The Lowdown on the Up Documentaries
Was your fate sealed by the time you were a mere lad or lass of seven? That was one of the questions the makers of Britain's "Up" documentary series tried to answer. Back in 1964, director Michael Apted interviewed a group of British 7-year olds chosen from the upper and lower classes. Since then, every 7 years, Apted revisits the subjects and produces another documentary about their lives.
I've seen several of the documentaries and they're just great. Some kids have followed the exact path they (and we) thought they would. Others both lose and find their way. It's easy to get caught up in their lives and be proud of their successes and have your heart break for them if their life isn't what they hoped it would be.
The latest film, 49 Up premiered on British TV back in September and should be on here sometime soon. I've always been especially interested in the series because one of the subjects, Nick Hitchon, ended up emigrating to the United States and is a Materials Science professor at UW-Madison. In fact, Hitchon's ex-wife taught an advertising class I took in the Journalism school here in my senior year. It was cool to see her in the classroom and then flash back in time to when she and Nick were a young married couple strolling hand in hand down State Street.
I was reminded of the series because Hitchon is featured in the latest issue of On Wisconsin, the UW alumni magazine. As you can imagine, he has some conflicting feelings about the project. On one hand, of course it's such an invasion of his privacy that he "can't stand to look at them.". But on the other hand:
"We don't normally see people at these intervals, and so we don't often get to see the trends in ourselves," he says. "But if you see someone filmed like this, you can see the consequences of their choices. It's a perspective on the human condition that I don't think we generally have."
I think Hitchon has been incredibly brave to give us this glimpse into his life over the last 42 years. And, I also think he's exactly right, these documentaries are more than just merely entertaining films. They are, as one participant says, "a living document of the second half of the 20th century."
Back in 1964, one of the goals of the film was to compare and contrast the lives of kids from the opposite ends of the social spectrum. But what happened is that, as The Guardian noted:
But Britain was to surprise the film-makers. They had divided the nation into toffs and cockney sparrows - and all but forgotten the middle class in between. And yet central to the story of British life over the next four decades would be the huge expansion of the middle class.
This latest programme proves the point. Sure, John, the prep-school boy bound for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, has followed his class destiny and is now a QC with a lovely house in the country. But Tony, the cheeky East End lad, also has a second home - in Spain. In that sense at least, we're all middle class now.
So even the British are living the American Dream ;-) I know that makes the series sound like something boring you'd have to watch in a high school social science class. It's not. As The Guardian (I know, I can't believe I'm quoting The Guardian either) says:
So 49 Up is a full, revealing social history. And yet that is not the source of its power. That, and its intense poignance, comes instead from the universal human story these lives tell.
So, watch some of these if you get a chance. It's reality TV, but with a whole lot more substance than Survivor.
Posted by at December 5, 2005 11:00 PM
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|# December 6th, 2005 7:25 PM KVBigSis|
|I'm disappointed that the professors got divorced. That's too bad. But yay, Tony! Last time he was a little stretched financially, so I'm glad to know he's thriving. I'm afraid to ask about Neal.
You inspired me to do a search, and I see that 7-Up through 42-Up have now been released on DVD. Gotta get me one of those new-fangled DVD players one of these days.
|# December 9th, 2005 2:22 AM mbrlr|
|That sounds very interesting. But...and here goes the liberal...you mentioned the middle class in the post-war era. The problem I and many others on the left have with the current desire of the right to cut taxes to the bone for the rich and take away many of the things the WWII generation came back and put in place is that it ignores the fact that the spending --- college loans, etc --- post-war was responsible for the explosion of the American middle class. We're moving back to the era of those who have whole bunches and those who have just enough to scrape by --- in other words, the middle class is just fading away. Does that concern any of those on the right? I'm not trying to throw a bomb; I'm sincerely curious. I'm not going to be convinced that's a wise course, but I'd certainly like to hear what the rationale for it is. |
|# December 9th, 2005 8:16 AM BVBigBro|
|It was the consumer spending, not government spending that caused the boom. The organization that most negatively affects my lifestyle is the federal government, not "the rich". |
|# December 9th, 2005 8:58 AM BrianH|
The right likes to cut taxes to stimulate the economy and generate JOBS. That moves more people out of poverty into the middle class. It's not fading away, it's growing and getting healthier.
I've never understood the left's desire to create more and more dependence on the government and increase the size of the poverty class. I'd like to hear what the rational for that is.