TV UK, 7 December

Serious TV's lesson for today: why privatisation and violent men are 'very bad things'.

Dolan Cummings

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Topics Politics

All right, settle down, class. Quiet at the back. Darren, I won’t tell you again! Now, in the past couple of weeks we’ve been discussing documentary-style drama, docudrama and didactic documentary. This week we’re looking at didactic documentary drama, okay?

Right, can anybody guess what our case study is going to be? Yes, that’s right, it’s Ken Loach. No, Johnny – Ken Loach is not boring. Ken Loach is a very important film director. Now, Ken Loach’s latest film, The Navigators, was shown last Sunday on….Anybody? Yes, Channel 4, the home of British film. No, Johnny – Channel 4 is not boring. They show lots of good stuff, too.

Now, The Navigators was set in 1995, and I know that seems like a long time ago for you, but really it’s very recent. Can anybody remember who was prime minister in 1995? No, it wasn’t Tony Blair, and it wasn’t Margaret Thatcher either. Come on, who came in between? No, Kevin, you know very well it wasn’t Glenn Hoddle. All right, then – it was John Major. No, I’m not making it up! John Major was prime minister for seven years, and I really think you should make an effort to know these things.

All right, maybe 1995 was a long time ago, but you all saw the film. Now, what was happening to the railways in the film. It’s a word beginning with P. P-Pri-vat-is-ation. Well done. Darren, I don’t think booing is necessary, thank you – this isn’t a pantomime. Now, privatisation meant that British Rail was broken up into smaller private companies, and The Navigators looks at the effect this had on the men who worked on the railways. Now, do you think Ken Loach was trying to tell us something?

Privatisation was a bad thing. Yes, I think that’s fair. Anything else? Capitalism is irrational. Very good, Darren. Now, what issue does the drama hinge on? Anybody? That’s right, Susie, the drama hinges on the issue of safety. The falling safety standards following privatisation are the main source of contention, and eventually lead to the death of a character. The film’s message is that privatisation has undermined safety, and put both workers and passengers at risk.

What’s that, Julie? The focus on a small group of characters at the expense of the broader political picture meant that the film failed to locate the safety issue within the context of the death throes of the organised working class, and that ultimately the viewer was left both depressed and morally self-satisfied? What have I told you about sitting next to Darren? Come and sit at the front.

Right, let’s set your homework now. I want a 1500-word essay on the current domestic violence storyline in EastEnders. You might especially want to consider the polemical and aesthetic consequences of weaving this storyline in with preparations for the Albert Square pantomime. Copy the question from the board, and have your essays in by next week. Thank you.

‘When the evil Trevor tells Little Mo he’s going to teach her a lesson, viewers could be forgiven for wondering whether it is they who are expected to learn it.’ Discuss.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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