Friday, August 28, 2009

Reality and unreality

I hate reality TV. It isn't real and is often a vehicle for narcissism or exploitation. What I really dislike though is my vulnerability to being hooked by its voyeuristic addictiveness. So I avoid it normally, but not last night. I watched Benefit Busters, a series on the work of a private training agency. I watched because I thought it would make me angry, something I enjoy in a perverse sort of way, and because it was set in Hull. Hull is an easy pick as it hits so many indicators of deprivation and annoyingly that is all the media ever seem to portray, despite it being a good city and a great place to live.

The programme was a form of poverty tourism of course, though the portrayal of claimants was not unsympathetic. Overall, a couple of things struck me. The first was the utter servility that was required of the unemployed as supplicants for work or benefits, a graphic display of their powerlessness. The second was the corrosive effects of the much vaunted 'flexible workforce', or casualised agency working, all that was available given the recession.

There was one outstanding moment when a young woman described her lack of luck in life and said she wished she had been to university. There it was again, the aspiration that lurks unmet in so many corners of Britain. This is what lifelong learning is for, this is one of the many things adult education should be doing and I have no doubt that universities should be a big part of it, they should be at the heart of their communities.

So what is happening? Funding is in short supply and lifelong learning is contracting. In the meantime fat contracts are being thrown at private training providers, to do what? Well, as I watched the cynical (intelligent, realistic, if ultimately self-destructive) being labelled as 'unmotivated', I thought that the classic comedy, The League of Gentlemen, was pretty close to being reality TV itself.


Will said...

"The second was the corrosive effects of the much vaunted 'flexible workforce', or casualised agency working, *all that was available given the recession.*"

The increasing predominance of casual and agency weRking has been the case long before the 'recession' took hold -- and it (wot shitty weRk is available) increasingly applies just as much to graduates as it does to non-graduates.

Education alone is no panacea -- there are real structural changes in modern capitalist economy at wErK here -- it is the reign of value, the rule of the commodity and wage-labour to which everyone must submit or die that is the problem.

Abolish werK -- everyone down tools now.

Will said...

Ps. see here

Anonymous said...

I just watching episode 1 of Benefit Busters and it was pretty horrific. Sad to see how badly people are now being treated.

Anonymous said...

I did not see Benefit Busters, but it is generally a good starting point with any private deliverer of government schemes to assume that they plunder public funds.

A few do well by doing the job well, but the attraction for many deliverers is simply that there is a pot of public money to be dished out almost unaccountably.

Where do the people on the courses figure in all this?

It has become a simple way of government appearing to do something about a given problem by putting money in without building or designing the structure which spends it. The end result appears almost an incidental consideration.

This lamentable state of affairs arose because public service lost its way when it became a tool of the left. It could not be trusted to perform. But talk about there being a difference between scratching your arse and tearing a hole in it...........

Will said...

"This lamentable state of affairs arose because public service lost its way when it became a tool of the left."

Worra stupid piece of shit. That anon needs to be killed and decapitated.

The Plump said...


Public service did not become a tool of the left. It has always been about delivering public aims. In, say, the national health service it was the instrument for delivering universal health care that was a key aim of the left.

It became heavily politicised during the Thatcher government and the attack on the public sector began then and was an attack on that public service ethos that saw its role as delivering collective needs, strongly identified with the post-war social democratic consensus. Privatisation, marketisation etc was actually an attack on the left.

The confusion arises because of the bizarre habit of describing New Labour as 'the left'. I always saw it as, certainly in political economy, a hard right Thatcherite party. They have not only continued the attack but intensified it. But, being older, I remember a very different Labour Party and so perhaps the confusion is understandable if you are younger.

So I don't agree with the call for your decapitation. However, having seen the interview with the MD of the training firm, I would be arguing for shooting, decapitation, disembowelling, feeding to wild dogs, etc for her - twice.

The Plump said...


Education is not a panacea, but it is a human right and a human need. It is also one of the starting points for a process of liberation. That is why the middle classes are being given cramming for success in diploma factories and the working classes are offered employment skills and servility training. Those of us who worked for something better are utterly defeated.

And so I am downing tools at the end of September, heading for the comfortable gulag of early retirement, with a sense of bitter disappointment.

Will said...

Abolish werK -- everyone down tools now.

"Perhaps it is time the 'work ethic' was redefined and its idea reclaimed from the banal men who invoke it."
- Studs Terkel,