Can Stories Avoid Class Issues?
I hate rom-coms. I remember being forced to sit through ‘Pretty Woman’ and hating it, mainly because I brought the baggage of British class consciousness to the film, which then becomes about a middle-class man exploiting a working class prostitute.
This clearly wasn’t the intention of the makers, who were simply modernising Cinderella, but unfortunately class permeates every corner of British life. Choosing between Labour and Conservative has once more raised the question, with the middle class majority having to choose between a posh Old Etonian and a 1970s throwback. I don’t want to have to consider our caste system all the time and work hard to keep it out of the Bryant & May novels, although inevitably it does get in.
Recently I watched two movies about weddings which encapsulate the problem. One was ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’, which I’m alone in disliking for its relentlessly English middle-class conservatism (the gay character is killed off, other minorities are squeezed in for background colour and just as in the 1950s, there’s an American to guarantee stateside distribution).
The other wedding film was Spanish – ‘Ahora O Nunca’ (‘Now or Never’) concerns two Spanish families whose bride and groom want to marry in England where they met. While the bride’s side has already arrived in England with the groom’s mother (‘How can I get my hair to stand up in this damp?’) the rest are stranded in Barcelona because of an air traffic controllers’ strike, triggering a race across Europe that at one point sees the bride’s dress replaced with Franco’s military uniform. It’s funny, inclusive and effortlessly classless even though there are clearly class issues between the families (stay for the very funny rant at the end of the credits).
Class creates divisions, and could eventually stop me from keeping the UK as my base. I much prefer the communal, open, argumentative society of Europe to the polite, secretive and rather snobbish attitude of the UK, which has marginalised the north of the country and acts as if London is a separate country. I’m deeply against the short-sighted, disastrous idea of the Brexit, which has also become a class issue; here, as with Trump, the least-educated agree with the 1% super-rich.
I suspect many of us would prefer not to have to deal with class in comic writing because it adds polemic to the art of telling stories, because it’s hard to avoid cliche and because it detracts from writing about human beings. The exception I most enjoyed was Jonathan Coe’s brilliant ‘What A Carve Up!’ And even when you go for the crudest satire, as Charlie Brooker did with ‘Black Mirror’, true-life events (Cameron and the pig) turned satire to reality.
Is this why the Spanish film industry has taken off so spectacularly since the death of Franco? Politics is effortlessly woven into mainstream movies. In ‘El Desconocido’ a bank executive receives an anonymous phone call informing him he has to obtain a large amount of money or a bomb under his car seat will explode, but the banking system and its effects on working folk smoothly become part of the plot.
Hollywood is actually better at films concerning blue-collar life. ‘A Most Violent Year’ and ‘Winter’s Bone’ were both brilliant. The British film industry ends up with well-meaning but deadly boring diatribes from leftist Ken Loach, or creepy right-wing comedies from New Zealand-born Richard Curtis.
Britain’s best hope for a classless society is an influx of other nationalities, something I find myself in favour of, and if this makes me ‘far left’ (as one US reviewer warned his readers) so be it, although I’d never vote for a return to the world of Corbyn. For me the answer may be to base myself in a more fluid society in Europe, and observe the UK from the outside.