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Roco Martn Garrido Professor Dra. Mara Isabel Romero Ruiz Prcticas culturales de los pases de habla Inglesa 31 May 2013

The Movie This is England as Reflection of British Society in the 80s

This essay will be an analysis of the movie This is England directed by Shane Meadows (2006). It will discuss the stereotypes of Britons and also the presence of ethnic minorities and racism in the 80's. This is England looks back into the life of British working-class during the early eighties, through the eyes of young Shaun who is the main character of the movie and his new gang. They will have to deal with the bitterness of outside influences such as racism and xenophobia, mass unemployment and the fall out of the Falkland's War; in addition they will cope with Thatchers Britain. The essay will focus above all on the discrimination from British skinheads towards Pakistanis citizens living in United Kingdom, and the hate they feel to all foreign people who live in their country. We will also pay attention to the act of comprehension to this movement. To understand this social factor in a proper way and all the consequences that it entails. The content of the movie will be analysed and compared with the socio-historic context of the period. Thus we will start studying the socio- historic context of the 80's in the United Kingdom to reach a better understanding of the different events that take place in the movie This is England.

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During the decade of the 80's until late 90s, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the only woman that has held that position. She was the first Prime Minister to make such profound changes and consequently disrupt the economy and society in the UK. She decreased the power of trade unions, the role of the state lessened and labour rights were reduced in order to create a more flexible labour market and thus increase the profits of bosses. Her politics led to a sharp rise in unemployment and worsened the distribution of wealth. In April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falklands and Thatcher responded by sending a naval fleet to reclaim them. Britain was victorious and the patriotic fervour resulted in Thatchers popularity soaring during a time when their level of acceptance was the lowest ever for a prime minister. However, it was not all wins and wealth, thousands of British citizens died in that struggle and public spending towards that mission was enormous. All these social problems such as unemployment, immigration, racism and the harsh politics of Thatchers government provoked a rise of claims movements especially within the working class. We will focus on the skinhead movement in the U.K, due to the fact that during the whole movie This is England this social inclination is shown. Consequences and main attitudes will be as well be analysed. The first skinheads emerged in the early 1970's as just one of the many distinct youth cultures that flowered in postwar Britain. Taking elements from the English mod and the Jamaican immigrant fashion, these working-class London youths crafted an identity in self-conscious opposition to the middle-class longhairs. The skinhead style first emerged as part of a non-racist and multiracial scene. White skinheads took on a person that reflected admiration and kinship with a new generation of workingclass West Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom. Like the Jamaican immigrants of

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the time, the first skinheads were clean-cut, neat, and sharp-looking compared to the shaggier youth styles of the period. (White skinheads eventually lost their affinity for Jamaica as Rastafarian fashions became ascendant, with their overtones of black pride and pan-Africanism.) Many early white skinheads were vaguely nationalistic and proud to be British, but their deepest loyalties lay with their childhood chums and the local soccer team, not the white race, as professed by todays racist skinheads. While known for their youthful aggression, petty criminality, and soccer stadium violence, this activity was seen to have been born out of economic hardship and a general spirit of bully-boy rebellion not blind racial hatred. Indeed, the first skinhead music was reggae and ska, both black musical forms. But a split between racist and nonracist skinheads was apparent and began deepening soon after the style was born. By the early 80s, skinhead attacks on South Asian immigrants in London the infamous sport of Paki bashing had become an international news story. These violent skinheads had not yet acquired the trappings of neo-Nazi costumes and ideology, but they were already acting like Hitlers goon squads, the brown shirts. More than 50 such attacks were reported within a span of weeks in 1980, triggering street protests by British South Asians. A definitive break between racist and non-racist skinheads had occurred. (Racist Skinheads; understanding the Threat, SPCL, 2012) Let us now focus on the movie plot, and the most relevant scenes and moments of racism, violence, xenophobia and social discrimination. This is England can be considered as a social movie that perpetuates a picture of a country not far from the one we are overlooking now. The film takes us back to the Thatcher years in a clearly accentuated north of England ridden by jobless youth and

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financially stretched families, encapsulating a small landscape of issues that stirred the nation under the "Iron Lady's rule". The movie takes us in what could be described as the "deep England journey" where social tensions are on the rise, and a new radical group, The National Front is taking advantage of the situation by blending anger and national pride, rallying people around the country. For instance Shaun, the protagonist of the movie, at the very early age of 12 he has already endured the loose of his father as a result of the Falklands War as well as facing financial problems at home. In addition to this he withstands daily bulling from schoolmates, which brings him to state of outcast. (I would like to point out the moment where Shaun's school friends were teasing of him because he cannot afford to buy new trousers like the other children). This is a key point about the economic situation of the country. As a result of this social rejection at school Shaun meets by chance an urban tribe of skinheads. The group takes him under its wing as if a sort of mascot, although Shaun with his strong personality quickly becomes part of the group. Everything is perfect at the beginning, Shaun feels part of the new group and for first time in ages he has got friends. As a result he starts going out and doing things as a teenager would, like meeting girls and many other things that make him happy and feel wanted. (This part of the movie reflects the lack of love and a male figure in Shaun's life, so he now considers his new friends to be part of his family). However as has been quoted within, Racist Skinheads; understanding the Threat. SPLC 2012, not all skinheads were political and racist, those differences between racist and no-racist skinheads have been observed in the movie too. To start with; one of the gang members in the film is even black. They live in a happy community in the early 80s, having fun and being together in a totally grey unfriendly

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working class environment. This shows the two separate groups of skinheads, those who only adopt the style, fashion (shaved heads, boots, tattoos) and ska music, and those who really believe in some values such as discrimination and xenophobia towards immigrants. As I mentioned before things were good for a while until Combo arrived on the scene. Straight out of prison and a British blooded skinhead, Combo represents the proNazi role and extremist in values. Soon the gang becomes segmented because of differences of opinion and fuelled by the war and the council estate mentality of accepting foreigners' things start to spiral out of control and Shaun finds himself in way above his head. Shaun decides to get involved within Combo's group along with some other of his followers as a matter of honor, he feels the need to avenge the death of his father in the Falklands War, and influenced by Combo, Shaun is thrust into a series of acts of vandalism, such as; theft, and harassment to immigrants. It is from this point in the movie where the racism scenes can be seen and a variety of neo-Nazi signs especially against Pakistanis. Some pivotal moments concerning these issues are the instants where Combo, Shaun and some others harass the Asian locals with racist graffitis- " hey, how many fs in 'off? Other example of such discrimination is when they terrify Pakistanis in a public place and force them to leave claiming that they are the bosses and they are just bloody immigrants. The movie has plenty of skinhead signs, and the attire is carefully taking it into account. For example the use of Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin steel boots, braces, tattoos, and the present of Saint George cross among others.

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Nevertheless I strongly believe that the most representative moment of the movie is when Combo delivers a speech to all his followers and speaks openly of their hatred towards immigrants, to the British government, and how he is in favour and supports nationalism. "For 2,000 years this little island has been raped and pillaged by people who would want a piece of it. For what? Just so we could open the floodgates and say 'come in'? Get out the boat; did you have a good trip? Yeah...there is a corner would you like build a shop? Or better still why dont you build a church? Follow your own fucking religions, and do what you want ... when there are single fucking parents out there who cannot get a fucking flat...because they are given to these fucking Pakis... Now three-and-a-half million of us can't find jobs 'cos they're taking them all." ...and that Thatcher! sits in the ivory tower and sends us on a phoney war to the Falklands the fucking Falklands what the fucks the Falklands...

These excerpts manifest Combos thoughts and sadly what some people still think nowadays. According to Alibhai- Brown in The Exclude Majority: what about the English; Successful, affluent, urban city folk are likely these days to lament the end of Englishness. A few years ago, two detailed nationwide studies commissioned by the institute for Public Policy Research illustrated this clearly; the researchers concluded that English people

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across all classes have deep anxieties about the loss of white British identity as we go into the next century and ever further into Europe" often this is expressed as painful reminiscence. In the surveys, professional Englishmen were saying things such as the great days are gone forever", or "this country is an embarrassment; we used to rule the world, now look at us" such unhealthy pessimism and nostalgia are surely dangerous for any society (46) The movie after a series of violent moments and acts of vandalism, culminates with Combo's fatal assault to one of the ex members of the skinheads. Combo reveals his anger, prejudice and bitterness against Milky (The Jamaican guy) leaving him fatally wounded. Little Shaun after witnessing this event realizes the seriousness of radical skinheads. The movie ends with an image of Shaun throwing the St. George flag symbol a symbol of British pride and patriotism into the sea. (Jasper Copping, 2012). This is England is a movie that thanks to its good characterization both in terms of costumes, makeup, events of the time (Rubik's Cubes, aerobics, Jamaican and reggae music, the royal wedding, images of Falkland's word etc) as well as the honourable performance of the actors takes us back to the decade of the 80's in united kingdom, allowing the spectator be part of the movie, understand this movement called Skinhead and the social, cultural, and economic problems of the time a little better. It may seem that Combo's attitude, (the radical skinhead in the film) is isolated or unusual, or that it is not normal in today's society, however The European Youth Survey published by MTV (1997) found that some White British youths (16-24 years old) were the most racially prejudiced in Europe. 30 per cent disagreed that all races and cultures are equal and 26 per cent said they would never date anyone who was of a different colour. Many of these people where born into multiculturalism.

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Throughout the whole movie hatred towards immigrants is present, but especially towards Pakis" as they are called. Combo's gang considers foreign people as a great villain and blames them for the lack of work in the country, and as a consequence, for the difficulties the white British had trying to get a decent flat to live and a job, due to employers preferring labour from the immigrants because they work for less money and are cheaper for business owner. It is true that migrants compete for jobs and, in some proven cases, bring down wages. They however are not responsible for their selfexploitation. Most have no choice but to work and accept what they get. They too are victims of the system created by Thatcher and continued by Blair and Brown, fundamentalist free-marketers, attached to an economic model which has made the entrepreneur class vastly richer and the poor wretched. (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 6). I would like to conclude by saying that modern racism and indeed also old-fashion racism, is usually theorized as an individual phenomenon but often this attitude has been influenced by political, economical, and social facts that have enhanced hatred toward immigrants. Unfortunately this incident is still present in most societies around the world as has been demonstrated through the MTV Results of the European Youth Survey. Concerning on the skinhead's movement, to say that is a type of racism but in a more radical way, the movement focuses on mainstream anxieties about immigration, the economy, and changing social roles, as a result many young people with lack of British identity will continue to see skinheads as a solution to society's problems. One characteristic of these groups is that they often recruit vulnerable white inmates by offering to protect them against minority gangs. In exchange, they receive loyalty to the racist cause and a community outside the prison that will support them upon release.

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Shaun the protagonist of the movie is a clear example of this case, a young boy with social problems who defends nationalism just to get a little bit of affection. All these events remind us how far we still have to go to solve the problem of racism and xenophobia, and how important is provide a proper education in order to avoid these problems.

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WORKS CITED

Racist Skinheads; understanding the Threat. Southern Poverty Law Center (SPCL). 2012 Print. Anti-defamation league. The skinhead international: A worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi skinheads. New York: anti-defamation league, 1995. Blazack, Randy. The Racist Skinhead Movement. Southern Poverty Law Center (SPCL). 2012 Print. Alibhai- Brown Yasmin. The excluded Majority: what about the English? Reclaiming Brithisness. The Foreign Policy Centre . London: York Road, 2002. Alibhai- Brown Yasmin. Who Do We Think We Are? Imagining New Britain. Penguin Press: New York, 2001. MTV. Results of the European Youth Survey. 1997. Copping, Jasper. St.Georges flag is s racist symbol says a quarter of the English. The Telegraph. n. pag. web. 22 April 2012. This is England. Dir. Shane Meadows. Perf. Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, 2006. Film