Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Kids On Dream School (Are Alright)

I've been following the #dreamschool on twitter in real time and I'm appalled and shocked at the level of abuse and vitriol hurled at the kids on the show. Actually not shocked at all, since this is car crash tv, a bread and circuses from the safety and comfort of people's living rooms.

"Scum", a "tragic waste of body parts", and the 'c-' word are just some of the insults bandied about. Channel 4 must be rubbing their hands in glee. If you don't like it, you can always switch the tv off...

But I think the show for all its failings is doing something terribly useful here. It's opening up the eyes of the myopic, the sheltered, the rose-tinted spectacled, to a mentality and attitude presumably they don't encounter in their everyday lives. Well bully for them, cos you can see kids and attitudes like this on the top deck of virtually any London bus at school home time.

It's aggressive, it's loud, it refuses to show respect for age, it won't back down when challenged. There's no point whingeing about such characteristics, the genie's already out of that particular bottle. I think part of the shock expressed on twitter is that these characteristics are being evidenced in girls as much as boys. Girls standing up for themselves and being confrontational and unbending. Again, this isn't new, but maybe people haven't encountered it.

I'm not going to defend it, but you ought to be aware where it emerges from. It develops from those who rightly or wrongly perceive themselves to be backed into a corner, to have nowhere to turn. usually economically, though interestingly Dream School shows it to be just as likely to be middle class kids. There is a large element of persecution and threat to the ego as part of it, again whether this bears up to the scrutiny of reality is neither here nor there, it's all about how they perceive the threats to themselves. They turn and they rear up and they give not only as good as they get, but a disproportionate reaction. And soon it gets inured as a habit, that level and pitch is constantly wheeled out, a ratchet that cannot be reset. Yes it's mixed in with a sense of entitlement, and when that entitlement isn't there, it's expressed as persecution and injustice.

The reflex to not back down, to not give ground, to preserve your own self-respect, is described with great clarity by Jack Henry Abbott "In The Belly Of The Beast" and George Jackson "Letters From A Soledad Brother". Both are by writers in the US Prison system in the 60's, when they stood up to the brutal prison regimes not only with a don't back down attitude, but also the political philosophies of resistance of Marxism, of the Black Panthers and other credos. It's not exclusively tied to race and ethnicity, since Abbott was white. The attitude soon transferred to the streets of major US cities as jailbirds were released and fed into gang culture, which is a low state of ongoing war between 'armies', with all the accompanying notions of having each other's back and not turning and running. Sleights, disrespect and others symbols all form part of the inviolability that gangs have to appear to be giving off to their enemies.

Like everything post-war, what happens in the US, eventually turns up in the UK. We have our own dreary gang culture and colours, where the knife is the weapon of choice rather than the gun. We had football hooligan firms and crews, who in the main were content to fight their wars with fists and clubs. Jimmy Boyle in Glasgow wrote his own version of resisting a prison system called "A Sense Of Freedom" and although Boyle himself was a political animal, there was no widespread politicisation of prison inmates as there was in America. (This may be changing now with Radical Islam making some headway within UK prisons).

What started as a means of resistance in horrific prison regimes, now exists in a watered down state as a general mentality exemplified in certain tranches of youth. Respect in an environment where there isn't any to be had. You live in a sink estate, reliant on your own powers and the strength of your clique to prevail, with such an attitude being demonstrated constantly as part of that process. When you go to school, even those not on your sink estates are exposed to these same attitudes and they are adapted either in appreciative homage, or because school mirrors the same culture as the estates. The attitude is viral.

So my point is those people who are yelling at the kids on Dreamschool, (what could be more inane than shouting at their own tellies?) need to be aware of such an attitude of mind. It lies behind those teenagers stabbed to death on our city streets at the rate of about 2 a month. It lies behind those unmanageable and unteachable failing schools up and down the country (a story emerged only yesterday of teachers walking out of a school in Lancashire as unworkable because of kids' behaviour). The tv audience can scream all they like about these kids being unemployable, getting nowhere in life with such an attitude and the like. But these type of kids have already been effectively written off as it is, as just that. Unemployable and beyond saving. Their parents were thrown on to the scrapheap in the 1980's and just so you don't imagine this to be Party Political, Brown & Blair did absolutely nothing for them either. Now we are reaping what we sow.

Some of the kids on the show are pulling their lives together and making the most of the opportunity given them. That gives us hope that no one is a total write-off. But the resources you need to throw at them is hugely problematical, since the country right now isn't blessed with wealth and resources. But first you have to be aware of the issues, before trying to weigh up the priorities in what you do and don't try and tackle.

Dream School if it's done anything at all, has hopefully made people more aware of the problem facing us all as a society and those discarded into its margins. Only they're not invisible. Stop treating them as pantomime villains and start considering all our responsibility in helping them and thereby helping ourselves as a society.

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