Monday, 3 November 2008

Today's 3MW

I can't avoid Channel 4 for long and the '3 Minute Wonder' this evening was definitely worth a mention. It documented an Iraqi man in America, discussing the election and his experience.

He had run a successful restaurant business in Baghdad; he left for America and, because the restaurant trade is what he knows; began a new business there. He had an interesting, American melting-pot style view of his immigration. He stated that once you move to America you become American. He appreciated the freedoms, his freedom to vote Democrat or Republican, to walk down one street or another, to live and be as he pleases.

He was voting for McCain; he explained that Obama was neither to the far left nor McCain to the far right. In his eyes both were in the middle and he chose the middle-right mainly, by the looks of it for Palin bizarrely.

He also, rather interestingly spoke of how he'd prefer it if a woman was in charge, stating that if women were in charge there would be less violence as men as driven by it. That was a surprise, though he went on to talk about how they should look good too which was quite degrading and gave a sour edge to his earlier statement.

Still, I found it an incredibly interested and unpredictable depiction of an Iraqi living in America. Obviously, he's settled and has been there a while but he was a fascinating subject. It's a shame it only gets three minutes.

I watch too much Channel 4

It's true, I rarely deviate from Channel 4. Although this evening I caught part two of John Prescott's documentary about class on BBC2 (probably the only other channel I bother with on terrestrial). He, in his jaguar (one of two as the Tabloids love to point out) travels around talking to people and asking them what class they think they're in. I missed the first part because I was on my way home from a lecture (because there is more to life than television). However, I probably didn't miss out on all that much.

This time he hung out with Jodie Marsh in an attempt to seek out and learn about the so-called 'Celebrity Class' - I'm not sure what, if anything, Prescott or us as an audience could have possibly learnt from that or any of the programme. As a result, I thought it was pretty bloody awful as a whole.

Class is obviously a highly complex issue, just last week in one of my seminars we ended up in a discussion questioning the determinants of class - the transition of classes and the idea of social mobility; that and the mobility of the very classification of class itself. It is no longer a labourer against a business owner. We are not a nation of distinct employment classifications, we suffer from a huge underclass, we suffer from a mid-range, of people who work the jobs of the so-called 'working class' yet might too be students, or recent graduates, who might have been brought up entirely middle class and yet might graduate into the benefits underclass.

The question of class first requires a distinction of how it is to be approached. Do we distinguish class person-to-person on a completely individual level. Where does family or 'class background' come in? Does it only apply when you are still living with or being supported by your family? Can you only have your individual class identity once you have cut the family cord. If a child grows and works its way out of a social class how will their class background affect them? Will they continue to impose that background and mere ghost of social class on their family?

I didn't read about the programme, or see any reviews for last week but my opinion on this second part is none more than a shrug. I didn't gain anything and frankly I found that in parts Prescott and the narrator's interpretation of what some of the children he spoke to were saying and thinking was completely off the mark. I, of course, might have misinterpreted, but the way I saw it when he was speaking to a group of school children who attended a fairly standard comprehensive school, who might consider themselves working class, either didn't see themselves that way or didn't apply class to themselves or others at all. Yet, Prescott's conclusion was that class was still, in part, holding them back from what they wanted. When did they say this?

It really didn't seem like they were of that opinion. I think it was merely to lead Prescott to a point he wanted to make about the way children get more opportunity going to private, paid-for schools. Of course the statistics are difficult to argue with and I won't doubt the programmes research that yes, a high percentage of individuals in top positions in this country were educated in private schools. Those schools and social connections are an undeniable element of the employment structure in this country. However, this does not prove or disprove individual ideas (or ideals) of class and the class system. Many of those people may too be men, but that's another debate entirely and one that is unlikely to be lead by John Prescott.

I am pretty unimpressed by a lack of interest in what could be an entirely separate class of immigrants. If class identity has an historical position in terms of family or even an extended family class identification then what are early generation immigrants? Are they a sub-underclass? Are they below those who are considered underclass merely because they are not strictly 'working'? Yet immigrants do work more often than not, unless their asylum-seeker status forces them otherwise, but they don't have the class history. If John Prescott is desperate to cling to his working class roots then a migrant worker must cling to their own. Perhaps they were part of a middle class in their original country can they not remain so? In spite of what work they may or may not undergo here?

I know that you can only raise so much in a couple of hour-long prime time documentaries. I can see that Prescott is a bit of a class puppet and has little more to say than Punch or Judy on the matter, not truly and comprehensively. You can't desperately struggle to maintain an archaic system of categorising that does not meet with the consciousness of the nation. There are classes, of course there are, there is no ignoring a clear and present segregation of people in many ways, and the programme went on and on about the transition from black/white to grey, but it is more, much more than this. One woman's opinion went quite ignored and I was astounded that she said, before making her point, something along the lines of: "This is a man's discussion" and that the others seemed to agree and thus ignore her. She said that class was a subjective and individual question and I'd be inclined to agree. The programme didn't even try to posit a new set of recognisable determinants. How could they if they ignored numerous factors.

The celebrity class as well was a completely pointless an unnecessary insert. Neither a class nor particularly relevant their social status is more interesting in their position as class idols. Perhaps their elevation in society is due to an existing cultural lower class? Would class be better defined culturally rather than economically? Of course economics do come into it and indeed appear to help create that cultural class; geography and the physical placement of people is again economic yet again, helps to create for an individual a set of cultural guidelines and norms through the surroundings.

My flatmate this evening asked, though wary of sounding snobby, why the chavs all look the same. One's identity, physical, outward or otherwise, is of course negotiated and formed by numerous factors. Surely class, as Prescott sees it as rather an important element of one's identity, has to be the same?