Bourgeois Socialists and Working Class Depictions on TV

Jon Booth 28 November 2013

Last Sunday, perennial op ed focus (both here in TCS and in seemingly every other newspaper) Owen Jones presented a lecture for the Royal Television Society on representations of the working class in television. By coincidence, that very night I sent off my MPhil application to research the same topic.

Whilst it’s good to know that Jones, the all-too trendy current spokesman for the self-righteous intelligentsia, shares the same passion I do (maybe the faculty convenors will have watched it and feel sufficiently moved to offer me full funding) the lazy socialist rhetoric jarred, and Jones seemed unable to present anything new on the topic.

He rightly criticises modern depictions of poorer people as objects of ridicule, a mixture of dumb animals and conniving benefit fraudsters on everything from Little Britain to The Jeremy Kyle Show. But his grand solution: that somehow by removing unpaid internships and the like, working class writers will work their way back into the BBC et al to produce realistic portrayals, is at best simplistic, and at worst plain dumb.

The best writers will need years of practice, and cannot simply be pushed through after years in shoddy comprehensives and, after inevitably poor careers advice, a lacklustre degree in ‘Creative Writing’. Their very life experience that desperately needs to be depicted on television screens is precisely what holds them back, and it is so very typical of Jones and his ilk to believe that some evil cavalcade of Oxbridge-types in media organisations kick away the heroic working class.

For all their hipster bourgeois pretensions, the current ADC lot will inevitably decide what’s on our screens and theatres in the decades to come not because they have some secret access to the upper echelons, but because they’ve spent years surrounded by such culture, and years practising it.

The solution to this is surprisingly simple to understand if difficult to enact: get more working class people into afterschool acting and creative writing at a young age, and get more working class people into top universities. This is done not through reading Marx a couple of times, nor with tokenistic attempts at ‘access’, but through better nursery and primary education, followed by encouraging academic selection at a younger age that pushes creative types to the top no matter their background. Removing intimidating Oxbridge ‘traditions’ wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

More working class (and particularly non-south eastern) people at Oxbridge would not only result in a more interesting selection of performances in Cambridge’s playrooms, but in the years to come create better representations of working class life on television.

We certainly don’t need Oxford and Cambridge to produce yet more pretentious writers happy to propagate lazy ideology on every political show imaginable, as Jones does. Like many of the middle-class (but wannabe prole) leftists here, years of faux-intellectual discussion in Oxbridge gyp rooms have gone to his head, leaving Sixth Form-level socialism as the only solution to a more difficult problem. A fairer education system from cradle to university that pushes those from the lowest backgrounds into these dreaming spires may be slow and ideologically nebulous, but it would enact the cultural change he and I are after.