Celebrating Our way Of Life

Last year the runaway hit on British television was a post turn of the century period piece called Downton Abbey. Set in a fictional village the landed gentry swanned about looking full top to toe of casual noblesse oblige while the below stairs staff equally nobly performed their essential functions; ironing the Lord’s newspaper, drawing their baths, chauffering them hither and thither to the odd socialist demo or the next hunt, shoeing their horses, making sure their beds were turned down at night, knowing their places and venerating their betters. When the lady of the house was briefly pregnant with the presumed and long hoped for male heir, the staff practically convulsed into collective growing pains. The BBC responded at the end of the year with an Upstairs, Downstairs redux. The themes were the same as they again turned on the light in the sun drenched room that is class consciousness in England. I watched the former though not the latter and found the storytelling weak and hackneyed with poor character development and forced conceits which strained credulity.

2011 has continued the trend of the return to the past, giving us almost uniformly ecstatic reviews for another ode to Auld Lang Syne-The King’s Speech. For just one example of the joy this movie has inspired see the ostensibly left-leaning Guardian’s treasure trove of reviews here http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/movie/137858/king-s-speech. This new but not so new offering asks the question “What is to be done with George?” The George in question is George VI who had to grapple with a stammer and would have faded into royal obscurity but for Edward and that Simpson woman upending the natural order of things. The story is of the unorthodox methodologies used by a speech therapist and Commoner to help him overcome his disability. Dont get me wrong Colin Firth is an actor in whom I repose the greatest of respect who seems to have placed a stranglehold on the category called “Uptight, Strangled by the Double Bind of Society and Self yet Resigned to its Inevitability, Upper Classer” and yet?

Great writing and great acting is to be celebrated but…there are no non-white faces in any of these pieces. There are no non-white issues, no non-white themes and while it is correct to say the stories are free to explore the themes they have chosen what doesn’t go down so easy has been the way they are being used to trumpet a way of life-OUR WAY OF LIFE ( though whispered not shouted) which we are asked to recall and re-call in wistful, chiaroscuristic nostalgia. My concern is a discomfort, a creeping unease at what feels not only like a reinforcing of a calcified, non-diverse, mono-chromatic,exclusionary class system but a not so gentle reminder to those on the outside that acceptance of that status quo is the done thing. Propoganda may be too harsh a word but there is more than a scent of it about these pieces and in the apparently subconscious way in which the media has united to extol the virtues of that way of life as presented without interrogating the subtext. Art is a powerful tool and the purpose of media is to present a perspective. The propogation of that perspective depends in large part on the amount of penetration achieved. One would have to have been residing under a rock to have not had some contact with Downton, Downstairs and The King and to abstract Locard’s principle on the inevitability of exchange with contact between two items, the question must be what is the audience takeaway here? The audience is not non-participatory here, there seems to be a thirst for this type of story for how else could they have been such hits?

The worlds depicted there bother me. They tell me there was no place set for me then and there is no place set for me now, I may take my repast such as there is one to be had downstairs or out of sight. The worlds there dont seem so alien to worlds reinforced today, in an article in the New Law Journal where high flying City firms seem unapologetic for their clinging to hiring policies which ignore merit and focus on similarity of backgrounds and accents for what would their clients think if some Brummie or Jamaican knew exactly how to interpret that contract which saves them millions of pounds but whose delivery is not quite cut-glass enough? Again there is that shrug of resigned inevitability. Or in Prince William spinning the romantic tale of proposing to his fiancee in “Africa” and how much he loves and feels at home in ”Africa” though I have yet to see a picture of him just chilling with an “African”, even as I suspect it is more likely it is that “Out of Africa-Africa” he means. But then that is our way of life, is it not?

Previously published 2011 http://dispatchesfromanislandgirl.tumblr.com/post/2759096272/celebratingourwayoflife

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