Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Survival Programmes (II)

I’ll be upfront – this is not generally my kind of book, but it is undoubtedly interesting on a whole number of levels.
Initial reactions
  • The layout is very sombre – alternate pages of nearly solid text and gritty, dark black and white photos on white background with simple captions. The production basically says – take me seriously, there’s nothing frivolous here.
  • There is much more text than I expected.
  • It’s presented as a collective work – no individual picture credits – but the styles are pretty consistent.
  • Where are the middle classes?
  • As noted above the pictures are quite dark – essentially the traditional documentary approach.
  • The pictures can stand on their own. It is not necessary to read all the text to get a message about powerful people making distant decisions while on the ground life is pretty grim.
  • The book tells a story which starts with the situation getting difficult , moves through the powerful trying to impose decisions, the inevitable consequences of poorly managed welfare provision and finishing with riots.
  • I grew up in the period covered by the book – yet nothing in  it touches on my experience of the period. It is clear from the text that the middle classes are deliberately excluded. In a book which is concerned with indicating process not just symptoms this seems a significant omission since it is probably the middle classes that put people into positions of power, rather than the disenfranchised.
This is clearly a book in the classic documentary idiom, but I think it asks some fairly searching questions of that idiom. It is clearly highly tendentious – the authors have a story they wish to tell and they get on with telling it. The images they use are too disturbing to make up, and are presented in a manner which brooks little argument with their premise. Yet they have so obviously been selective in their material that I feel it potentially undermines the authority of the piece as a document of the period. Perhaps their intent in seeking to concentrate on process, is to move documentary from a simple portrayal of facts (with or without an agenda) to a position of analysis or assertion.  If so then they succeeded – if not I’m not sure what to make of it.

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