dimanche 7 décembre 2008

Class and motherhood

The case of Karen Matthews in Britain has come to an end with the mother of the 'abducted' Shannon getting a heavy jail sentence. It's an awful story and one in which the Daily Mail middle England middle class snobs are revelling in. Because the people involved are the dark centre of all middle Englanders hatreds and prejudices - the sub-working class, the unemployed, the Welfare dependent and the northern. It has to be said, the central figure of Karen Mathews could not have been a more convenient target, she is almost a caracature of what the Daily Mailers want to read about.

Yesterday's Mail was in full preening mode with a^picture of Matthews on its front page with the abject headline 'Pure Evil' and underneath breathlessly "...and yes the social services were involved!" Matthews has had - gasp - seven different children by five different fathers. She has never worked. She lived in a town called Dewsbury. I know the place - you wouldn't really want to live there. It's a small town, the people are fine, but the area is bleakly situated in the moors just to the north eastish of Manchester, has been drastically effected by the last thirty years of deindustrialisation and so has more than its fair share of deep social problems. Poverty is widespread, the schools are not brilliant and the town centre is a depressing place. (Adams makes reference to this but only to supress it in a typical middle class flourish - "The Dewsbury Moor estate was not the best place in the world to live, its impoverishment of opportunity was no doubt a factor in Matthews' behaviour, but even so, others seemed to manage it much better than she did.")

None of this is to condone Matthews behaviour of course but putting these terrible events into some kind of socio-economic context, however sketchily, is infintely more interesting than the brainless knee jerk zombie reactions of the tory press. Sure, drugging your own off-spring is not recommended - but did you know 16% of all parents carry out the practice? (And the McCanns did the same to their kids....). Matthews was a a neglectful mother, whose own personal history was warped by neglect as well.

She dreamt up a scam, a pathetic infantile scam, to have her daughter 'kidnapped' by one of her lovers and play off the media to get money. The poverty of the scheme is as palpable as that permeating the estate she lived on and it had its roots in a TV series ( called 'Shameless' a series that also condescended to Britain's underpriveleged - a kind of poverty porn for the comfortable classes). The media reaction to the missing Shannon had become standard. It was huge - poster, police searches, TV updates etc. - but deep down like in most of these cases, you have to 'suspect' the parents.

Tim Adams in today's Observer, writes a seemingly neutral cover story but which ultimately reveals itself to be just another snide self-satisfied enjoying the shock I'm so glad I'm not like those people piece. After outlining the sorry case, he then sets about, with barely concealed satisfaction, refuting Beatrix Campbell's piece written earlier on this year in which the feminist writer defends Matthews from the attacks Matthews received on the Today programme (a BBC radio programme that sets the political tone for the day amongst the snobby classes in the UK) and compares her favourbaly with the McCanns. Adams then argues that everyone was blinded by 'ideology' into thinking that just because Matthews was working class and deprived, then she couldn't possibily be lying and as schemeing as she, in fact, was. Thus, Adam's concludes, like the liberal seeming but ultimately just as harsh Poor Law officer that questions about how Matthews had lived her life (ultimately 'moral' questions) ought to be asked and asked rigorously "Such questions may be ideologically unpalatable, they may even be middle class or snobbish, but they can't afford not to be asked. Matthews' 'lifestyle' was her choice, and to a certain degree that of her partners, but you can be certain it was not her children's."

This is to place all the 'respônsibility' for this sad, depressing story upon the heads of two socially isolated and damaged individuals and to absolve any other social factors from their contribution to the terrible mess that happened. As the essay progresses, Adam's middle class sensibilities are given free reign. All objectivity evaporates and he gets nasty and personal. Matthews is not a conventionally attractive figure to the plucked, facailed, botoxed and tanned soulless drones that have done so well out of the class war over the last twenty years. She looks ragged and aged beyond her 31 years in the photos, but her 'fame' is a necessary part of British social life - that part of British social life that stratifies, judges and condems in order to make itself feel the superiority it know it doesn't possess. All it has is more money than the 'lower orders' and since money was the motivation for this particular crime, they have to screen the motivation out by the hysterical moralising that even those at the supposedly liberal Observer are now wallowing in. Hence "One of the things that had been most striking sitting through the trial was the sense that Matthews had never remotely had to come to terms with the consequences of any of the choices she had made in her life. She was not used to being judged; she appeared to have no remorse; just a childish sense of the unfairness of her predicament."

One can almost here the upper class vowels and intonations steaming of the heap of shit that is this paragraph. The jargon of individualism, the pop-psychology and the utter self-righteous snobbery is all part of the spectacle that is called "The lower orders are out of control and revolting LOOK at them uugh".

Adams' conclusion is confused and symptomatic "It is not right either to lump every individual in a problem postcode into an underclass. Child abuse is not a class issue. But parents living in poverty who want better for their children are not helped by political attitudes that protect at every turn those who take no responsibility for their lives. No parent's 'lifestyle choices' should be exempt from scrutiny if they are clearly risking the welfare of their child. "

It states that child abuse is not a class issue when all along (the cleansing of the McCanns and the direct class snobbery of the entire piece) that's what is has been about (besides - empirically, child abuse probably IS a class issue, but that is another story) and whilst not wanting to blame the social services, he does precisely that and is sympotomatic because, just like any other class warrior, he draws out the wider conclusion that all these povvy chavs should have their lives put under the microscope because they are different from 'us'.

PS - And all throughout this show trial, the banks and finacial institutions carry on their task of taking the money off the people. A theft that will disproportionally hit even the economically deprived that Adams so sanctimoniously credited with being poor but doing well. But when their lives go wrong, they will go wrong unobserved and the aspirational bourgeoise and their repugnant social opinions will have to find another scandal to make themselves feel a glow of inner moral satisfaction.