Pure Class…

29 10 2008

I sat down to watch John Prescott’s programme on class yesterday on IPlayer in the hope that he would bring something constructive to the discussion about class. It was a fools hope though, as I became increasingly bored of good old JP reciting his own personal history and his utter damnation of the upper classes (and to a lesser extent the middle classes). The programme, rather than being a useful tool to stimulate discussion (as it had the potential to be), actually proved to be a vehicle for him to waste an hour of BBC scheduling time with left-wing working-class rhetoric.

When the trailers for the programme appeared on our TV’s a couple of weeks ago, my Dad remarked to me “why would anyone want to watch that drivel, we’ve all had enough of him“. Indeed the programme itself seemed to reinforce the point, with low levels of people queueing up to get signed copies of his autobiography in Asda, Hull, his home town.

His insistance on repeating that he was still very much working class, despite his manor and croquet playing tendancies throughout the course of the programme was a major irritation to me, as was his apparently closed minded approach to the topic. Whereas the programme should have been posing questions such as “is class still relevant to today’s society?” or “how much of a class divide still exists in Britain where most would define themselves as middle-class?” it instead followed ‘Prezza’ as he visited various examples of the different classes and used them as a microcosm of society. This in itself was a flawed approach, the examples chosen were as close as possible to social stereotypes, picked, very deliberately, to paint a picture of Britain that Prescott himself was happy to criticise. Whereas to my mind it would have been much more worthwhile for him to have visited more communal places, with a wider demographic, instead the programme makers chose to pick lunch with an Earl, a meeting with three young girls who were very definately not chavs (apparently), and a meeting with a couple of young men at a private school to help Prescott vent his spleen about why class is bad.

The trouble the programme had was that it never really tried to define what class was, it worked on pre-supposed ideas of the viewers, all the time influencing thought with outlandish examples of the various classes, “oh the upper classes must all live in manors, with butlers and posh crockery” or “the working class must all be completely ignorant of the world around them because society has failed them“.

The trouble with stereotypes is the familiarity with them that society has. Hence, I suppose, why they are stereotypes. No-one dares challenge them, they are accepted. They are, by social ignorance, the ‘truth’. The programme makers capitalised upon this, and ran with it. Not once did they appear to think that perhaps the stereotypes were maybe not a fair reflection of todays multi-cultural society. Such thinking would have made the programme much more watchable and interesting, but would have obviously contradicted the point of having Prescott as the front man, the selling point.

If some unknown presenter had run with it then the programme would have been infinitely better as we would have been able to have some degree of impartiality. With Prescott though we were always likely to have him plugging left-wing commentary, given his history.

Needless to say I shall not be tuning back in to watch the second part. It barely seems worth my time to listen to Prescott’s agenda for another hour. There is much more to be said about class and the current state of Britain’s class system, but it is too contentious a topic for the BBC to cover adequately in an hour. Perhaps Channel 4 could do a better job…

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