Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Take Two

For my own amusement, I decided to have another go at making my Manga self. This time I discovered another nose option that I hadn't noticed before, and another hair option as well that allowed me to account for its curl/general messiness and my habit of tucking my hair behind my ears.

I think this one is a bit more reflective of the cultural studies chick in me, but my head still isn't that big in proportion to my body. I do have red lounge chairs at home, but they're a bit more 70s retro in their style than this stuffed-armchair look. Some of that padding should be transferred to me, really.

Meanwhile as we're sitting comfortably in cultural studies mode (we were, weren't we?), I finally finished watching Boys from the Blackstuff, the British social-realist drama from 1982, written by Alan Bleasdale, and constantly cited in academic writing on television as the epitome of television at its most critical of government policy.

It's difficult to discuss this mini-series on its own merits 26 years after it was first broadcast. As viewers we have become far more used to advanced production technologies, even in works of social realism. Boys from the Blackstuff shows its age, not least because Julie Walters was, for me, virtually unrecognisable as Angie Todd, but also because the Play for Today model is very much in evidence; each installment could feasibly stand alone and at times the dialogue is so labored and didactic that it does seem better suited to the realm of the theatre.

Still, having expressed these reservations, it would be impossible to deny that at the time of its release, two years after the Brixton Uprisings, amidst rates of unemployment in Britain greater than those of the 1930s Depression, Boys from the Blackstuff would have been incredibly resonant with the greater British public. Each of the characters is metonymic of the experiences of the working classes under Thatcher's Tory government. There's George who epitomises the old union leader, committed to improving the lot of manual labourers and their families. He is dying. There's Chrissie, who used to be positive in the most dire of circumstances, but who has been ground down by unrelenting unemployment and poverty, and the strain it has put on his marriage.

The plight of Yosser Hughes is the most confronting, even while it's here that Bleasdale's script is at its most self-conscious. This character put me in mind of R W Connell's description in the first edition of Masculinities of some young men he interviewed who exhibited a 'tense, freaky facade'. I've always thought that the most perfect articulation of some young men I've encountered, those who you're never quite sure what their next move will be, except to say that it could easily be violent and so a direct threat to your personal safety.

Bleasdale makes a clear connection between the social effects of Thatcher's policies and the deterioration of the mental well-being of Yosser. His catchphrase is 'Gis a job' and he repeats it over and over while using his physical presence to intimidate his target. It's frightening. His friends begin to avoid him and his children are taken from him after his wife leaves him. Completely isolated from his peers and society, he returns home to his mother. He is a child again, his deteriorated mental state precludes any hope he will be fit for any kind of work again.

Overall, I do think it was important for me to see Boys from the Blackstuff, for many reasons related to appreciating television as a distinct medium. I'd be interested to know if anyone reading this managed to see this mini-series when it was originally broadcast, either here in Australia, or the UK, especially. Did it seem like significant television at the time to you?


Kirsty said...

Well it turns out that my supervisor was in the UK when Boys from the Blackstuff was originally aired there. I took the opportunity to quiz him because he volunteered that he recalls enjoying it a great deal. He says that while people at the time had seen social realism before, nevertheless they hadn't seen it done this way with the at-the-time avant garde camera work, the hand-held stuff that is so ubiquitous now.

As well, Boys from the Blackstuff was the stuff of water-cooler conversations. Everybody watched it and it formed the basis of conversations for the week. He said that living in Britain at the time was as stark as the series depicted, the society was divided into those who had everything, who basically didn't give a fuck about the working classes, and, led by Thatcher, were unrepentant about their prejudices. To have the conditions of the working class so starkly depicted on television was quite simply shocking because it laid bare the utter cruelty of Thatcher's regime.

I was intrigued to learn, as well, that the character types depicted were entirely recognisable to anyone watching at the time.

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