Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shame shame shame

Channel 4 is halfway through showing the latest series of Shameless, it’s sixth I believe. I struggle hard to think of a show worse than this one. Like its C4 stablemate Skins, it is a wild fantasy about a certain demographic. Whereas Skins holds a microscope up to a wildly unrealistic group of teens, Shameless turns its gaze towards society’s other big, bad wolf: the working classes.

When Shameless first began, reviewers in the broadsheets fell over themselves to heap praise upon it, congratulating its creator, Paul Abbott, on his depictions of a working class family on a rough estate in Greater Manchester. This was no warts-and-all portrayal, like much of Abbott’s other work, this was a comedy drama, with petty crimes, drugs and violence interspersed with jokes and slapstick situations. Despite the fact I’d grown up on a council estate, I couldn’t identify with it at all. Earlier series may have had a certain charm, but six years down the line and the show has descended into a ridiculous parody of itself. It’s hard to believe that anyone who writes for the show even knows where their nearest council estate is, let alone visits it in the name of research. Just as Dynasty and Dallas told us that all there was to running an oil business was walking in and out of palatial rooms wearing shoulder pads, Shameless appears to be trying to say that all there is to living on a council estate is fucking someone, getting fucked on drugs or getting fucked over by someone.

Its depiction of large families pretends to give it heart, but in fact there’s something quite snide about the whole family dynamic. Women in the show are mainly scripted with contempt: they’re playthings for the men or bad mothers or loudmouthed harridans, while the majority of the men have a ball and do what they like. Perhaps this is a reaction to the prevalence of ‘strong women’ in British soap operas, maybe writers of northern working class drama feel it’s time for men to have the upper hand but when the women are as two-dimensional as this, it feels like a very empty evening up of the scores. The matriarch of the main family, the Gallaghers, was absent for the first couple of series having abandoned her brood to the care of her eldest daughter. So far, so normal. On her return, with her lesbian lover (of course!) she has wavered between a saintly Mother Earth and the whore of Babylon. One minute she is devoted to her husband (a drunk loser) the next she is using sexual favours in return for getting her car fixed. Her most recent exploit was to have sex with a social services inspector in an effort to prevent her family being broken up, on the misunderstanding that her husband had asked her to do this. His reaction on realising what she’d done was horror and disgust, despite him having been nuts-deep in a practical stranger in the pub toilets only a few scenes previously. Scriptwriters will probably argue that they’re complex characters; I reckon someone’s got ‘mother’ issues.

The show that claims to hold a mirror up to council estate dwellers was even reported by most newspapers to have been imitated by the real deal: Karen Matthews and her family were rumoured to have been inspired by a kidnap plot on Shameless when concocting their own futile plan involving young Shannon. Whether this turned out to be the case, I don’t know, but the reactions of newscasters reporting on the story from the sink estate in Dewsbury that the Matthews family called home betrayed what they were thinking: 'these people are scum'. Whither the hilarious antics of Frank Gallagher now, eh? Not so much fun once you get into the thick of it, I suppose. No cutaways to someone downing three pills and a bottle of Thunderbird to rescue you from the harsh realities of non-fiction.

Sex plays an important part in the way the programme is desperate to show us what a great time the working classes are having. In earlier series, there were the obligatory couple of bedroom scenes per episodes. Fast forward a while and Shameless is obsessed with it. Barely a scene goes by without someone disrobing. Cock seems to have taken the place of plot, satisfying all those chav and scally fantasies of the broadsheet readers under the guise of primetime drama. Well, everyone likes a bit of rough, don’t they? Don’t they?

Despite my misgivings, the show remains fairly popular across most demographics. Perhaps Jarvis Cocker was right when he sang about Common People that just “dance and drink and screw, because there’s nothing else to do”. There certainly isn’t much more to Shameless, that’s for sure.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shop local

You see some odd things on breakfast television. It’s news, but not as we know it. Whereas news or current affairs programmes shown later in the day seem to be serious and stern and hard on facts, breakfast TV news is heavy on gossip and light on evidence, coherent argument or, indeed, point. I understand that in the morning people don’t want to be bombarded with the full misery only a proper news bulletin can bring, but when you’re watching the televisual equivalent of a Daily Mail annual it can become quite disturbing.

I watched with interest the other morning as one of the programmes featured a story about parking spaces. The premise was that while we were being urged to ‘shop local’ to save the economy, councils were making this impossible thanks to the distinct lack of parking spaces or, for those spaces that were present, astronomical fees to use them. The article used Bournemouth as a case study. Having lived near enough in the past to Bournemouth to visit it, I couldn’t see why anybody would want to drive there at all. Surely you’d want to delay your arrival as much as possible? The reporter stood stony-faced in front of ‘local’ shops like, er, JD Sports and Topshop decrying the local council for not turning vast swathes of the town into parking spaces. Talking head after talking head said that the only way to stimulate the beleaguered economy was to slash parking prices. The ‘action’ then moved to a retail park some way out of Bournemouth, filled with gleeful shoppers parking their gas-guzzling planet-murdering wagons in a plethora of free parking spaces. Among the shops were the usual Boots, H&M, Next and Wallis that you see on the high street.

I found myself confused. I thought the big idea now, as well as shopping locally, was to take public transport. Congestion charges, fuel taxes and non-stop lobbying on programmes like this very breakfast news I was watching, have all indicated that driving is evil and is causing the downfall of Earth. Now, when the ability of some git to transport his Debenhams carrier bags home safely is at stake, the very councils who try to discourage cars coming into town centres -by making parking difficult, for example- become the demons.

Lugging shopping home can be a pain in the arse, yes, oh people of Bournemouth, but if you can’t get a parking space why not take the bus? Either that or shop really locally and buy everything from your corner shop.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

You're fired

So the credit crunch- or recession as I like to call it, that being its name and all- has caught up with me at last. Yesterday, along with about 600 others, I was told that I was to be made redundant. I suppose I had steeled myself for the possibility, but as I made my way into work under the glare of TV cameras (filming what I've no idea, our HQ is hardly the Hollywood sign; it could be bloody anywhere), I had an impending sense of doom.

As my entire department is to close, a great many people who I work with are in the same boat. There was a weird feeling, a kind of nervous excitement, the type you get when you’re watching a drama where somebody is about to be offed by an unseen assailant. You know it’s coming, but your hapless fictional character doesn’t. As reports came in detailing the extent of the doom and gloom, I glanced around my desk and various paraphernalia that has allowed me to do my job for the last two years. Hard to imagine that soon I won’t see any of it again.

The rest of the day had a numb, dreamlike quality. We were allowed to leave early, so at about 2 I started the autopilot and made my way home, stopping only at the Tate to see if a little bit of ‘culcha’ would whitewash what was happening in my head and make things seem a bit clearer. In reality it was teeming with Eurotrash of all ages screaming at each other with mouths full of crisps and chocolate. Peaceful sanctuary it certainly was not so I made my way back out onto the South Bank.

The next few days will rumble on and on and then I will be gone and my career here will be over for now. It’s a sobering experience scrolling through job sites as there’s fuck all there of interest; I even half-considered a job at TfL. Hopefully someone somewhere will realise my 'talent' and I’ll be whisked off my feet and into the arms of a new employer soon. Either that or I’ll go on the game.