Wed Jun 27, 2012, 04:20 PM
HiPointDem (18,125 posts)
How Newsnight humiliated single mother Shanene Thorpe (UK, but similar to US)
Last edited Wed Jun 27, 2012, 04:26 PM USA/ET - Edit history (3)
We all know that single mothers are immoral scroungers, right? That impression was cemented by last Wednesday’s Newsnight, when Allegra Stratton interviewed young single mother Shanene Thorpe. Stratton demands to know why Thorpe has chosen to move out of her mother’s two-bedroom flat, since she required housing benefit to do so...Stratton says directly to camera: “The government is thinking of saying to young people: if you don’t have work, don’t leave home.”
Except, Thorpe is not unemployed. As you may have read by now, she works full time for Tower Hamlets council, but claims housing benefits to help cover the cost of rent...
It is difficult to see how the BBC – which has yet to comment – will justify the coverage...More widely, it raises some troubling questions about the way that the media and politicians talk about poverty and benefit claimants. While outrage has, rightly, been focused on the fact that Thorpe was misrepresented since she is not unemployed, that is not the only problem with the interview.
It perpetrates lazy assumptions about single mothers: scroungers who should hide themselves away and not ask for anything. ...in the full interview, Stratton asked her why she chose to keep her child. Is that ever an acceptable question to ask someone, particularly when the reasoning behind it is so clearly class-based? Stratton is clearly pushing an agenda, and has no interest in the fact that in this case, the issue is the extortionate rents charged by private landlords.
At no point in the interview were those watching allowed to know that Thorpe is actually in full-time, paid work, and that she only needed housing benefit due to the exorbitant cost of living and working in the capital.... It is the manner in which this lie is articulated with a moral ideology that has got people's backs up, and quite correctly...
Looking a little further into this moral ideology, it revolves around the dichotomy of stigma and respectability. The reason why Thorpe is so revolted is that she has been stigmatised. She is a respectable 'working mother' (I chose the phrase carefully), and she has been made to look like one of them, a scrounger, a social parasite, the worst sort of person. Those people, we have been told over and over, caused the recession, the subsequent social crisis and the galactic destruction of wealth, through their feckless borrowing and dependence on unsustainable tax-funded welfarism. Moreover, do you see what they do with the money? The gold chains, the twenty-four packs, the violent sprees?
They are represented as the cause of all our misery, and to be identified as one of them is to incur real social costs. This, palpably, is the real horror here. And I am not blaming Shanene Thorpe for being horrified: she didn't create the stigma; she is one of its victims. For if paid work, a commodity whose stock increases as it becomes more scarce, is the ultimate guarantor of respectability in English culture - this is a truism - it is so to the extent that unemployment and poverty are associated with a social demonology, an image of criminal violence, uncultured hedonism, and savagery. So, embedded in respectability is an image of an ideal life, part of whose appeal is that it is clearly demarcated from the dissolute lives of those whom people now call, without embarrassment, 'the underclass'.
Since paid work guarantees the demarcation, Shanene Thorpe had every reason to expect that she would be treated as a respectable person by the BBC. She could not have anticipated that the boundaries of respectability in popular culture are being shifted by a considerable ideological effort. The ideologically coded but otherwise far-from-subtle reason for this shift is an attempt to suppress the wage bill. The accent may fall on benefits, but these are merely a social wage: Even having paid work isn't a guarantee of respectability now; the costs of the reproduction of labour, however they are covered, are to be reduced through this expedient of forcing millions of young people and their parents to share cramped accomodation. Even having paid work isn't a guarantee of respectability now, if soaring living costs mean that you still partially depend on the social wage.
But who produces this social image of the ideal life, to which workers aspire? For whom is one respectable? Obviously, the answer is, in part, the people who produce social images: the class of professionals, from media and academia, to the upper reaches of social work and civil service, whose function it is to reflect on social problems, critically account for them, and prescribe some form of intervention...Notice, when watching the interview, that Stratton's metropolitan, upper middle class manners, don't seriously veil her attack - but they do make it seem almost natural that she should be treating her subject in this abusive, judgmental, moralising way. She deploys the skills of her class, their ways of speaking to social inferiors, with persuasive authority...
"Respectability is the collective internalisation, by the lower orders, of an image of the 'ideal life' held out for them by those who stand higher in the scheme of things; it disciplines society from end to end, rank by rank."
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