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  1. #1
    Junior Member
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    Im a final year undergraduate who recently began working on my dissertation. Ive been struggling a bit recently with my choice of question.

    Do social realist films in British Cinema reinforce Stereotypes within the working class?

    If you dont know what social realism is, it's basically a representation of a 'life as it really is' often portrayed using the working class and comments on political and social issues current to the setting of the film. Its usually low budget and aimed at an art circuit and the films resist resolution, they a more documentary.

    Films such as 'Bleak moments' and 'Meantime' by Mike Leigh are social realist films, in these films there is a subtle class war happening between the well educated and prospering middle class with the under educated and unemployed working class.

    What i want to know is whether these films aid in reinforcing stereotypes within the working class by portraying them as drug peddling, abusive, uneducated and often violent. Or is this a vision from the director to create a gritty 'realism' to the film... or does anyone really believe this not to be a minority representation and believes all working class is this way? (if there really still is a working class today?)

    Anyone got any opinions let me know.



  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    Aug 2007
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    Blimey - now there's a topic and a half!

    You might find it easier to limit the scope - maybe choosing a decade or a director or two (both your examples are from Leigh and he's a good choice). The 'obvious' choice would be the late 50s early 60s - Room at the Top, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning etc. - but there is quite a lot of work on these (I'd recommend John Hill's book, the title of which escapes me at the moment). Also, they don't quite fit your definition, as these were mainstream films and very successful at the box office.

    I'd suggest concentrating on 1979+ (the Thatcher years onwards) - the notion of the 'working class' becomes heavily politicised from this period onwards, e.g. the sale of council houses to create a property owning, Conservative voting middle class; the closure of many mines & factories... What's notable is that many of the more recent films are set in the past (Billy Elliot, Full Monty), referring to the 80s in particular.

    You might also want to consider TV as a comparison point - such as soaps (UK soaps are predominantly working class, unlike US soaps), Only Fools and Horses, Bread.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Wales
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    I think you have to be careful not to stereotype any social group. Quite possibly, the reason you’ve been asked this question is because the working class are often stereotyped and demonised as being the cause of many ills in our society, when, quite often, they are least able to affect it.

    I think that a stereotype can only take hold when a person is not familiar with a subject – either as the person creating the work or as the viewer. However well meaning, we all hold stereotypical images as a starting base and it requires some exploratory work to examine whether these hold up or not. Some are not prepared to do that for their individual reasons, whether they be political, through malice or ignorance. A stereotype will not hold with someone familiar and people are often keen to assess and speak out about a work that is meant to cover something they have any experience of.

    So, I think that a stereotype can only maintain in the eyes of a particular person if they are readily prepared to accept that view.

    In the case of some of the films mentioned – Billy Elliot and The Full Monty - I felt that the first was well meaning, but unrealistic, the second well meaning, more realistic, but exploitative really, when you take it apart and look at it. But that isn’t what you’ve asked.

    I think, like any social group, that treating people as human beings first and their ‘class’ second is the way to go. That doesn’t happen..a lot.. and it is as limiting to the work itself as it is socially damaging.

    Yes, I think that the class system still exists. But has nothing to do with whether you work or not and more with a complex strata of tiny nuances of behaviour based on upbringing, intelligence and attainment levels that single people out besides their individual personality, but also influence that.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    Sep 2005
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    Remember that most of the directors of the 'social realist' films of the 60s are male Oxbridge types (Tony Richardson, John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz and even Ken Loach) who have had no personal experience of growing up in working class communities or of being female...

    Even 'red Ken' used to talk quite posh in the 1960s when he was a trainee with the BBC....

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: Europe Bernardo's Avatar
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    Jun 2003
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    the working class by portraying them as drug peddling, abusive, uneducated and often violent.

    Anyone got any opinions let me know.


    I guess you have youth on your side and I struggle not to patronise you. Your terms are out of date and probably became slowly obsolete after 'You have never had it so good' speech. You need to define the population in terms of income ABCD. Then even within the groups you will meet those who do not fit. Some have an astounding appreciation of art and yet have very modest means, traditional labour leaders have the gift of language. As one gets older one has to take people as they are - individuals and not try to fit them to a pattern as the assumptions made will be wrong. Ask the original planners of Harlow New Town.

    The drug peddling quote I picked: Very very few are like that, really minimal, but attract attention and dominate the headlines as press likes sensation and likewise, I suppose, dramatists. The group quoted never work and belong to the criminal class, which you seem to have omitted from your post and covers all social economic groups.

  6. #6
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    May 2010
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    I'm teaching this to A level students at the moment, representations of working class/underclass youths as a collective identity. Would you mind letting me see your dissertation, it would be very helpful.

    Thank you

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