Wednesday 25 May 2016

BBC's 'Last White People on Earth', last night

My first quick thoughts were:

a) it's one thing to film people talking about their views of their own situation, the world, what they think of other people - even their theories of how the world should be, but it's quite another to let that drift into their theories about the past.

b) On the matter of their theories about the world and how it could be, you have a choice as a film-maker as to whether you put those theories up against anyone else's. Quite obviously, the film chose not to. So we hardly heard views which contradicted or gave any kind of counter-narrative to those in the film.

c) Both the narration and the people in the film talked about history. There were many distortions and fibs here. The commentary used the word 'thrived' to describe the lives of people in Newham in the 1930s and 40s. Oh please! By ring-fencing 'Newham' (which didn't exist before the 1960s as an entity) it conveniently left out two major earlier migrant 'invasions' - Irish and Jewish. So, the present state of affairs could be presented as 'new', 'unprecedented' etc etc. Even worse, it enabled the people on screen to represent themselves as the 'true' East Enders. Either there is no single 'true' East Ender, or it has to include these two major migrations and many smaller ones. From memory, I don't think Irish migration was mentioned once, and the only Jewish one was when the bloke in the working-men's club said that over there is 'Lou the Jew - he don't mind' (meaning he doesn't mind being called 'Lou the Jew').

d) You'd've thought from the film that Newham was experiencing one single demographic change: 'Asians coming in, whites moving out'. In fact, there is another one which is that with rising house prices, there is and will continue to be an influx of people of all backgrounds - including white - to buy the houses that white working class people are leaving.

e) The film cast as a tragedy (tears etc) that people are moving to Hornchurch and Rayleigh. Oh please! Another way to talk of this is to describe it as embourgeoisement or 'moving up' enabled by the fact that people can sell their houses for sums way higher than any price they could have got 20 years ago. The film described the move as a 'push' but no serious history of migration in and around cities (e.g. the story of Chicago) would limit it to 'push' because a 'new lot' came in. This pattern has been repeated all over the world, many, many times and it most certainly isn't always a history of 'white flight'. What I mean is that there is 'push' but there's also 'pull' and 'rising' as factors too.

f) Beware the film-makers justifying what they did with reference to e.g. the old woman saying goodbye to the Somali family and b) the 'irony' of the boxer talking about crime going up, even though his own dad was in prison. That's how these film-makers talk up what they do.