The Poverty of Imagination *
The UK’s soporific slide deeper into fiscally-imposed structurally-readjusted barbarity, without much in the way of disturbance to putative social peace, has now been thoroughly punctured.
First the exuberant Lethal Bizzle of EMA kids prompted their university ‘betters’ to trash Conservative HQ. Latterly, so-called Black Blocs bypassed passive masses of notional protest and pissed on complicit bureaucracy to attack the City. And then, most vividly, came unexpected eruptions of spontaneous sustained rage among festering slumdwellers that blazed all over the national shop.
What is remarkable, nevertheless, is how unprepared those supposedly in-the-know were in the face of these socio-political squalls, storms and tornadoes. Sure enough, the flog-’em-and-bang-’em-up brigade broadcast their bile in a prompt chorus of class-hatred, as if the perpetrators of anti-social crime were restricted to archetypal, opportunistic, small-time hoodies and arsonists. As if it had nothing to do with a wider, more deliberate orchestration on an apocalyptic scale, thanks to elite financial obscenities mugging the 99% and foreclosing on the mortgaged futures of global and local populations.
But why do the revolting poor come as such a surprise? After all, despite unhealthy upstart idealisms regularly messing up business-as-usual elsewhere, a mythic enlightened middlebrow rationalism is normally alleged to have bewitched this geographic idyll. Early last century it even gave birth to that dispassionately charitable media empiricism called ‘documentary’ or ‘social realism’. This has remained at the centre of the country’s fantasy factories ever since – despite infernal colonisations by vulgar American kitsch and purist continental aesthetics. And this cultural paraphernalia of institutional and representational patterns, disciplines, practices, and rhetorics has always taken as its very special scientific project the minute observation and adumbration of the travails of the poor. In other words, where was the careful data gathering, processing and interpretation, on large and small public screens, when the think-tanks, policymakers, police, and movers-and-shakers seemingly needed it?
Accepting that current predicaments set-in during Thatcher’s yesteryears, not yesterday’s recession, this essay subjectively surveys two decades of austere growth in British poverty porn. Dissecting grim-up-north platitudes, perilous-down-south perambulations and sundry slumming-it social-realist serenades, an attempt is made to see if the national film oeuvre ought to have opened any eyes.