The Privileged Few


There Are Too Many ‘Privileged Few’

There’s a simple way to work out how rich you are; count the number of choices you have. Could you choose a new house, a new car, a new career? Most in the poverty trap have no choices. I chose my job out of instinct rather than careful consideration. But if I have to tell people I’m a writer, they often tell me how lucky I am, as if a career change is unimaginable and far out of reach.
As a writer you set out to be the wet patch, the unearthed wire. It’s part of your job description to prove inconvenient and any writer who fails to annoy just a little might as well become a bus conductor. But it can leave you a bit friendless. I sometimes think I’m an exception, a gregarious writer without an agenda. Many authors I know work to a game plan. I always imagine that if Neil Gaiman befriended you it would be because he wanted something.
That’s why I admire Mike White’s work on films like the damning ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ and the limited TV series ‘The White Lotus.’ He’s a rare example of a lone writer of serious intent hitting his marks within the system, in the same way that Emerald Fennel is making a name for herself.
‘The White Lotus’ was apparently written at speed in the lockdown, designed for a bubble cast in one location. Its soapy set-up – rich guests at a Hawaiian resort bullying a Basil Fawlty-esque manager into a meltdown – gets a decent workout and lightly raises issues of class, race and privilege. We’re left with a series of questions, like why did White let some off the hook who deserved to be punished? His world is the opposite of Agatha Christie’s, say, where morality is absolute and the guilty are damned. Now the knowingly guilty press the flesh and laugh their way out of moral censure, or even the arms of the law.
Most of the characters in ‘The White Lotus’ were never going to change. White resists climactic histrionics at the end of the six-parter in favour of something calmer and more considered, although he lets the character of Olivia off a little too lightly, whereas I’d have had her hopes and dreams torn up before her eyes, which would then be gouged out, John Webster-style. And that is what makes him the better writer. Her comeuppance is at the hands of a peer she respects and consists of a single dialogue line, which is subtler and far more damning.
 Yasmina Reza’s short play ‘Carnage’ (2011), about parents  confronting the emotional damage caused by their children, was memorably filmed by Roman Polanski. Now there are a healthy number of women writers and directors working in the same area of interest; the problems of the burgeoning middle classes. These involve issues of consent, neurosis, peer pressure, gender and oppression, all internalised emotional subjects. Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ is the exemplar of this new navel-gazing fascination (and in my opinion the most annoying), but it will be interesting to see if someone can take such subjects and meld them into more outward-looking stories. Self-absorption does not make for fascinating reading.
Perhaps writers like Mike White and Emerald Fennel will lead the way.

27 comments on “The Privileged Few”

  1. Peter+T says:

    We all have choices, but do we have the freedom to take them? Is it reserved for the poorest with nothing to lose, the richest who’ll not notice the damage and, of course, the brave and the foolish?

    We used to have a fairly large class that were moderately well-off: the skilled craftsman; the foreman in a factory; a professional working for a large company. They had sufficient that the risk of losing everything was far too great for them to take the step of a career change even if it promised a pot of gold. They were the foundation of our society and prisoners of it. Fortunately for them, things have changed. A succession of incompetent governments has largely wiped out their way of life, widened the gap between wealth and poverty and set them free in an environment where they can do nothing.

    They can’t even raise enough cash to open a hotel in Torquay.

  2. Frances says:

    I enjoyed While Lotus and looked forward to each episode. I suppose some characters were let off lightly at the end because that reflects real life. Some people really do get away with it. The character of Tanya, like toxic treacle, annoyed me the most but I think each of us would have a least favourite character.

    Ever since I saw An Inspector Calls in the theatre I have been curious about what the different faces of privilege look like in different countries and at different times in history. I suppose that basically it is all the same but the manifestations differ. But these new explorations of the theme are welcome.

  3. Ian Mason says:

    What has brought the handsome, critically acclaimed, successful, and need I say wealthy, Neil Gaiman in for such opprobrium?

    Oh, OK, forget that I asked that.


  4. admin says:

    I recently pulled up a young guy on Twitter who ranted that his barista was too slow with his coffee. Bravely (I thought) he got in touch and now we’re talking it out. I like that. If the young are bringing reasonable behaviour with them we all stand a better chance.

  5. Andrea+yang says:

    Neil has always been a sweetie at library association conferences and signings. He took about 20 minutes to add drawings to a friends book all the while engaging librarian groupies in lively conversation.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    Somehow I expected more of Mike White, especially after the estimable ‘Enlightened,’ and while I did technically get ‘more’ White as a quadruple hyphenate (creator-writer-director-exec. producer), I think less would have been more. Yes, the writing was very good, the acting and the direction, good to very good, but I kept getting the feeling that White was trying to figure out where he wanted to go while shooting ‘White Lotus’ and perhaps trying too hard to fit in all those creative thoughts.

    So what I was left with was some sort of glossy soap-cum-reality show — neither genre, I readily admit, do I find even vaguely appealing. While I’m unburdening my soul, I also don’t find middle-class angst, or the tribulations of arrivistes, however the psychic pain is driven or accessorized, particularly sympathetic or entertaining. It will be interesting to see where White goes from here in the second series, with apparently new guests and a new location.

  7. Brooke says:

    Imagine?! If Gaiman comes anywhere near, check your wallter, smart watch and anything else of value.

  8. Helen+Martin says:

    Oh, is it pick on Neil Gaiman day today? Since Gaiman is also a genre writer, Chris, it rather smacks of sour grapes.I admit that it is a fine line between maximising one’s options and seizing anything of value in the neighbourhood but his writing is attention grabbing at the very least.

  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    Neil Gaiman makes me tired.

  10. Liz+Thompson says:

    One writer who does use everything he overhears and gets to know is Alan Bennett, who cheerfully owns up to the fact that he “collects” useful material. I was under the impression that most writers do this, nor would I be concerned if a writer started asking me questions when in pursuit of material or technical/academic details. Inspiration and imagination develop when you utilise them, and the basic ideas are fairly universal.

  11. Brian says:

    I’m with you Helen. Gaiman’s writing always holds my attention. Think I’ve been following him for about 30 years now. My home library doesn’t contain much fiction, only about two shelves, but in the fantasy/SF genre there is plenty of Gaiman in various editions.

    The negative Gaiman comments on this blog are new to me, however, I’m quite able to separate the personal attributes of the writer (or any artist) from their work. It’s their books, poems and art that I focus upon.

    As an aside, Gaiman is joined on my shelves by Neal Stephenson and the marvelously imaginative Mary Gentle. They are my favourite trio in writing of this type.

  12. Paul+C says:

    That’s an interesting point, Brian – some writers are horrendous people and you have to divorce them from their brilliant books : Celine and Hamsun were supporters of Hitler but their books are still admired. The crimes of the sculptor Eric Gill are horrific but his works still grace churches and cathedrals (at least for now………)

    The above post mentions Roman Polanski whose films many would avoid on principle. Should we still watch them ?

  13. admin says:

    I’m sure Neil Gaiman is a perfectly charming gentleman. One separates the work from the person. I’m not a fan of ‘business authors’ who strive for visibility over their work. I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like his writing, but I’m a little wary of writers who are everywhere all the time. He appears to have written the foreword of the wartime book I’m reading simply because he tried to buy its film rights.

  14. Keith says:

    I wish Neil Gaiman would hurry along with his planned adaption of Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”. It seems to be lost in limbo.

  15. admin says:

    I was a fan of the last Gormenghast version, but now it looks like a parade of minor BBC celebrities, and the budget was clearly low – they almost skipped the flooding of the castle in its entirety!

  16. Brooke says:

    I look forward to the day I no longer see/hear the words genre, curator, etc.
    For Gaiman and the business authors, visibility is the work; the publishing business loves them because they “get” financialization. As Stewart Lee points out, they crowd out unique, innovative voices that are so critical for art. It’s happening in the fine arts, too. Thus you see a lot of drivel coming out of US art schools and promoted by the gallery crowd. Gresham’s law strikes again.
    Fortunately there is a backlash. Creative work coming from small independent publishers. Young artists presenting their work through web based applications. You have to go look for the high quality, good stuff and that’s not a bad thing.
    Talk about priviledge…

  17. Keith says:

    Indeed, the BBC adaption was beautifully made and vastly underrated. the blu-ray is truly impressive.

  18. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Brooke So long as the’ business’ of art and literature continues to depend almost exclusively on taxonomy and algorithms, I’m afraid your wish for a genre-free world is a bit of a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. For example, as well as B&M may have sold, my guess is it could have done even better had the publisher’s marketing department been able to position it more effectively. That the series is only secondarily (if not tertiarily…) police procedurals is a large part of the problem — and to my mind, a key reason why it (for better or worse) has yet to make it to screens other than those of smartphones or tablets as ebooks. I still maintain that B&M is a genre unto itself and whilst this has been a blessing for us devotees, it has also been, I suspect, somewhat of a curse for CF.

  19. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Helen – are you willing to chat? I left my email on the previous day’s blog post.

  20. Tim Lees says:

    The discontent of the middle class is indeed a strange thing. I thought Ballard captured it beautifully in “Millennium People”, and no doubt there is even more to moan about these days. There’s also the curious belief, if you’re one of those moaners, that your complaint will count for something — that somehow, no matter how minor, it must receive attention, and the world must change because of it. Where if you’re poor, the chances are you’ll just be told to f off. But then, as you so rightly point out, the poor don’t have choices, do they?

  21. Brooke says:

    @Tim L. E.g. Grenfell Towers. Residents complained for 13 long years. According to documents, in 2013, the residents group was told to shut the f up or face legal action. You know the saga–death, tragedy and visits from the Royals.

  22. Brooke says:

    I’m a member of a small global team helping to put a colleague’s book at top of an Amazon category. We made it to No. 1 in the category except for the US market, where the book was No.2. We were just barely edged out of No.1 position by a Fox News personality. The subject matter of his book was not remotely connected to the category; the personality and his marketing team purposely picked the category as one he thought he could dominate.
    I’m doing everything I can to support real authors and to bash the algorithm/taxonomy system to death.

  23. Helen+Martin says:

    Brooke, it is tragic if people have to have colleagues to push their books. I don’t know how Amazon works because I only go there if I haven’t a good alternative and then I’m not looking at anything but just ordering a known title. The scenario you describe confirms me in my determination not to pay attention to best seller lists.

  24. Peter+T says:

    My young neighbour has written and self-published his first book. It’s not of a genre that LOML or I usually read. However, we’ve ordered a copy (forced to use Amazon – ouch!). If we like it, we will recommend it (on Amazon – more ouch!). I hope the book’s good and goes well as he’s not a rich and famous celebrity and deserves a chance.

    I don’t know if the residents of Grenfell Tower were poor or middle class. Sorry to be stepping into moan mode, but they most certainly have been subject to something criminal; whether it’s incompetence, corruption, or .. I don’t know. I do know that, a couple of years before the tragedy, when I constructed my oak-framed workshop in our back garden, I rejected the Grenfell insulation material as an obvious fire hazard.

  25. Wayne+Mook says:

    There was a recent documentary about Grenfell, the more you learn the worse it gets. Mainly poor Peter. No one has been brought to trial over this, the report is still ongoing, there is a civil case taking place in the US as this is where the cladding was manufactured. As to the fraud cases after the fire, 21 cases were brought, all 21 found guilty. There was a fire this year Poplar/New Providence Wharf fire, they had the same type of cladding. The government in July made a U-turn on safety certificates so more people can sell flats based on the height of the building (59 feet and under), I guess a 40 foot drop is nothing these days.

    The cladding on my blocks is still being worked on, at least it’s being done. If you look at the lists of blocks still with the cladding it becomes quite frightening. It also means in Manctopia you can’t buy a flat but you can rent.

    Lease holders are fairing worse, especially those on lower and middle incomes.

    Peter T good luck about your neighbour’s book. Let us now what you think and give the details, lets beat the algorithm/taxonomy system.


  26. Peter+T says:

    Wayne, For that cladding, all I did was to look up the material properties on the manufacturer’s website and it was clear to me its flammability makes it unsuitable for most applications apart from between two layers of masonry. Following building regs and leaving a gap behind it for non-existent condensation serves only to provide a chimney. For my workshop, I settled on rockwool, which is cheaper, non-flammable and generally harmless.

  27. Helen+Martin says:

    Peter, it seems that we’re dealing with yet another case of what will be the cheapest material in the category? Your test was the obvious one to do, the most responsible, and no cries of “but obviously we assumed the material would be suitable” should be listened to.

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