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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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F-f-f-fading Away
I'm used to feeling nostalgia for the 1970s, but my most recent pang, for Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game, took me unawares. Probably the programme's most iconic round was the conveyor belt of useless objects at the end, but in this case I was remembering the rounds in which contestants were set to perform some practical manual task (folding a shirt, decorating a cake) in a given time. The proper way to do it was generally demonstrated first by a professional - sometimes a craftsperson, but often a factory worker, often a woman, whose job was to perform that same fiddly task a thousand times a day. The same professional was then invited to score the contestants' efforts.

It occurs to me now that this kind of round brought together two things largely lost today, at any rate in the UK:

a) It framed working-class people - specifically manual workers - as competent and discerning experts, and deferred to their judgement. Today, they are generally subject to what we might call the bourgeois gaze, whether hostile, condescending or romanticised. Not that those weren't also possible perspectives in the 1970s, but they were counterbalanced in a way we seldom see today.

b) It showcased manufacturing industry, at a time when that accounted for a much larger percentage of the economy. Part of the difference is of course technological: fiddly tasks are done by computers. But if I try to imagine a Generation Game or even a What's My Line? today, almost everyone is either working in an Amazon warehouse or sitting at their computer ordering things from Amazon, neither of which makes for great charades.

Necessary caveat: there are of course still skilled jobs in manual labour; but when did you last see a factory worker demonstrate their craft on prime-time, Saturday-night television?

...they are generally subject to what we might call the bourgeois gaze, whether hostile, condescending or romanticised..

Yes. I didn't mind the condescension so much back in the old days, when the BBC took its remit to educate more seriously. But these days the condescension feels rather less well-meaning and rather more like careless scorn.