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Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky
Bakalářská diplomová práce
Masaryk University in Brno Faculty of Arts
Department of English and American Studies English Language and Literature
Underclass And Its Representations In The Contemporary British Cinema
B.A. Major Thesis
Supervisor: doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A. 2005
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography. ……………………………………………..
Mgr.. M. 4 . Karolína Štěpánová and John Evans for their valuable and practical advice. CSc. Milada Franková.I would like to thank doc. and Iveta Frízlová.A. for her kind help and understanding.
INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………….22 VI.28 VII..18 A TALE ABOUT THE MALE IN BRASSED OFF AND FULL MONTY....... THE PERFECT DAYS IN TRAINSPOTTING. II..........…………………………………………….........Contents I. IV.. III....…………………………..……6 SURPLUS SOCIETY…………………………………………………………8 THE RISE OF AN “UNDERCLASS”…………....11 UNDERCLASS ON THE SCREEN…………………………………….........…... CONCLUSION………………………………………………………………31 VIII. V.. BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………………………………………33 5 ...
The theme of this socalled underclass was popularised by a number of films and books which showed how this new social phenomena was to be regarded. became one of the most celebrated items of modern youth culture in Britain. In my work. I intend to show that this type of underclass film was. handled the issue of underclass and what were the circumstances that led to the reintroduction of social-oriented cinema in the 90’s. I will look at the historical. Many have argued about the emergence of a new class. and what these features should be. I will follow the contemporary debate on underclass and present explanations and descriptions of this social group that either reject or give validation to the use of this term. in a way.Introduction The social reality of the working class has become one of the main issues of the roaring debates in Britain under the Conservative Government at the end of the 80’s. social and political context in which an underclass was developing. dealing with irresponsible and careless drug addicts. Whether this constantly growing group of impoverished people could be easily identified by certain common features. I will argue that although the concept of underclass is rather problematic. I will describe how a specific form of popular culture. there is enough evidence to suggest the existence of a certain marginalized social class that shares several characteristics. Secondly. the rise of underclass is accompanied by the loss of working class traditions and values. which is the result of 6 . Brassed Off and The Full Monty give us a vibrant and heart-warming picture of working class men who lose their jobs but manage to keep their minds cheerful and their lives full of joy. a response to the debate in academic and political circles. Firstly. and announced the return of classconsciousness and the interest in community life. Trainspotting. is still a part of an unresolved question. characterised by people who suddenly find themselves as outcasts at the fringe of society. In underclass films. the cinema.
and for this purpose I have chosen three films. 7 . Trainspotting focuses on the portrayal of youth underclass as a specific subculture and social exclusion as a matter of free will. I plan to show that underclass films focus on a number of common themes.changes in the labour market. untying of community bonds and the loss of traditional gender roles. underclass is depicted in relation to unemployment. In Full Monty and Brassed Off.
The notion of the unwanted. the street folk. ranging from some conservative views pointing to deviant behaviour and unwillingness to become fully active members of society. Opinions on this matter differ dramatically. qtd. as the gap between the economically well off and the most disadvantaged widened. The abandonment of the poor was justified. The main concerns are the possible causes of poverty and the ways it should be dealt with. political and economical spheres. They were portrayed as “a threat to social organization” and such terms as “the redundant population. the lumpenproletariat. It was with the rise of theories on social structure in the nineteenth century. that the category of the poor gained a new dimension. the residuum. These ideas reached their height with the popularisation of social Darwinism and eugenics that stressed selection and biological predispositions of humans to become either desirable members of society or an inferior breed on its margins. In fact. Not until the end of the First World War did the attitudes poverty change. the social outcasts. outsider group of impoverished people has been in the minds of populations since the dawn of societal life. the biggest fear of the state was that financial support to the poor would lead to the creation of a culture of dependency in which people would voluntarily stay out of work and this behavioural pattern would be projected onto future generations. The dominant view followed that poverty was the result of an individual failure and ignorance and thus. the questions surrounding all different forms of inequality have taken up central stage in social. the state was not responsible for providing any help for “the idle man […] who will not work according to his faculty”. and the dangerous classes” were common (Morris 2).Surplus society In the last few decades. but he should be left to “perish according to his necessity” (Carlyle 177. The rise of the welfare 8 . to those views that look for causes of economic disadvantage in social change and structure. savage. in Morris 12).
state was an intractable outcome of the post war conditions characterised by the inconsolable economic hardships of some groups in society. The distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor had been popular even before. The idea was to reduce the expenditures on industry and invest in the more profitable and flexible area. Morris argues that the very instrument of material relief has become the means of social stigma and exclusion. the collapse of Britain’s manufacturing base followed and thousands of workers lost their jobs. policies attempting to establish what type of people qualify for social benefits. the service sector. there were attempts to draw a kind of line between those who deserved to be helped and the idlers who only wanted to live at others’ expense. the commitment to full employment was abandoned and the government introduced severe 9 . and her project focused on strengthening the powers of central government and supporting private enterprise at the expense of large national companies and trade unions. Although the rate of unemployment rose due to the decline in manufacturing jobs. Thus. and this categorizing continued to be in use throughout the twentieth century and is still apparent in many current policies. “The right to benefits is dependent upon discouraging. mass consumerism and competitiveness. From the start. proved extremely problematic and had negative affects related to the fear of being stigmatised and potentially excluded from society. especially of soldiers returning from the front. In Britain. this new “class” started forming in the 80’s under the Conservative programme of Margaret Thatcher’s government whose political tendencies revolved around the idea that “there is no such thing as society. and is increasingly associated with speculation about an emerging British “underclass” (56). there are only individual men and women and there are families” (Jones 97). demoralising and humiliating procedure” in which “claimants are called upon to prove their worth” (Morris 53). Her instincts were towards individualism. However.
British Cinema in the 1980s 10 .1 Thatcher’s propagation of the view that those who failed in society did not have rights against those who succeeded. mainly in the service sector. and gave credence to many voices that tried to depict the new “underclass” as not worthy of public assistance. Thus the state “created a division between those who were the beneficiaries of the Thatcher years-not only the very rich but also the new ‘service class’ in the private sector and core workers in the growth industriesand the losers-especially ‘peripherical’ workers. The aim was to prevent the rise of state dependency among the unemployed.cutbacks in welfare benefits. Sacked miners and other skilled labourers found themselves without future prospects for work in regions hit by acute lack of jobs. John. The Rise of an “Underclass”? 1 Hill. and encourage the development of local labour markets. the long-term unemployed and the new poor” (Hill 7).
It came into usage at the time when the critics of social inequality started to feel the urge to define a separate category that would reflect possible explanations for poverty. soon became transformed and developed various ideological associations.Since the emergence of the concept of an “underclass”. He spoke about “an unprivileged class of unemployed. in his view. He depicts them as people who cannot break out of poverty. however. in Gans 142). usually due to their passivity or refusal. His concept. Ken Auletta. The term was invented to describe a marginalized group that is somehow shut out from the rest of society. ambitions and its achievements” (qtd. an American journalist. Was it the passive attitudes and unwillingness of people to accept the rules of modern capitalism and consumerism that made them outsiders of mainstream society? Or did the cause of deteriorating living conditions of the working classes lie in the inefficient market economy and “the structured inequality which disadvantages particular groups in society” (Morris 80)? First. let us have a closer look at the origins and explanations of the underclass issue. it was a sociologist Gunnar Myrdal who came with a new contemporary term to define a group of people who became victims of the changing post-industrial economic system of the West (MacDonald 4). who made the term “underclass” famous not only within academic circles. characteristic of the new class. unemployables and underemployed who are more and more hopelessly set apart from the nation at large and do not share in its life. included in his category the types of behaviour and values that were. Although the term “underclass” was first in use at the beginning of the twentieth century and referred to the majority of society oppressed by the capitalist “overclass”. But no single definition has yet emerged. a raging debate around its meaning has taken place among scholars and in public circles. Long- 11 . The continuous discussion on this topic left many asking what it was that drove people into the trap of separation from the majority of population.
would fundamentally degrade the life of society” (“The British Underclass”). underclass was “a class of violent. if they became sufficiently numerous. dropping out from the labour force by young males. single parenthood and violent crime. namely. By contrast. and for creating an unproductive 12 . In fact. Surely. His explanation tended to establish disparate types of people as members of the same class and implied that their conduct was often the cause of their miserable situation. The subsequent attempts in analysing this term more or less grew in the direction of both theories. homeless and released mental patients” (qtd. they do not represent partners perfect for marriage. without secure future prospects.term welfare recipients stand side by side with “hostile street criminals. He claims that in contemporary society young men fail to exercise any moral righteousness and voluntarily keep out of suitable employment. in Morris 81). Murray takes a rather conservative approach in arguing that the break down of family values was brought about by the lack of socialization of young people. In his words. young women who irresponsibly conceive children with them find it more useful to become welfare recipients (“The British Underclass”). These two different approaches suggested that the explanation of poverty could be found either in social structure or the behaviour of underclass. He blames the welfare state for succumbing to the phenomenon of the undeserving who become accustomed to state assistance. unsocialized people who. Thus. Charles Murray. in MacDonald 9). In Britain. drop-outs or drug addicts”. drifters. the turmoil around the possible emergence of a “new” class began with the arrival of the American critic. Under the same category are “traumatised drunks. who claimed to be “a visitor from a plague area [coming] to see whether the disease is spreading” (qtd. the American sociologist William Wilson who also participated in the popularisation of the concept stressed the importance of the unequal access to labour market over the conduct of underclass as the source of inequality. He pointed out three trends causing the growth of the underclass.
His writings gave credit to the Conservative party programme “Back to Basics” which emphasized the return to traditional values of marriage and family (MacDonald 6). Through the pages of the Sunday Times his ideas gained popularity among wider audiences and enjoyed much support even from influential politicians. Some of his opponents considered the popularity of his thesis as a possible instigator of many policies created to regulate the behaviour of underclass. As Murray concludes. the Labour MP Frank Field is not much in favour of this term as for him it already carries in itself ideological assumptions about underclass. According to Mann. “the state has provided not a safety net. “communities need families. they need positive role models to build up a sense of morality. It is not possible for single mothers to raise their sons to be fully responsible members of society. his controversy takes a new turn. unless carefully defined (165). Without the presence of their fathers. and at the same time claims in his other theories. Such dependency on generous benefits has led to the deterioration of family and community values.community of social benefit dependants. these assumptions have led many middle class observers to identify underclass in relation to its negative connotations and this term should thus be avoided. in his later work The Bell Curve. many young men grow up to be “idlers” who refuse to work and frequently develop criminal behaviour and drug addiction (“Underclass” 27-33). but a feather bed” (106). He ironically states that in Murray’s theory. that they are rational calculators evaluating the benefits of their idleness (MacDonald 7-13). However. Mann has criticised Murray for drawing a picture of underclass as a social problem. In his conception of the 13 . communities need fathers” (“Underclass” 29). Murray’s incompatible theories aroused strong polemics and have many times been rejected by other theorists of social inequality. instead of a group who suffer social problems. when he credits the members of underclass with low intelligence. As children tend to imitate the behaviour of adults around them. Similarly.
detailed research is needed to show to what extent the low commitment to work. Elaine Kempson concluded that people with a lack of finance should not be counted as an underclass. Duncan Gallie found that although “long-term unemployed experienced high levels of material deprivation.” there was no evidence of the unemployed underclass “becoming unemployable as their values adjust to the lack of work. but with simply too little money to be able to share in the activities and possessions of everyday life with the rest of the population” (qtd. In his survey among Sheffield respondents. Nevertheless. as their ambitions towards getting a job good enough to ensure a decent house and living are just like those of other people. single parents and the retired. she continues to argue that the increase in income and living standards of the rest of society makes it even more difficult for the disadvantaged to reach their “fairly modest aspirations” (qtd. with the same culture and aspirations. The protagonists of these structural theories agree that the impoverished groups are more vulnerable to restricted job opportunities and are often unlikely to succeed in the imbalanced labour market. as suggested by Murray. or […] as having political and cultural values distinct from those of the working class” (qtd. however. 14 . on reviewing several studies.most marginalized group are those who involuntarily find themselves in long-term unemployment. Other studies have focused on proving whether the underclass can be said to be sharing their own version of sub-culture. in “Underclass” 8). is the cause of high unemployment rates among the disadvantaged. The findings of Jonathan Bradshaw and Hilary Holmes led them to relinquish the concept of underclass. in Buck 279). as its members “are just the same people as the rest of our population. in “Underclass” 8). They all suffer from being locked out of the rising living standards and the hardening of public attitudes towards those who “have failed to ‘make’ it in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain” (2-3). In addition.
in general.In order to disperse the mist around the concept of the underclass. poor socialization and the absence of role models do not lead to the continuity of disadvantage among the poor (Morris 94). tightening of laws associated with “the clubbing culture” and the boom in workfare programmes for the young (19). Many scholars became interested in the role of socialization in the self-recreation of the underclass and the idea that specific inequality traits might be passed from one generation to another. women face a dilemma. this view puts women in an ambiguous position and can negatively affect the policies aimed at single mothers. he implies. in questioning the guilt factor of young people in their own degradation. For these reasons. Similarly. the debate has concentrated on other problematic issues raised by Murray and his opponents. It has been suggested that certain sub-cultural influences do exist but. Unlike Murray who emphasized the unwillingness of them to find jobs. MacDonald sees the primary cause of high unemployment among the young as being “the rapid collapse of employment 15 . the debate on the underclass should mainly focus on the problems related to young people. either on state or their husbands. their job possibilities are still limited. “as benefit dependents they are stigmatized members of the ‘underclass’. Robert MacDonald avers to the fact that many policies designed to deal with the underclass tend to be directed at youth. and as such are failing in their distinctively ‘female’ role of socializing the next generation” (Mingione 165-66). Furthermore. This inevitably leads to a kind of dependency. Lydia Morris challenges Murray’s ideas on unreliable single mothers by arguing that although women gained much freedom after the collapse of traditional gender roles and the majority are in paid employment. According to Morris. such as the reduction of benefits to single mothers. particularly when coupled with the obligations of motherhood. Thus.
MacDonald also managed to incorporate in his definition a cultural aspect. Mingione maintains that the main cause behind the impoverishment of certain groups is the lack of suitable job opportunities (28). Enzo Mingione includes psychological factors in his concept from which is derived a compelling understanding of the phenomenon of underclass. This is particularly true in terms of youth underclass. if there is a favourable employment climate. As Mingione observes: This is due to the fact that the difficulty in finding a stable. claiming that the underclass is a “structurally separate and culturally distinct” group of people who “share some similar cultural outlooks. it is the longterm unemployed father trapped in an area where job opportunities are scarce. the difficulty in forming or maintaining a ‘normal’ family cohabitation and a ‘proper’ housing arrangement are all interconnected elements which appear in the stages of the life history of the socially excluded (27-28). In fact. stigmatisation of failure. He stresses the impact of economic transition and of hostile policies on the chances of young people. unfavourably concentrated among individuals and social groups with low educational and vocational qualifications condemned to living in city areas offering few opportunities. In addition. He remarks that poverty is directly connected to high levels of unemployment and exclusion from the labour market. which as a consequence negatively affects his family’s prospects and outlook. The loss of self-confidence. the underclass cannot be seen as a homogenous group. physical and psychological illness. sufficiently well-paid job. as it is almost impossible to capture its form and size due to the lack of a comprehensive 16 .opportunities for school leavers and young people” (20). the impact of such factors as alcoholism or the release from prison on one’s decision to find a job is minimal. alcohol or drug-abuse. is part of vicious circle of cumulative interlinked causation. As has been shown above. In Britain. values and activities” (3-4).
For this reason. many fear the consequences of suggesting the existence of a group whose members choose not to conform to the demands of society and find their way in life as voluntary welfare dependents. most critics have suggested that the emphasis should be put on changes in social life brought upon by the transformation of ‘traditional’ economic and family life. economic and political causes of economic deprivation. such as the functioning of the labour market and the complexity of the processes of social exclusion. However. Many factors have to be taken into account when explaining the causes of impoverishment. It is. and thus to propagate unsympathetic views of the underclass. therefore. as most evidence points to the emergence and growth of a deprived group characterized in terms of social exclusion and economic marginalisation. Whichever explanation is considered valid. necessary to use the term in such a way as to draw attention to the increasing gap between the powerful and underprivileged and the social. Some theories warn that the state tends to play the part of a host for those who usually fall into hardship due to their own misconduct. Despite these implications.definition. it would be a mistake to completely condemn the existence of the underclass. It often serves the privileged to label a certain group of people as problematic and unwanted. it has been argued that the concept of the underclass can be used to draw attention to the poverty problem and serve to present powerful messages. 17 . Some critics point out that the “underclass idea is simplistic and politically dangerous” and “ the use of stigmatising labels is likely to lead to stigmatising policies” (“Underclass” 9-10).
there were three that shone above the others – Full Monty. underclass sneaked into the attention of popular culture and made its way onto the screen. With the departure of Margaret Thatcher from political scene.Underclass On The Screen From academic and political circles. “defined in opposition to middle class comedies and backward looking war films of the period” (Hill 250)3. Film makers became increasingly interested in portraying this impoverished social class which suffered from long-term unemployment. This focus on the depiction of underrepresented groups on the margins of labour market was nothing new. experience with unemployment and poverty. Satire has its moment with sentiment. “From the New Wave to ‘Brit Grit’” Ibid 18 . and while using realist details. criminality and segregation. mainly being concerned with national identity and were mostly targeted at a middle class audience. they added imagery. fantasy and popular music to their portrayal of post-industrial Britain. with images of factory chimneys being followed by images of junkie squats. These films wanted to move away from the social realism of earlier eras. Among the underclass films. John. All of them were hugely successful internationally and have many similarites. geographical marginalisation or the alienation of modern youth. and regional and national stereotypes blend with changing roles and structures in society. Brassed Off and Trainspotting. British filmmakers felt the urge to point out to the state of society Thatcher left behind. as the use of social realism has traditionally been a distinguishing factor of British cinema in which realistic characters “wear cloth caps not top hats” (Hill 250). The arrival of underclass films was therefore.2 The preceding 80’s continued in this vein with the popularity of heritage films. 2 3 Hill. They attempted to attract wider audiences and to challenge long-established ideas about British identity and societal values. They discuss the fragmentation of working class identity.
The characters in Brassed Off and The Full Monty are portrayed as the victims of restructuring of labour market and the 4 Ibid 19 . The prospering south is contrasted to a “forgotten” north with scenes of London‘s modern constructions colliding with scenes of urban dereliction. and suffer from urban decay.” In this forsaken land. although it mostly concerns only the male half of community. they also construct special communities with a strong sense of local attachment. what the underclass films highlight. It‘s community life and geographical location are tied to its working class traditions. the white lies of bureaucrats murder hope and “tomorrow has been cancelled due to lack of interest. In the way these films are bound to specific locations that have been hit by the loss of their manufacturing base. the young in Jarman’s film refuse to drink brandy and would rather inject drugs and sniff solvents. empty industrial buildings and unexploited coal pits. Derek Jarman’s The Last of England. Apart from the issue of community. is the decline of this way of life. It is a dark vision of a desert region dominated by old factory chimney. Yet.Most of these underclass films are set in areas where traditional heavy industries are in decline and abandoned factories are slowly falling apart. the break-up of communities through the experience of unemployment and poverty. The group’s comradeship in Full Monty gets them through hard times and the only hope for the dismissed miners in Brassed Off is to keep their brass band together. The “Wind of change” blew over here and sirens announce “the best mines of the country destroyed by madness.” Like the characters in Trainspotting. underclass is displayed mainly in its relation to unemployment and social and economic changes. 4 The characters in the films respond by trying to retie community bonds. The decaying north is best depicted in one of the earlier films. Underclass members are shown “as victims of harsh economic conditions” which are “responsible for yet further erosion of working class traditions” (Hill 251).
and are banished to bleak. were without any warning left to live on nothing. are tempted into criminality. the films’ “sympathetic portrayals of working class men as physically redundant in the workplace and emotionally retarded at home create an image of masculinity in crisis” (Hallam 266).consequent loss of male working class labour. is presented as a self-conscious woman who terrorizes Renton with her demands. the only one with a respectable job. Women in Brassed Off spend their time striking for the preservation of the pit but the men already lost their will to fight. had the odds stacked against them” (Murphy 292). The only major female character in Trainspotting. having lost their jobs. crumbling housing estates. unable to fulfil their roles as breadwinners. were forced out of their place in society. All things considered. lack regular employment. As Hallam notes. 5 Men who were members of the working class “sweat” for the bloom of their country.” 20 . The male characters’ sense of powerlessness is closely connected to the reshaping of long-established assumptions about masculinity and the decline of patriarchal society. “Citylife: Urban Fairy-tales in Late 90s British Cinema. forgotten by society. the 5 Murphy. the women in the film go to fulltime work and enjoy their leisure time in an ex-men’s club. The crisis in male economic and social roles blends with the crisis between men and women and thus. The feminisation of the labour market meant that women took up the public space traditionally associated with men who. are plagued by lone sharks. “These films show that what the Victorians called the ‘undeserving poor’. And ironically enough. Moreover. alienation and social marginalisation of their white male characters” (261). loss of jobs is accompanied by loss of dignity and selfconfidence in the face of society disapproval. Robert. Diane. While the male characters in The Full Monty sit around in a job centre or practise in the abandoned factory for their big night. the films depict underclass identity “not as the collective political unity of a group in society but as a site for exploring the personal stagnation. though capable of resilience and humour. Gloria in Brassed Off. works for the enemy.
” they stick to taking heroin and earning money on the drug market rather than going with the flow of consumer society that has nothing to offer (Lury 107). I will discuss the theme of youth underclass as it is portrayed in Trainspotting. A Tale About the Male in Brassed Off and Full Monty The government’s arrogant frivolity in profit calculation and the workers’ embitterment over the upcoming economic changes are discussed in Mark Herman’s 6 Monk.underclass films introduce a discontented male hero who has to get used to the lack of employment and his non-voluntary disempowerment (Monk 159).6 Lastly. underclass is presented as a subcultural movement and jobless lives are adopted as a lifestyle priority. Claire. “Men in the 90s” 21 . Although “the majority of the characters are confident in their ability to learn and adapt within the wider culture and economy if they choose so. Here.
After he performs as a clown for children in a church. cannot pay his old debts off and when his property is confiscated. She upbraids her husband for surrendering to exploiting authorities and wonders how he can be interested only in his music and band in these worrying times. The story follows a North Yorkshire band whose members are mostly employed as miners with local mining company. Phil. to which he promptly replies: “at least people listen to us”. The band faces an uncertain future. reminds us about the coal miner’s strike in 1984 when Thatcher’s attempt to undermine trade union power reached its first peak. The situation becomes even more appalling when the government decides to close the local pit as part of its large-scale programme of economic “reformation”. he blames God for creating the Tory party and “Margaret bloody Thatcher”. As one of the managers puts it with mockery. Due to the support of his friends he is able to get back on his feet and finally manages to persuade the 22 . not having enough money to support their rehearsals. only to discover that the decision to close the pit had been made two years ago and nothing can change it. who still demonstrate in front of the factory against the pit closure. he unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide. this comment leaves most of the local people without jobs and hope for a brighter future. many workers start to give up on their will to fight the management and slowly sink into the deep waters of depression and resentment.Brassed Off. The cold ignorance of the officials is once again shown when Gloria. tries to save the pit by elaborating a report on the viability of the local pit for the British Coal Board. his desperate wife packs up and runs away with their children. Ironically enough. “coal is history”. the son of the passionate bandleader Danny. who after returning to her hometown and joining the colliery band. Under the pressure of falling into serious financial difficulties after loosing their jobs. The miners are offered higher redundancies only if they decide immediately and vote for pay off instead of review of the mines case. One of the women.
lost his job and has not found the courage to tell his wife for six months in fear he would not be able to keep their middle class standard of living. The Full Monty leads us to “the industrial crown of Yorkshire”. Gerald. Similarly. They decide to sort their despairing situation out by becoming strip dancers and giving a show in a local pub. no friends and an old mother to take care of. Gaz has a criminal history.crushed band members to take part in the finals in Royal Albert Hall. tries to end his life in his car. “all in the name of progress”. He refuses to accept the prize given out by the government that destroyed the entire industry and communities. having no job. The two save the life of Lomper who. The film gives a witty and understanding insight into the life of a group of steel welders whose living and relationships are threatened by their long-term unemployment. Peter Cattaneo offers a positive and entertaining insight into working 23 . which in turn makes him so. After the widespread closing of steel works many workers became unemployed and the possibilities for skill workers on the labour market decreased immensely. where the impact of the progress planned during the Thatcher years is evident. rich nightlife and “housing of the future” gained its fame and attractiveness due to its primary industry – steel. His friend Dave is a just man who has low self-confidence feeling he is too fat and impotent. the most professional of the group. Sheffield. he needs quick money to pay back aliment to be able to retain the joint custody of his son. who gets up from his “death bed” and comes to London to witness the triumphant victory of his band. once a lively place full of shopping centres. They all usually meet in a job club until the day Gaz comes with an exciting idea. Danny. “I thought that music mattered but people matter more”. unable to get a proper job. the biggest success in the band’s history. he tells the overwhelmed audience the truth about the fate of these excellent musicians who were betrayed by their own country.
Having poked his empty pockets. Phil is already in big financial trouble. Phil is tempted to steal a new instrument from a music shop window but is dragged away from this idea by his friends. Or do they? Several typical features characteristic of underclass are shown and described in the films discussed above. In turn. it is not difficult to imagine the possible future of our brass players on the local labor market. And two members of The Monty crew. Even though the film leaves us with a rather heartwarming open ending. trying to support his numerous family and pay off his mortgage. the miners in Brassed Off still count as members of working class during the first half of the film. though it is not always the sweetest of berries. The shut down of the local factory created an environment in which there is no demand for skilled labour and the possibilities in the local labour market are generally very scarce. Both films focus on the consequences of Thatcher’s “postindustrial” programme on working class and the industrial regions of the north. In these worrying times. get involved in the thievery 24 .class background and shows that the life of unsuccessful and desperate job seekers does not always have to be miserable. all characters involved in the plan to become strippers suffer from long-term unemployment brought upon them by fiendish governmental policies and increasing inequalities in the economy system. Gaz and Dave. Although. There are ways of getting over the obstructions in life and making the best out of what it brings us. they loose their painful battle for keeping their poor living standards. As we are reminded. In The Full Monty. they all struggle to manage with their low wages and they find it hard to collect enough money to support their rehearsals and to keep their band going. after years of heavy strikes. And The Full Monty crew get it right. the men become dependant on the state that does not give them much opportunity to reach their modest aspirations whatsoever. becoming a member of underclass can arouse tendencies towards criminal behaviour.
unkike the harder crimes in Trainspotting. women were given the possibility to give up their domestic lives and take on regular jobs to contribute to their household expenses. which is encouraged by the loss of jobs and the inevitable welfare dependency.” 25 . The 1990’s Underclass Film.of an iron frame and seem to enjoy occasional shoplifting in local supermarket. The films also serve as a commentary on the contemporary social trend of the break-up of the nuclear family. working for management. In The Full Monty Gaz’s ex-wife chooses a stable and financially better off man rather than watching her son follow the steps of his unemployed fathercriminal. Here. Phil in Brassed Off gets home from a band concert to find his house empty and his wife packing their children in a car to drive them to a “safer” place. Masculinity and the Ideologies of ‘New’ Britain. women do not take central stage in these two films. Her escape is more a result of long-lasting troubles and a desperate attempt to spare her children from life in poverty. the films highlight the complex relationship between unemployment and criminality. however. Charles Murray might turn our attention back to his words about carefree mothers who irresponsibly leave their unemployed husbands to resort to the more “comfortable” lives on social benefits. The wives in The Full Monty work full time and Gloria in Brassed Off has a job in the services. Phil’s wife.7 With the development of service factor. Claire. rather than a well-thoughtout act of a coldhearted woman. comes back to support him during his triumph in Carnegie Hall. “men are depicted as crippled and mostly 7 Monk. “Underbelly UK. The scene showing a female audience at a stripshow in a former men’s club and the fact that more women than men have regular jobs suggest that they “have usurped men’s roles and territory” (Monk 281). While women display many masculine characteristics and take up their husbands’ roles as breadwinners. Although. they serve as a platform for the demonstration of changing gender roles. Despite the innocent nature of these crimes.
They try to cope with economic exclusion by adopting the values of collectivity and community. being outcasts on the edge of society left to their individual hardships. “a few years more. Yet. Similarly. We’re obsolete. The Full Monty and Brassed Off re-frame the economic oppressions of long-term unemployment as problems of male self-doubt and/or gender oppression by women” (282). urge for the return of working class values of life in their communities. that they were made redundant as members of 8 Ibid 26 . what we can see is a band composed only of male players and Gloria gets access into the band only due to her relationship to a former bandleader. and men won’t exist. In Brassed Off. Yesterday’s news. However.8 The male characters are negatively affected by loss of self-confidence and sense of shame for not being able to meet the expectations connected to their masculinity roles.” which brings a “rather stereotyped image of working class life […] people laughing and joking together through hard times” (Hallam 266). the depicted redundancy of men both on the labour market and in relation to their gender roles just points to the fact. Dinosaurs.” The men in the films respond to their male disempowerment by sticking together and trying to maintain a sense of community and comradeship. Hallam notices. ”keeping the band together and making sure it continues to play symbolizes a rather desperate attempt to maintain the collective dignity of the community and keep its values intact” (266). As Gaz puts it. Monk suggests that “in proposing that this community is organised around shared male emotions rather than class. Both films give an account of a predominantly male underclass who suffer from unemployment in economically marginalized areas. in Full Monty we are presented with “a group of men pulling together in times of trouble to overcome adversity. What the films point to is that members of the “new underclass”.economically impotent which proceeds into the other parts of their lives” (Monk 281). except in the zoo.
The film illustrates their alienation from and disapproval of society that values commodity and therefore never gets away from an 27 . Trainspotting brings an image of young working-class junkies who grew up in a society “damaged by consumerism and market economy” (Welsh). the male characters in the films seem to long for “the stability of secure employment. The Perfect Days in Trainspotting One of the most popular and widely discussed film of the 90’s. the weekly pay packet. As Hallam sums up.society in whole. Saturday night at the work men’s club and clearer demarcation of gender roles between men and women” (267).
Renton. choose washing machines. In an attempt to escape his life in the drug underworld. Tommy joins his mates in the heroin rides. And in the times of individualisation and competition. in the interest of passing the values of society onto new generations. you are supposed to: “Choose life. But after he is arrested and admitted to hospital. you have to “work your guts out” to succeed in the game of winners and losers. finds a job in London. I chose something else. Choose a fucking big television. Choose a job. And the only thing that keeps Tommy away from the drug culture is his girlfriend and when she breaks up with him. he likes to immerse himself in heavy drinking and seems to be addicted to violent rages.endless toil and chase for money. Renton finally 28 . Yet.” And heroin is not such a terrible alternative to “normal” life after all. compact disc players […] I chose not to choose life. They grow up in a society where the main institutions of socialization. But the “easy” days spent with his mates are too much of a temptation and he is soon back in his old ways. And the reasons? There are no reasons. They are all messed up. raise the youth to become fully efficient components in the economic machinery. Who needs reason when you’ve got heroin. choose a career. cars. choose a family. everything seems to change for Renton. Neither Renton nor the rest of his friends seem to question their addicted lifestyles too often or show desire to move to another type of life. As the main character. tells us. the life on drugs has its pros and cons for the characters in Trainspotting. Sick Boy’s baby dies while he is enjoying the highs on heroin with the baby’s mother. Renton joins Spud in his self-destructive addiction and habitual thievery. Renton and his friends live from day to day in the constant need of a shot. Even though Begbie loathes the other’s disgusting drug habits. which drives them into the turmoil of notorious criminality. With the taste of an “ordinary” life still on his tongue and having to witness the degeneration of the rest of the crew. he tries to kick the habit and after a cold turkey period.
chooses his life. the glory of Britain. a place well known for its junkie underworld. While Scotland is depicted as a subordinate. 29 . as “it raises a set of interesting issues around the notion of ‘Britishness’ and of Scotland’s relationship to it (McLoone 184). neglected and rotting place. it is in a deprived area in Edinburgh. underclass is connected to a specific cultural milieu and in Trainspotting. socially sanctioned goods and objects become a sign of social conformity.” Ironically. taking drugs is one way of demonstrating personal alienation and a rejection of establishment values (Hallam 269). As is also the case in The Full Monty and Brassed Off. Trainspotting does not attempt to add a moral undertone to its narration but it aims to map out the culture of drug dependency in a non-judgmental fashion. If what you consume is the hallmark of your identity.” We can see why Renton decides for London as the starting point for his new life. It does not demean its characters for preferring heroine highs in a culture driven by an obsession with commodity and brands. heroine is the ultimate consumer product. In a society where identity is based not on who you are or where you come from but on what you consume. he is not speaking only about the peculiarities of Scottish versus British identity. we are given the most clichéd images of London. in his confession of what it takes to be Scottish: “we are the lowest of the low […] It’s a shite state of affairs and all the fresh air in the world will not make any fucking difference. He grabs the money they all got from a drug deal and runs off back to London. but also gives a statement about his place among “the scum” in society. The choice of Scotland is also symbolic. The film offers a picture of underclass subculture in several shapes. “the city of delights.
” Monk writes that Trainspotting “framed the male underclass not as a ‘social problem’” but “in terms of an appealing subculture of dissent from the demands of adulthood. who plays Begbie in the film. in Brooks 789). Trainspotting acknowledges that heroin is not only the drug of the underclass and the urban poor. the values of which are distant to them. and also the 80s that were a response 9 Monk. where the male characters were victims of the economic situation. Claire. Renton and his friends feel the pressure to adopt the “normal” lifestyle. he can leave the life in poverty if he chooses. Unlike in Full Monty and Brassed Off. the level of nihilism that means you’d rather lie smacked out in a corner than take part in life” (qtd. As Renton shows us. Robert Carlyle.9 However. otherwise they will stay outcasts to society. “Men in the 90s” 30 . Conclusion The underclass films follow up the traditional social realist films of the postwar period that focused on the depiction of working class. women and work” (161). it’s pleasure. underclass life in Trainspotting is a matter of choice and acceptance. “it’s not misery. the society is not without blame.Yet. In his own words. as it came to be regarded. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. make us aware that “it’s about the society that puts people in that situation. it tries to show heroin as a popular part of the youth life in modern Britain (Brooks 67).
the director. the demise of patriarchal society and the retelling of gender roles. But the makers of Trainspotting refused these 31 . using new aesthetic approaches and adding imagery. Some of the underclass films. goes commercial and aims to attract wider audiences. Rather than repeating the same story over and over again. explains: “Social realism’s objective eye creates victims. from the recognition of community to the appreciation of individualism. marriage and mortgage” in consumer society (Brooks 89). We’ve moved on from social welfare in Britain when it was useful to identify victims. rather than a commentary. mainly Trainspotting. They present the inconsolable conditions of life in poverty. many film critics and the media criticized Trainspotting for showing drug addictions as a great thing for the youth to fill their long empty days. I don’t know what value showing that has any more. in contrast to its predecessors. sarcastic humour or popular music. they bring an image of the everyday lives of youths “who elect to take heroin rather than face up to the tedious alternative of dead-end jobs. and filmmakers transform the cinematic language typical for social realist cinema. We collectively decided – and we elected Thatcher for twelve years to do it – that we don’t want to do that anymore” (Brooks 68). were criticised by such renowned directors of social realist cinema as Ken Loach or Mike Leigh for giving an unrealistic and twisted picture of life in Britain. Moreover.to the economic changes of Thatcher’s years. Trainspotting wanted to become accessible to the young audience by avoiding any moral conclusions. Danny Boyle. British social cinema of the 90s. The themes of underclass and poverty are displayed in relation to a wide range of other issues of the modern culture. Lury observes that it does not try to become a social commentary or an observation of the youth scene “Trainspotting. The underclass film speaks about the disruption of working class life and the shift of values in society. But neither the filmmakers nor Welsh who cooperated on the script wanted Trainspotting to be a social realistic film. becomes a brand itself” (105). For this reason.
regional decline and drug addiction within the fabric of the nation” (Monk 283). which culminated with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher and her policies. London: Routledge. the underclass films show that “‘new’ England is mature enough to acknowledge the presence of poverty. 32 . unemployment. 2001. what the three films have in common is their involvement in “re-branding of Britain” whose image around the world as a “backward looking island immersed in its heritage” needed change (Monk 283). Although Brassed Off and The Full Monty do not reject the portrayal their characters as victims of the system and societal changes. Justine. arguing that they managed to show how disgusting the lives of junkies can be and that is why Renton ran away from it (Brooks 92). Unlike in the earlier times when there were attempts to sweep poverty under the carpet and pretend it is not there. British Cinema. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ashby. and Andrew Higson.accusations. The films show Britain as an open-minded. industrial unrest. self-critical and class-conscious nation proud of its of different regional identities. Past and Present.
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1996 35 . Irving.Welsh. A short essay on the cover of Trainspotting DVD.