A regular review of interesting cultural shifts & marketing developments as viewed through the collective lens of the Stancombe Research + Planning Team

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fair Go Mate, We’ve All Been On Struggle Street



 
We're certain that much of the criticism and negativity directed at the SBS series Struggle Street was predictable - the producers and senior executives at the broadcaster must have seen it coming, perhaps they even counted on it to give the show some 'buzz' and cut-through that it might not have otherwise had. The (English) production studio - Keo - had already seen similar 'outrage' when their previous effort, Skint, aired on the UK's Channel 4 in 2013. It's likely that they and Helen Kellie, the British-born SBS content executive had also closely watched the reactions (and success) of last year's Benefits Street, also aired on Channel 4.

We're also certain that the British heritage of both the production company and the SBS executive who sanctioned it can be seen as an interesting dimension to the Struggle Street furore. The English love and devour class-based drama / comedy / reality TV; the opportunity to judge, to laugh at, and to throw hands up in horror at those who they consider beneath them is an age-old practice. The English have a particular penchant for mocking and demonising the 'lower' classes - reinforcing the idea that everyone has their correct place and the natural order of things (class) is still in place. They also love to mock the upper-classes in popular culture, but this is usually more along the lines of, "look at these eccentric rich people and their follies" - reinforcing the right of the privileged at the top of the tree by swathing them in a benign and affectionate glow - see Grand Designs and Downton Abbey for starters.


And this is what we think SBS and its producers have missed in the (predictable) reaction to Struggle Street. Australians are still egalitarian at heart and essentially 'classless' in mindset (although the reality may be different when it comes to actual opportunity and wealth). We want to see everyone getting a 'fair go', everyone getting the same opportunities, and hence we're not so interested in separating out groups of people or excluding them on the basis of something akin to 'class'. It's not our way. Kath and Kim wasn't about laughing at or judging others, it was about sharing the joke that we all got around our collective suburban aspirations and foibles. We laughed at ourselves or parts of ourselves, not at others.


The hard-working folk of Mt Druitt and Blacktown are rightfully appalled at a perceived lack of respect and recognition for all the 'heavy lifting' they've been doing over the last few years to contribute to the success of contemporary Australia; and they've been doing it from the heart of the most diverse, dynamic and growth-oriented region in Australia - Western Sydney. Struggle Street plays to old stereotypes and media tropes that can be found in the backwaters of Western societies anywhere in the world, and they are fundamentally class-based and narrow-minded. The reaction to Struggle Street suggests that universal as they may be, they just don't seem to play out so well in relatively fair-minded Australia.




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