I was watching BBC3’s Growing Up Poor tonight. If you haven’t, you should watch it too. For once a really positive representation of three young working-class lads doing their best to get by under really hard circumstances.
Anyway as I was watching, it suddenly struck me how unusual it is to see ordinary people’s houses and what they’re actually like on tv. Period drama is usually about, let’s face it, the rich. Soap operas and daytime drama series are filmed on sets with freshly painted walls. Even the flats in Eastenders are suspiciously spic and span. We’re bombarded with middle class aspirational property programmes. Shown investment bankers choosing from several 6-figure houses for a weekend getaway. This one turned down because there’s only a single garage, that one turned down because the second sitting room isn’t big enough for the wife’s pottery studio, this other one turned down because they need some land for the daughter’s pony.
I don’t recall ever seeing peeling ceilings, or grubby walls, or patches of mould because there’s a damp problem, or holes in the wall where someone lost the rag and punched it, or bare floorboards or threadbare carpet, or broken glass in the communal stair, or overcrowding so you don’t really have a living room because you need more bedroom space, unless the producer is trying to make a point with it. ‘Look! This character is poor! See how poor they are, because we’re making this contrast with what we all know is normality!’ Well actually, for a lot of us, that is normality. This stuff is pretty normal in the bottom end of the housing market. Sometimes because you don’t have the money to do anything about it. Sometimes because the landlord says you’re not allowed to decorate (but won’t pay for it to be done himself). Sometimes because as well as not really having the money, you don’t have the time or energy to get it sorted out, because everyday life is quite hard work. And you certainly don’t have the choice to move, and no-one’s going to come and film you choosing from three alternatives.
It was good to see working class lives presented positively but honestly tonight. There’s been way too many reality shows lately where it feels like you’re meant to say ‘gosh, look at these awful common poor people getting it hilariously wrong. Silly poor people.’ Followed by a property show which says ‘Here, look at what you could win if you would just be more like us’.