The Ongoing/ Historical Representations of the Working-Class Within the Media – elizabeth mckeone – fine art

The demoralisation of the working-class is a constant issue, which not necessarily everyone chooses to address. Exploitation/ extremism is the only format in which the voices of the working-class will be heard and then, rarely in positive terms. They form a minority in that they are simply ‘over-heard’ rather than proclaimed as the voice of reason.

The example of Lily Allen and the taxi driver is a very intriguing news article. After her recent travels to Calais in defence of the immigrant crisis, Lily tried to enter a black cab, was declined and told to: “’find an immigrant to drive you, you stupid tart” (The Guardian, 2016). A taxi can form of alternative public sphere due to the ability to receive insight from the working-class, (should the taxi driver fit the criteria). Alternative public spheres are more often than not more emotive than rational, hence the extremity of the views. The issue that arose reflects badly on the working-class due to the extreme racist views of the driver. The re-telling of the story in the newspaper proving that the only time working-class voices are heard in the media are when they are of an extreme nature.

A further example of the exploitation of the working-class features in the channel four ‘documentary’ ‘Benefit Street’. Like the Lily Allen incident, this TV show was only broadcast due to its offensive insight into benefit culture in the UK. The controversial viewing was mediated to aggravate those who believe that benefits are more of a choice as opposed to a genuine necessity. “The idea of ‘benefit ghettos’ where unemployment is a ‘lifestyle choice’ is a powerful one that helps justify the government’s cuts to welfare budgets. Yet our research has demonstrated that this is a myth, in the sense that it does not reflect the facts of the matter.” (Macdonald, 2014). Further research of the areas featured show that the representations within the show were actually false. This shows that the audience are being misled The idea of a class-system being represented under false pretences sounds preposterous until you realised that this has been happening for many years. A slightly different interpretation from the show is the worst/ most degrading section of it, is simply the title itself and not the actual content. “Benefits Street” is a title cynically chosen to push buttons, and that ploy has worked.” (Brooker, 2014) this suggests that people have decided to ‘judge the book by its cover’ instead of delving deeper within the programme are the only people to judge. Within the article he states: “A lot of what they had to put up with looked absolutely awful, but there also seemed to be far more authentic community spirit than I’ve seen on TV since Postman Pat’s Magic Christmas.” (Brooker, 2014). This shows an educated, more open-minded point of view given the background of the author.

Following on from this accusation of the media representing cases under false pretences is the ‘The Sun’ newspaper’s coverage of the Hillsborough disaster. The tabloid is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s ‘News Corporation’ and Murdoch himself was a renowned supporter and friend of Margaret Thatcher: “Both went to Oxford University and chafed at the snobbery of English elites.  Together they formed a radical right-wing populism that railed against the “establishment” even when they became rapidly part of it.” (Jukes, 2013). The controversy surrounding the tragedy stemmed from The Sun’s hideously offensive and false news coverage of the disaster; spreading lies such as “Some fans picked pockets of victims, some fans urinated on the brave cops, some fans beat up PCs giving the kiss of life”. (Gibson, 2004). The Sun chose to believe the police over the people, demonising the dead by spreading lies in order to cover up the police’s mistakes. The headline read “SCUM” in the coverage of unnecessary deaths of 96, mostly working-class people, in the Conservative backed newspaper.

Neoliberalism comes into the equation here, originating with the belief of the abolition of a welfare state; finding it more of a burden on society than an actual necessity for the majority of the country. Here Margaret Thatcher’s own ideology of Thatcherism came into context, based on the ideology of Neoliberalism itself. Originating in the mid 1970s this was the idea that the state should be abolished, despite Thatcher herself being was a part of the state she put forward the notion that: “there is no such thing as society” (Thatcher, 1987) instead, the emphasis was solely on the individual, which is relevant today. It is debatable that society is viewed as a community as opposed to the individual. “The triumph of Thatcherism represented the triumph of an ideology of selfishness and scapegoats” (Hall 1988) which somehow resonates with people in positions of power to this day. Thatcher’s ruling, though abysmal, evoked many interesting themes within film, especially those of which feature a working-class Britain. ‘This Is England’ for example, is set in 1983 in a post-Falklands war period, and portrays a constant state of fury throughout the film. (In the Falkland’s conflict, the majority of the soldiers were working-class). The film shows the sense of community within a lower class system and combines humour as well as very dark themes. It contradicts the idea that there are “no such thing as societies” – as, due to historical/ cultural/ social effects it demonstrates the ability to act as a community within times of hardship.

The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is very relevant to this debate, with the content showing the true hardships of trying to become a part of the welfare state. The film portrays the working-class as being judged as a society as opposed to the individual, not simply opposing the idea of Neoliberalism; but also demonstrating the ideology that the welfare state should be abolished! The characters in the film are portrayed as being burdens on society and we see Daniel Blake constantly being ignored/ ridiculed and misunderstood by the job centre, which is the main source of benefits within the UK. In the film Daniel befriends a single mother named Katie who then has to turn to prostitution in order to survive under the Conservative government. This portrayal is one of the few examples of media showing the working-class in a light that they truly deserve. Instead of judging, the audience empathises and gets a greater insight into true hardship as opposed to a style of ‘poverty porn’ that Benefits Street tends to showcase. The film provides “a greater understanding that poverty is systemic, not down to character failure, as many politicians imply.” (Monroe, 2016).

Trainspotting is a fascinating representation of both working-class and the ‘underclass’. The underclass is a term for people who are classified, in financial terms as being at the bottom of society; people who are unemployed and very often, single parent families, or more specifically, single mothers. The idea of the problem of the underclass comes from a neoliberalist view of promoting a belief that they are a problem. “Trainspotting appears to be a bold reformulation of a debilitating aesthetic and political opposition between social realism and fantasy which, it is claimed, has marked, on a number of levels, the history of British cinema” (Dave, 2006). The general aesthetic of the film is very much that of a social-realist style but also features many hyper-realistic aspects – due to the characters all being addicted to heroin, the hyper-realism is parallel to the drug-taking, acting as escapism for both on-screen characters and off-screen viewers. The notion of escapism links into the original basis of cinema, often films are made to avoid ordinary life and to be transported into different worlds. The working-class escapism within this film shows that even within poverty one cannot escape into something more pleasant and magical, but instead you are transported into a different notion of standard life. This theme is very interesting in itself, due to drug use being majorly used by the unemployed youths of the UK “Poor areas with high unemployment levels can provide an environment where drug dealing becomes an established way of earning money” (DrugWise, 2015). Which is a point in favour of the abolishment of the welfare state, that due to such high levels of drug-use within the unemployed, then the benefits that they would be given would just be used to buy more drugs. If the underclass that is to be isolated in this way were to consist of only a small proportion of the population, then the prospect for the country as a whole would not be grim… But the English underclass is not going to be small (Murray, 1996). What the people in power do not realise is that those who do turn to drugs are only doing so due to the general misery that is caused by the welfare state itself. This proves to be a vicious cycle.

Linking back into the wrongful mediation of content within the media, a strange portrayal of the working-class arises within the production of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’. “Journalist Polly Dunbar has claimed that producers have rehearsed and reshot scenes and have egged on teenage girls to wear provocative clothing in a process described by insiders as “nurtured reality”” (Tyler, 2013). This is a different kind of exploitation, one that is slightly more disturbing than the earlier examples discussed in this essay. Linking into a feminist debate as well as a class issue, why were only the girls ‘egged on’ to wear provocative clothing? It questions who the target audience of such programmes are. With the stigma of the show being focused mostly on younger, virgin girls getting married to gypsy boys (who don’t have to be virgin to marry) again why must it only be the females wearing provocative clothing? An interpretation of this is that the programme could be aired for voyeuristic purposes, giving an insight into a culture that is classed as uncivilised by the upper-class section of the audience. With conventions being offensively fulfilled for the purposes of simply portraying stereotypes.

Cultural hegemony also comes into the equation here. This is the theory that the lower class (proletariat) are ruled by one superior class (bourgeoisie) or upper class and only by following this will both classes benefit. As we know this is not the case and the only benefit is to the upper classes. It is relevant because the people featured within the programmes (Benefit Street, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding) believe that featuring in the shows it is a good opportunity. Instead the viewers (superior classes) see them as a joke, which keeps the lower classes in their place. They are only wanted/ needed when the upper classes choose for their for entertainment purposes. Gramsci puts forward in the theory of hegemony the issues behind the portrayal of race within the media, “In spite of well-meant ventures to present racial minorities favourably, white hegemony over the means of media production means that television and cinema continue to subjugate these social groups” (Lorenz, 2011). This links into the portrayal of gypsy culture due to this group being a racial minority as well as belonging to the working-class.

Working-class representations, whether it be the underclass or gypsy culture, have continuously been negatively represented within most forms of media. Neoliberalism is still very much alive today, even though it is more concealed than within Margaret Thatcher’s day. We thankfully live in a time where people are realising that this system is wrong, filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Danny Boyle will create media with an educated standpoint, that will hopefully open the eyes and minds of the upper-classes/ audiences. The media will continue to portray neoliberalist/ hegemonic ideologies for the foreseeable due to the constant judgment and exploitation of the working-classes. “Workers of all lands unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains” (Marx, 1848) and the hope that all media will one day be neutral and not have a hidden agenda still lives on. The abolishment of the class systems and the ruling of one superior class using trickery for votes instead of the abolishment of the welfare state should be implemented. This will depend on society will deciding to stop living in ignorance and take it upon themselves to rise up against the negativity given to the working-class.

References
DrugWise (2015) Is drug use mainly in deprived areas? Available at: http://www.drugwise.org.uk/is-drug-use-mainly-in-deprived-areas/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Brooker, C. (2014) Benefits street – poverty porn, or just the latest target for pent-up British fury? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/12/benefits-street-poverty-porn-british-fury (Accessed: 9 December 2016).

Dave, P. (2006) Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema. 1st edn. Berg Publishers. (Accessed: 12 December 2016).

Ellis-Petersen, H. (2016) Lily Allen says black-cab driver told her: ‘Find an immigrant to drive you’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/28/lily-allen-black-cab-driver-find-immigrant-drive-you (Accessed: 12 December 2016).

Gibson, O. (2004) What the sun said 15 years ago. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/jul/07/pressandpublishing.football1 (Accessed: 9 December 2016).

Hall, S. (1988) Thatcherism as Authoritarian Populism. Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).
Jukes, P. (2013) The Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch connection. Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/09/the-margaret-thatcher-rupert-murdoch-connection.html (Accessed: 9 December 2016).

Lorenz, Z. (2011) Hegemony. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/zlorhenley/hegemony-6918582 (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Macdonald, R. (2014) No such thing as Benefits Street – says Teesside University researcher. Available at: http://www.tees.ac.uk/sections/news/pressreleases_story.cfm?story_id=4754 HYPERLINK (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Marx, K., Engels, F. and English, A. (1992) The communist manifesto (or manifesto of the communist party). New York: International Publishers Co Inc.,U.S.

Monroe, J. (2016) I, Daniel Blake: Ken Loach and the scandal of Britain’s benefits system. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/11/i-daniel-blake-ken-loach-director-film-movie-benefits-system (Accessed: 11 December 2016).
Murray, C. and Commentaries, R.L. (1996) Charles Murray and the underclass: The developing debate. London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit in association with the Sunday Times.

Stein, S. (2011) Does my big fat gypsy wedding spread lies? Available at: http://jezebel.com/5749926/does-my-big-fat-gypsy-wedding-spread-lies (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Thatcher, M. (2000) Interview for woman’s own (‘no such thing as society’). Available at: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Tyler, I. (2013). The Big Society: Eviction and Occupation. In: Revolting Subjects : Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (1). London: Zed Books. 143-144. (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

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Author: Roger Gonzalez