Latest post on Left Futures

Benefits Street – a deliberate attempt to offend an audience

Bennefits StreetWe Brits love our two minute hates, and going by the bile trickling down Twitter this evening Channel 4’s Benefits Street has cornered that market. So a few points.

This programme, despite its obvious opportunism, was conceived and produced by metropolitan elite-types. And metropolitan I, of course, mean London. In typical path-to-hell fashion perhaps the filmmakers genuinely believe they’re helping the people involved in this show. There’s an element of the working class exotic about it, a whiff of the northern Other (despite Birmingham not being ‘the north’). It smacks of nice well spoken metro types swooping down and helping the good people of Benefits Street to help themselves.

A second factor worth considering is the political economy of celebrity itself. Reality shows, newspapers, gossip rags, fan forums, they all have an insatiable appetite for new Z-listers that can tour its circuit for a few months, or a couple of years. Celebrity has long been dissociated from talent. Will we see White Dee in the jungle? Who will do Big Brother next year? Which resident will be first to have their sex life splashed in a Sunday paper? I doubt the producers set down in their planning meeting with this in mind, but all reality TV plugs into this circuit of fleeting fame.

Lastly, Benefits Street says something interesting about the distance travelled by Channel 4. Up until the last decade C4 was always the daring channel. It broke the mold with The WordBig BreakfastBrookside and, of course, Big Brother. It competed with BBC2 as the go-to place for alternative comedy in the 80s and 90s, and was – for a time – hated more by the Daily Mail than dear old Auntie. It had a winning formula of churning out programming that was challenging but in some way controversial. Sex usually did the trick and as the press worked themselves up into a hypocritical lather, the audiences – crucially the young(ish), hip, taste-making audiences – tuned in.

Now the reverse is true. Like The Mail it realises that the way to reach the millions who wouldn’t normally touch reality TV product is to produce something so distasteful, something that confirms every single benefit myth pumped out by the press. To get the numbers in C4 deliberately went out of their way to offend an audience. And it worked. How many outraged lefties watched tonight’s episode? How many acres and column inches of free publicity has this show in parts normally resistant to reality telly?

This post first appeared at A Very Public Sociologist


  1. veganpanda says:

    I PURPOSELY avoid all the sensationalist (crap) TV!! But as you say most people (particularly younger people) love it all, that upsets me so much as they are our future *rolls eyes*

  2. eric clyne says:

    I am working-class. I live on a working-class estate. I am not in the same social class as the people I have seen on Benefit Street.

    Perhaps there is a hard left myth or need to characterise the working-class as one cohesive social group. But it is not true.

    I realise there are difficulties with terminology. Most terms used for the lower working class are pejoratives. And terms like ‘respectable’ working class produce roars of politically correct disapproval.

    Three streets away from where I live you find constant screaming in the street, drug addiction, alcoholism, neglected houses and gardens, vandalism and very high unemployment rates.

    In my street, no unemployment, no noise, no vandalism and houses and gardens looked after.

    When Labour talk of social mobility they mean using education to promote folk into the middle-class.

    Far more important is the need to provide apprenticeships and job opportunities so that those living lives of chaos at the bottom get a chance to rise INTO the working-class.

  3. swatantra says:

    What Eric is talking about are the ‘underclass’, not really ‘working class’, and even they can be divided into the ‘deserving underclass’ and the ‘undeserving underclass’; the deserving certainly live in poverty through circumstancest of their own making and really want to better themselves, but the ‘underserving’ couldn’t care less and are a burden on society, and I doubt we can do much for them, and quite a few of them live on Benefit Street.

  4. swatantra says:

    …that should have read … the ‘deserving’ … due to circumstances NOT of their own making …

© 2024 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma