Allison Pearson: Shameless

April 9, 2008 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Working Class Britain | Leave a comment
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Please Neil, my imaginary editor asks, do we really have to endure another post of worthier-than-thou sincerity concerning the Shannon Matthews saga? Wouldn’t you be happier indulging your Obama fetish, being mean to Guardian columnists or writing about obscure indie bands?

Of course I would; I haven’t been more depressed since starting this blog than the moment I began trudging through the pile of effluent that’s been written. It’s only when you focus on one case for a while that you become wise to how much sewerage and spite some people are able to store in their hearts for those they’ve never even met.

Still, our raging beast of a media waits for no blogger, and since a jury hasn’t returned a verdict and there won’t even be a trial until November, it’s time for our press’ finest minds to start savaging the Guilty-Until-Proven-Guilty Matthews’ for all they’re worth. Okay, in this case, we’re talking about Allison Pearson, so it’s less ‘raging beast’ and more ‘paper tiger’, but paper tigers can still sting. Or at least irritate.

For those of you who don’t know (and I certainly don’t), Shameless is a Channel 4 comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family from a working class community in Salford. By all accounts, it’s as well-acted as it is well-scripted, and the show can be both bleak and funny in equal measure. When Shannon Matthews’ family first hit the spotlight to pubilicise her ‘disappearance’, you might’ve heard a friend or ‘co-worker’ comment that they ‘make the cast of Shameless look posh’. This is meant to be a joke and you’re expected to laugh, if only to avoid an awkward silence.

Since Karen’s arrest, there have been even more comparisons between the Matthews’ and Shameless’ Gallagher family after rumours circulated that Shannon’s disappearance was inspired by an episode of the show. But whilst Allison wants to keep the comparison between this exaggerated work of fiction and these living, breathing people alive for as long as you read the column, she’s not really talking about Shameless as a noun or as the title of a television programme. No, she’s writing about shameless as an adjective, and using it to describe not just the Matthews’, but anyone else from that sordid cess-pit whose personal life doesn’t conform to her strict orthodoxy.

After being ‘pilloried’ and called a ‘judgemental middle class snob’ for her earlier shallow-hearted sniping, she’s decided to embrace the cause of Judgementalism and extoll its virtues, claiming that our failure to be just like her is what’s put the nation in such a state in the first place:

No one is supposed to be “judgmental” any more. But isn’t it the failure to be judgmental that has created the chaotic world where a nine-year-old can (allegedly) be taken by the child-abusing uncle of her mum’s toyboy?

Libel watch: I bet you a tenner she didn’t put that ‘allegedly’ in herself!

So how does Judgementalism cure our country’s ills? For that answer we’ll have to take a wee trip over to ‘Back In My Day-ville’, a mythical place where no bad things ever happened:

On the council estate where my own mum grew up, there was restraint and self-discipline because there was disapproval. Compared to the Matthews, who own two computers for goodness sake, there was poverty, but people had standards.

Shame meant something. People were ashamed if there wasn’t a wage coming into the house; ashamed if their child got into trouble with the law.

Pssst, Pearson?! In your Mum’s day, council estates weren’t too far from factories, docks, mines and steelworks; low-skilled manual jobs that kept these scallywags out of mischief. After your Mum’s time, these places disappeared. When they disappeared, so did the jobs. And when all your neighbours’ jobs disappear, so does the shame of not having one yourself. And when the jobs go, and the self-respect goes, and the drugs and the cheap booze the prevailing mood of hopelessness all arrive with vengence, then you’re storing up problems for generations.

Saying this is deeply inconvenient, however, since much of the collapse of industry happened under the reign a certain Tory Prime Minister. And we mustn’t mention that because said Tory Prime Minister practically invented the Daily Mail. And the Daily Mail is Britain. And Britain is Great (but not the poor parts).

Yes, it’s far more complicated than either of us has the ability to summarise in a few hundred words, but Pearson’s column epitomises a trend I highlighted in an earlier piece:

For those of us who cringed through the (right-wing) media’s coverage of Shannon’s disappearance, we saw much of it as symptomatic of a wider cultural disdain for the poor and a compulsion towards viewing their problems through the myopic looking-glass of moral degeneracy.

There are many reasons for the problems in working class communities and many things we can try to alleviate those problems, but for Ms Pearson, it all bafflingly boils down to bad behaviour that people need to be shamed out of. For a topic as complex as this, shame is her sole policy prescription.

Which is fine, but let’s not pretend that she’s espousing anything more profound than the political preachings of a glorified agony aunt. Serious problems deserve serious debate; perhaps Allison should stick to what she knows best.

Update: This will be my last post specifically on the Matthews case, but I hope at some point to write at greater length about how some of the matters raised relate to wider social issues. In the mean time, anyone still interested can still glance over some of my previous posts:

Before Karen Matthews’ arrest:

After Karen Matthews’ arrest:


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