The extremes of the UK class-spectrum dominate our television sets. The eccentric and outdated practices of the upper classes have become exaggerated to the point of ridicule, while the hardships and consequences of unemployment and low incomes have become a type-cast for ‘real-life’ documentaries.
From the frivolous expenses and oh-so-dramatic social lives of ITV’s TOWIE and Channel 4’s Made in Chelsea penetrating our sitting rooms, to Channel 4’s recent installments of Junk Food Kids, the ‘reality’ of our television is distinctly split into rich and poor; we become judge and jury from the comfort of our own sofas.
Last year, the BBC show Posh People: Inside Tatler (just in case you didn’t know what kind of people worked inside Tatler) confirmed all the stereotypes we’d ever thought about the well-bred elite. But at the other end of the spectrum, the working classes proved equally as entertaining. Shows like Channel 4’s Skint and the BBC’s last series of People Like Us (incidentally set 10 minutes from my home town in Chelmsley Wood) are, in theory, aimed at opening the public’s eyes to the issues of unemployment, poverty, petty crime and discrimination, but instead they serve to perpetuate the existing stereotypes of those surviving on benefits and low incomes, and expose them warts-and-all for our viewing.
The sharp contrast between the wealthy and the poor on our television screens says more about those watching than those on the screen. Inside Tatler and Skint were aired at the same time in November 2014, and came level-pegged in the initial ratings. It seems we have a keen interest in the lives of those living on both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps because it somehow validates our lives to know how the other two-thirds live, judging, while we sit happily in our modest homes, lapping up the latest drama of the TOWIE cast or airing our narrator-guided opinions on the lives of the unemployed, uneducated and morbidly obese. Channel 4's Gogglebox is a prime example of this being brought to life in front of us.
All-in-all though, nothing changes from watching these programmes in the way we think or behave, but for the click of a channel.
Words: Katie Aske
Image: BBC Three - People Like Us