down well here – talk about Arthur rebelling against the constrictions of the class system in an era where the wc had jobs and money and the country was coming out of post-war austerity, but their ambitions were thwarted by the class system… Note also that a recent relaxation in the censorship laws allowed more explicit language and scenes – such as the discussion of abortion
F. Why was rep in Coronation Street different? Talk about Ken and his relationship with his family; talk about the representation of women – both were affected by institutional concerns – ITV was considered a lowbrow channel with a working class audience and the traditional audience of soaps was female (you could stick some theory in here about soaps and female audiences e.g Hobson (1982) claimed soaps gave female viewers a ‘cultural space’ in the dominant patriarchal society that they could call their own) – need to build an audience to ensure advertising revenue.
G.Two strands of wc representation, one, an often visceral depiction of wc life where the effects of the class system can be seen in the brutalisation of family life, growing up and relationships – as in Ken Loach’s Kes and Sweet Sixteen, Shane Meadows’ This Is England and Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur (2011). These films were made with little compromise – Loach, for example, refused to tone down the language in Sweet Sixteen (2002) (in which a young Glaswegian teenager gets sucked deeper into the drug trade which has already seen his mother jailed, until he stabs his step-father), which meant the audience it was intended for wasn’t allowed to see it.
H. In later British films, representation of working class retains many of the tropes now seemingly ingrained into national consciousness - Billy Elliott’s terraced housing, northern accents, macho males and (the remains of) grim industrial factories, but it’s hard to determine how much is this is based on real life and how much is based on a collective identity of working class created over the years by a variety of sources that includes earlier representation on the television and in the cinema. However, there are some notable differences, reflecting genuine concern about working class life. The more popular strand of modern wc film includes Brassed Off, Billy Elliott, The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham – the first three depict Britain in a post-industrial landscape - the pits or factories are closing or closed and all depict the effects of unemployment on family and community – give some examples. All, however, are sort of feel bad/feel good movies and have rousing finales that seem depict the victory of the underdog.
I. There are institutional reasons behind this because of the film companies’ need to appeal to an audience beyond a local one. Film distribution and exhibition in the UK is dominated by Hollywood and many British films don’t get beyond the ‘art house circuit’ – if that. To give an example of the pressure the UK film industry is up against, Warner Brothers’ the Dark Knight opened in 4366 screens across the UK; the independent, working class-set film, This Is England, opened in only 62.
J. The US, of course, is the biggest marker for English speaking movies and in most cases, it provided at least partial financial backing for the films in question (Brassed Off was backed by Miramax, a branch of Disney, for example) – hence the representation of wc has been governed by concerns of audience and institution. 
K. Despite Brassed Off’s overtly political stance and the the speech at the Royal Albert Hall, the band’s victory reunites the community and the families – all the wives are present, including the one who left her husband; all the men are on the same side, including the one who took the government’s offer of redundancy money; the company spy is reintegrated with her community on a personal, professional and social level; despite refusing to accept the trophy, they take it anyhow and the film ends with a rousing, if ironic, Land of Hope and Glory as the victory bus passes under the Houses of Parliament.
L. Representation of gender - All four films depict a crisis of masculinity – the men can no longer fulfil their traditional roles as wage earners – even in Made in Dagenham where it’s the women who take industrial action to seek equal pay, the men cannot work when the women strike – and families break down.
M. Made in Dagenham - about the 1968 strike at a Ford factory by women in pursuit of equal pay - depicts the effects on the working class family of the capitalist system and we see the men emasculated, because Ford can no longer employ the men as a result of the strike. There is a favorable portrayal of organized labor and Marxist ideas, which is unusual in a climate where unions are demonized, but the film claims gender as the primary form of oppression. Lisa relinquishes her poise, momentarily, and seeks affinity with Rita O'Grady, the strike leader. "Do you know who I am?" she asks. Her husband treats her like a fool, but she has a first-class Cambridge degree and adores reading about people making history. "That's what you are doing," she tells O'Grady. "Tell me what it feels like when you've done it." This is an elegant and clever moment where gender transcends class.
N. To seek some sort of status, male characters in Full Monty and BE take up occupations/pastimes traditionally associated with women to forge a new identity in the post-industrial world. BE overcomes the stereotypical macho reactions of the working class northern male and his father eventually supports him. The film was criticised for the portrayal of women – didn’t show their staunch support for the miners’ strike; unlike BO which pictured their protest amps outside the mines, depicted the tensions within the families of the miners and the support they gave each other when money was short. Gauntlett (2002): in contrast with the past - or the modern popular view of the past - we no longer get singular, straightforward messages about ideal types of male and female identities. Today, nothing about identity is clear-cut, and the contradictory messages of popular culture make the 'ideal' model for the self even more indistinct. 
O. In FM, homosexual and black characters are seen as parts of the community and are integral to the success of the venture and the formation of a new wc identity in the post-industrial landscape – compare this with the ONE black character depicted at the start of Sat Night Sun Morning, who Arthur tells us is all right, but who never appears again.
P. Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012), portrays many of the visual and narrative working class tropes from this genre (deprived Glasgow, unemployment, crime and the brutality suffered by the lead character), but it has more in common with the popular strand of wc films as it is often comic and ends on an uplifting note as the protagonists pull off "a heist worthy of Danny Ocean"; indeed the film has been marketed as “This year’s Full Monty.” Is this representation to be seen as a result of a commercial compromise? Or has Loach's representation been further mediated through media critics using lazy shorthand to describe a film in terms their readers will understand? Or is it a bit of both...?
Q. The representation of class in modern soaps has changed over the years. Though wc accent is still a signifier of class, storylines have become more issued-based and hard-hitting, building on the success of Brookside (starting in 1982 on Channel 4) which depicted the strains on the life of a wc family struggling in their attempt to live in a middle class housing estate against a background of industrial unrest and unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain.
R. The BBC’s Eastenders followed suit in 1985 and runs heavily trailed storylines about spousal abuse, drug use, drug selling, AIDS, racism etc. Unfortunately, Brookside’s attempts to pursue viewing figures led to sensationalistic stories far removed from its origins and it lost viewers and was cancelled and with Eastenders, it could be argued that any ‘good’ done by raising the issues is negated by the frequency by which they occur and the manner in which they are promoted.
S. Eastenders – introduced a greater ethnic mix of characters, but also more stories about young people and more stories about crime in an effort to maintain viewing figures in a much changed media landscape where the basic terrestrial channels are no longer the only source of entertainment. Although the show continues to feature strong female characters, the view of working class life as one rife with serious social issues and violent crime is not one that soap audiences in 1961 would recognise. 
T. In 1967, critics claimed Coronation Street didn’t reflect life in 1960s Britain. Granada tried to update the programme, with the hope of introducing more issue-driven stories, including Emily Nugent having an out of wedlock child, but they were dropped for fear of upsetting viewers. CS still lags behind Eastenders in its use of ethnic minorities and while both have introduced gay characters, Eastenders preferred issue-based storylines around this whereas Coronation Street has used this to reflect the tolerance of the community by NOT making an issue of it. The camp representation of the gay character in CS perhaps reflects the fact its audience as a whole is older than that of Eastenders and it’s one they’re more familiar with, and the need for the institutions to respond to this is one of the reasons why the representation of working class life is different between the shows. Note there's greater representation of dysfunctional family life in modern soaps and films (where the representation is often in response to outside pressures like unemployment) - although this is there in the very first CS - see the Tanners.
U. Both shows now have more middle class characters (or those aspiring to that level), as reflected by the mise-en-scene of some of the houses, the dress (Rosie is clearly depicted as a snob) and the jobs they undertake. Coronation Street’s opening credits used to show new flats as well as the traditional rooftops of the terraces, but the sequence has changed; the flats have gone and there is a rosy sunny glow over the rooftops, as if reflecting nostalgia for the show’s heyday – and, of course, the fact that the mean age of its audience is older than that of its BBC rival.
V. The question is, of course, just how do viewers consume soaps. Gerbner (1986) felt viewers can’t escape the encroachment of television into their lives, that it ‘cultivates the minds of viewers over a long period of time.’ However, Hawkins and Pingree (1983) could not find conclusive proof of the direction of the relationship between television viewing and viewers' ideas about social reality.
W. The Broadcasting Standards Commission researched audience attitude to the British Soap Opera in 2002 and found viewers enjoyed soaps on different levels and for different reasons, with escapism the main one. Some viewers did see them as featuring ‘somewhere realistic with recognisable characters,’ others thought they were too entertainment-driven to be realistic – ‘sanitised reality,’ as one viewer put it. It was found that Coronation Street has an older audience than Eastenders, perhaps reflecting its long history, but also as a result of the nature of the storylines, which tend to revolve less around crime and gangsters and contain more warmth and humour. 
X. Identity theory and the influence of the media have moved on from basic Marxist concerns that the media can control us, even though you might see some truth in Gramsci’s idea of hegemony - much of the media is controlled by the dominant group in society and the viewpoints associated with this group become embedded in the products themselves - hence the marginalisation in the representation of the working class in British cinema until the late 1950s. Audiences are increasingly recognised as active in their relationship with the media. Gammon and Marshment (1998) stress the role of the audience in the construction of meaning from texts and suggest there is a range of interpretations offered by any text and Henry Jenkins (1992): ‘Fans actively assert their mastery over the mass-produced texts which provide the raw material for their own cultural productions and the basis for their social interactions.’
Y. I think the way forward is to acknowledge Collective Identity exists but that it seems to difficult measure or ascertain HOW FAR British soap operas and film have helped to create a sense of collective identity. Thomas De Zengotita (2005) – Almost everything we know about the world comes to us through some sort of media and this influences our view of the world and even our self-definition but Gauntlett (2002): The media disseminates a huge number of messages about identity and acceptable forms of self-expression, gender, sexuality, and lifestyle. At the same time, the public have their own robust set of diverse feelings on these issues. The media's suggestions may be seductive, but can never simply overpower contrary feelings in the audience. It seems appropriate to speak of a slow but engaged dialogue between media and media consumers. Neither the media nor the audience are powerful in themselves, but both have powerful arguments – and the media, of course,is but one source. Note the way, in the age of web 2.0, that collective identity is also reflected in the use of websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, official sites and unofficial fan sites, including fan fiction sites. Note also the use of the tabloid press, who will feature stories about Soap stars and refer to them by their characters’ names and who use television and film fiction as lazy shorthand to paint a picture for their readers with headlines like, "Shameless Britain," to refer to rundown wc estates in the north of England – but then haven’t films and TV been doing this themselves when representing aspects of wc life? 
Z. Despite this, Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group notes that the audience does not exist as a silent mass with a collective identity, but as active, thinking, reflective, creative audiences who share cultural experiences in common – and this is surely all the more so when viewers can re-evaluate their relationship to the text by interacting with each other through conversation or through fan sites.

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