punchlines for a global audience
January 29, 2015 3:48 AM   Subscribe

Last summer, Tilbury, Essex became Grimsby, North Lincolnshire. Detritus was strewn across the streets to affect the temporal change. Caricatures of slags and obese scroungers marauded up and down the road. Across one of the pulled-down shop shutters was scrawled "HULL R WANKERS", a rivalry that might have made sense a four-hour drive north.
Tim Burrows asks, When Are We Going to Stop Laughing at 'Shit Britain'?
posted by MartinWisse (48 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord preserve us.
posted by Segundus at 3:56 AM on January 29, 2015


"At a time when the gulf between this North and this South is reportedly ever-widening, it's worth remembering there are norths to be found all over."

Or, how we can try and divert help reserved for the impoverished North into the South!

There are indeed deprived areas everywhere, but what is happening and has happened to the North of England in recent times is beyond that. Implying that poorer areas of the South are directly equivalent - are actually bits of the North - firstly equates poverty and Northerness, and secondly erases the systemic failures that have left the North as economically underdeveloped as it is.
posted by Dysk at 4:01 AM on January 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


Billington says some admirable things I want to get behind, but you just wonder what she can do, what any government can do, against the triumph of globalisation.

I...I guess that's it, then. Our hands are tied. No government has the power to act in the best interests of its people.
posted by you must supply a verb at 4:12 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


That a country with one of the largest GDPs in the world can also house such dilapidation and seek to naturalise it is scandalous.

Pedantic pet peeve, but the UK's per capita GDP isn't that high. It's certainly high enough that it can afford to do an awful lot more to avoid poverty (and if it did, GDP would almost certainly increase), of course. But failing to normalize easily normalized numbers is a way to signal that you're writing an article describing a social problem (articulately, in this case) rather than describing an economic solution to that social problem. I'd hope people could write articles that do both.
posted by ambrosen at 4:32 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be honest, though, I'm asking for a different article to be written, and it's one that's been written before, and the linked one is actually, looking at it though less nerdy eyes, one that does something you don't see much of: asking for impoverished towns to be treated with respect.
posted by ambrosen at 4:38 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is what happens after 5 years of a conservative government.
posted by DZ-015 at 4:38 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm frustrated by how little mention of Grimsby there was. The opening paragraph seems like an excellent opportunity to write about both Grimsby and Tilbury. But apparently Grimsby is nothing but a prop--he's doing exactly what he's chastising us for, pretty much.

(Also, Humberside was dissolved getting on 20 years ago. Small child me who was perplexed when my grandparents' address suddenly changed feels the need to be pedantic about this. Though there are still Humberside police and fire services for whatever reason.)
posted by hoyland at 4:49 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


It does read like an apologetic for the poor of the south: in the north we can say things like "of course, there aren't any jobs!" but in the south you've got to find other reasons to explain why white working-class people do so badly compared to immigrants.
posted by alasdair at 5:06 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


People always talk about Humberside, but conveniently forget to mention that there are TWO sides to every Humber. What about Humberotherside? - that's what I want to know. But the socialist elite of the BBC don't want to tell you about THAT.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Any excuse to post this
posted by kersplunk at 5:31 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Based on the title I was hoping this would be about attempts to make a list of universally-funny jokes that didn't rely on cultural touchstones.
posted by odinsdream at 5:54 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why did the small, non-threatening creature cross the thoroughfare?
posted by odinsdream at 5:56 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every country has it's shit areas. Britain just has the kind of self-deprecating humour that allows us to laugh about it, even as we wring our hands and ask "Why is it so shit?" I suspect a book entitled "Shit America" wouldn't go down nearly as well.
posted by salmacis at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seconding salmacis. Also, from the article: "The article characterised locals as sad sack proles, banished into the economic doldrums by cruel circumstance." (Also: vortex of despair, which is pretty nifty.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2015


LONDON 0 HULL 4

wait, what?!
posted by dorian at 6:18 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Salmacis- there's a book called Shit NYC.
posted by jonmc at 6:21 AM on January 29, 2015


Billington says some admirable things I want to get behind, but you just wonder what she can do, what any government can do, against the triumph of globalisation.

The only reason governments can't do much of anything about a situation like this is because the myth of triumphal globalisation and powerless governments is so strong. It's a testament to the deep-seatedness of it that the author of the piece (which I thought a worthwhile and sincere reportage) can denounce the naturalisation of austerity and yet still uncritically accept this idea of globalisation.

I don't mean that globalisation doesn't exist. Globalisation is a thing in that essentially all populated places in the world are now plugged in to a single marketplace by transport and communications technology. It is also a thing in that there are more and more crises and problems that are global in scale and require global solutions. In theory, governments have some power to control the first part (they can use tariffs, regulations, and monetary policy to insulate domestic economies, but they face tremendous pressure from the US, EU, and other countries not to), but they don't even have the theoretical ability to escape the second part, because you can't really close your borders to atmospheric pollution, mass migration, epidemics, etc. These two aspects of globalisation are essentially here to stay and governments have to deal with them, at least as long as cheap energy continues.

But the trick performed by right-wing propagandists was to entrench this idea that deregulation, privatisation, and the general sabotage of all collective action outside of for-profit corporations were part and parcel of ‘globalisation’ and just as much of an irresistible force. The justifications vary, but broadly the logic is that globalisation is irresistible, and we can only survive/thrive (it's a carrot and stick approach) under globalisation by enacting neoliberal policies, so neoliberal policies are inseparable from globalisation.* Anyway, so obviously people unhappy with this garbage New Raw Deal protest ‘globalisation’ and its avatars and burn down McDonalds franchises, and the class of people who are doing sort of okay and read the papers and enjoy the cultural benefits of globalisation are driven to think that anti-globalisation politics is unreasonable or hopeless or counterproductive or generally childish, and the conflation of globalisation with right-wing economics means it's easy for this disdain/distance to extend to all attempts to ameliorate things through collective action (government programs, unions, etc). So when neoliberal mishandling of the economy plunges their countries into crisis, the people in charge acquiesce to doubling the dose of austerity, despite this being an insane idea on the face of it.

So what does actual, geographical/technological globalisation have to do with the plight of Tilbury, Essex? Globalisation has massively increased overseas trade while technological improvements have multiplied the productivity of docks and port installations. So why are ex-docker families struggling? If wages had gone up with productivity, the people still working in the port would have pushed up local demand for various goods and services, creating employment opportunities for the rest. Instead, employers are denying their remaining workers the benefits of higher productivity by downgrading contractual conditions: flexitime, etc. That isn't actually beyond the power of governments to influence. It's not as if they could move the port to a country with looser labour laws. (Billington, the local politician, has sort of the right idea, but it won't do a person much good to become a qualified travel crane driver once an employer decides they can offload risk onto them as ‘independent contractors’ and make them compete for work.)

What about pollution? Globalisation means there are returns to improving transport and communication links, does that mean some places should just put up with high air pollution because of motorways, like Thurrock? Disadvantaging rail transport in favour of roads was government policy (under Thatcher). The government decides where motorways are built. And most of all, there was a conscious choice by successive governments to bet the house on London finance and do nothing about the resulting imbalances, from economic devastation in the industrial North to overcrowding and congestion in the Southeast. There is no room for the governments who presided over this policy programme to blame globalisation. Yes, the rules of the game were changing, but then they shot the players in the foot while their friends bet against the team.

And the Afghan refugees found in a container, ‘a symbol of the savagery of global capitalism’? Certainly, but let's not forget that certain purely political decisions by certain Western governments bear a massive share of the responsibility for the crisis and chaos that has engulfed Afghanistan.

Tl/dr: globalisation is a scapegoat and a scarecrow.

--
* Sometimes you don't even need to go that far and it's enough to say 'this is how they do it in the US', because America is the future to people who grew up in the forties.
posted by ormon nekas at 6:22 AM on January 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


This is what happens after 5 years of a conservative government.

Only to a certain extent. Five years of austerity has pulled off a lot of the bandages that were holding society together, but the responsibility for the wounds that they were covering lies squarely in Thatcher's hands.
posted by Ned G at 6:33 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


From the Rochedale and Stoke FA cup game on Monday the Rochedale supporters sang: "We already know, we already knowwwwwwww, Rochdale is a shit hole, we already know!".
posted by josher71 at 6:34 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


To be fair, so is Stoke..
posted by salmacis at 6:35 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


"This is what happens after 5 years of a conservative government."

Only to a certain extent. Five years of austerity has pulled off a lot of the bandages that were holding society together, but the responsibility for the wounds that they were covering lies squarely in Thatcher's hands.


This is what happens after five years of conservative government undo all the attempts to remedy the damage of the last conservative government.

It's not like it's not the Tories that are at fault here, but instead Thatcher. Thatcher was a Tory.
posted by Dysk at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Haha, my dad's a Rochdale fan, I went with him to see them play Oxford a couple seasons ago and they were singing "We want to live here, we want to live here, Rochdale is a shithole, we want to live here".
posted by Ned G at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


The irony was not lost, but I must say that I went to England for the first time this past December and before I went I told people I was going to Stoke and from the reactions of all the English expats I knew I thought it was going to be some terrible hellscape. And, well, it wasn't. I really liked it a lot.
posted by josher71 at 6:45 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess if you're from Baltimore, Stoke isn't so bad. I keed, I keed.
posted by salmacis at 6:58 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The irony was not lost, but I must say that I went to England for the first time this past December and before I went I told people I was going to Stoke and from the reactions of all the English expats I knew I thought it was going to be some terrible hellscape. And, well, it wasn't. I really liked it a lot.

There is a huge difference between visiting and living there. Seven years in Birmingham were enough for me. You live there and you find the nice bits and survive the rubbish bits. When you visit you see the nice bits others have found or the tourist stuff. Nobody takes you to the garbage dumps on the canal underpasses or the spots where teenage Muslim boy gangs will harangue your wife because she has cycling clothes on while cycling (while they wear black sabbath t-shirts). You won't be subjected to endless media mentions of things available only to Londoners or Southerners. You won't notice that the only local news you get from the BBC is a weekly human interest story of a pensioner with a broken pipe the council won't fix. You probably won't see the retired/unemployed older men heading to the pub at 10 in the morning or notice the high street covered in vomit every morning. You won't see that people are so desperate for work that they defend the area's major employer knowingly poisoning people.

There are social ills everywhere and every country does have its failing or failed cities but there is something particularly tragic and abandoned about the former industrial parts of England. They are the saddest places I have ever experienced (English seaside resort towns are even worse and will rip your heart right out).
posted by srboisvert at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


Local authorities with highest levels of child poverty

42% Tower Hamlets
38% Manchester
37% Middlesbrough
35% Derry
34% Belfast
34% Islington
33% Glasgow City
33% Liverpool
33% Newcastle upon Tyne
33% Hartlepool
Yep, the Norths a shithole and I'll personally never forgive the Tories for what they did in the 80's and are finishing now. Shower of Bastards the lot of them.
posted by twistedonion at 7:16 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


where teenage Muslim boy gangs will harangue your wife because she has cycling clothes on while cycling

To be fair in Belfast it's a bunch of "protestant/catholic" boy gangs depending on the side of the city you are living in. I get your point but I think the adjective you are probably looking for is "poor".
posted by twistedonion at 7:19 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are social ills everywhere and every country does have its failing or failed cities but there is something particularly tragic and abandoned about the former industrial parts of England. They are the saddest places I have ever experienced (English seaside resort towns are even worse and will rip your heart right out).

This, this, this. Anytime anyone asks me about living in South Wales, I turn into some unholy combination of R.S. Thomas and that perpetually angry man in the pub. (And I had the slight advantage of working Newport which is universally regarded as utter shit, so I didn't even have to deal too much with people who'd only come by as tourists. Because no one would be a tourist in Newport, not for more than an hour or two anyway.)
posted by kalimac at 7:50 AM on January 29, 2015






I suspect a book entitled "Shit America" wouldn't go down nearly as well.

I honestly think the rhyming/alliteration has a lot to do with it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2015


Because I was curious, Baltimore has a children below poverty level of 29.4 percent.
posted by josher71 at 8:48 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


No government has the power to act in the best interests of its people.

also globalisation is a scapegoat and a scarecrow.

This is exactly what neoliberals want us to believe though. Once we get government down to a manageable size, it won't be good for much but maintaining markets and ensuring equal access of multinational corporations to a country's wealth. That's its purpose, right? People can look after themselves.

Because, "Whilst always being cognisant of the imperfections of a free economy, we should also reflect on the dire poverty that exists where a tolerably free economy is absent." The IEA's Philip Booth on the morality of economic freedom. See? Those people are poor because they aren't free to, um, buy more stuff.
posted by sneebler at 8:48 AM on January 29, 2015


Shit, the last one of those Nick Hedges photos could pretty much be of the street where I live, here's a streetview for comparison.
posted by Ned G at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Indeed. One mustn't say anything that might be interpreted as criticising a minority.

Apologies if you think I'm sensitive here but after my own experiences growing up in pretty insular communities in both South Africa and Northern Ireland I decided I would always try and call out blanket criticism of any group based on their race/religion/sexuality. It never ends well.

Yeah, I'm being a self righteous cock but I've heard enough criticism of minorities to realise how easy it is to slip into that mindset. I understand srboisvert was merely being descriptive but he was also making an assumption. Did he ask each of these kids if they were Muslim?
posted by twistedonion at 9:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Convenient for the Brudenell though, Ned G.
posted by sobarel at 9:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm frustrated by how little mention of Grimsby there was. The opening paragraph seems like an excellent opportunity to write about both Grimsby and Tilbury. But apparently Grimsby is nothing but a prop--he's doing exactly what he's chastising us for, pretty much.

I was expecting to be able to to come into this thread with a bit of cache, having walked down Freeman Street and Hainton Avenue, but sadly not. But there's a reason why they wrote about Tilbury and not Grimsby, and it is mentioned right there in the story: £11.50 with an Oyster card. King's Cross to Grimsby won't leave you much change out of £90.

They are the saddest places I have ever experienced (English seaside resort towns are even worse and will rip your heart right out).

I cannot stress how true this is. Many seaside resorts died when flights to Spain became available to those on more modest wages.
posted by Thing at 9:18 AM on January 29, 2015


Yeah, I'm being a self righteous cock but I've heard enough criticism of minorities to realise how easy it is to slip into that mindset. I understand srboisvert was merely being descriptive but he was also making an assumption. Did he ask each of these kids if they were Muslim?

It's an assumption but one made in the context of the few girls they were with wearing headdress, the part of town, and Birmingham's South Asian immigrant population patterns and the content of their harassment. The white teenage jerk boys in Birmingham tended to just call me a fag instead of haranguing my wife for showing her arms.

Hopeless kids do shitty things and those shitty things tend to be culturally influenced.

(and no I didn't ask those kids anything - I dealt with as I deal with most conflict - I got the fuck out of the immediate area and stopped going to the places where I encountered repeated problems)
posted by srboisvert at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sorry and I totally get it. I just think we all need to be very careful about blanket statements. Poverty is shit. I've yet to hear people discuss Christian gangs, yet I've ran as fast as I could from gangs that could easily have been described as such. I had a 5 year old kid hand me a pamphlet about being "for god and ulster", then announce that his ma said I was a papist (I'm not I just had long hair and was obv not a good prod)
posted by twistedonion at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Trailor Park Boys, People of Walmart, The Projects, The West Side, The EastSide, Detroit (a tecbnically bankrupt city, we got it goin' on. Then I wonder about the people in shipping crates eerily similar to the people on the Mayflower running from what they are lured to, out of the sheerest desperation. The Afghanistanis survived the trek, but we aren't hearing about the containers of the dead, they have to be the bigger number, think about it.

The thinking we only live to serve an employer, and any employer has more rights, then towns die, the village vanishes. Stealing the grace of small town life for derisive profit what? Then I think with some of our godalmighty GDP spent for free mass transit, wouldn't village life be desirable and affordable? What galls me is when the places get cleaned up, and environmental legislation makes areasure safe again then the change makes them unaffordable for working people.
posted by Oyéah at 10:06 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fish Tank was filmed in and set in Tilbury. It's heartbreaking
posted by dng at 10:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every country has it's shit areas. Britain just has the kind of self-deprecating humour

Does it stay self deprecating when Sasha Baron Cohen is joining in, though?

In the US, there's a huge corpus of self-deprecating humor that African Americans aim at themselves, but I can't think of any black comedian who used it in front of white audiences and didn't come to regret it. (And white comedians don't dare join in.)
posted by ocschwar at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2015


Let's unpack this comment because I think it's a bit of a generic standard Britain-is-shite whinge and deserves to be looked at. I grew up just outside Stoke and live in an urban area of Yorkshire now, rather than in a completely different country.

There is a huge difference between visiting and living there. Seven years in Birmingham were enough for me. You live there and you find the nice bits and survive the rubbish bits. When you visit you see the nice bits others have found or the tourist stuff.

I don't know. Last time I was in Chicago, the drive to the airport took me through some right shitholes. I wouldn't tar the whole place with that brush, though.

Nobody takes you to the garbage dumps on the canal underpasses

I'll give you this one. The litter problem is one of the most exhausting things about living here - I'm tired of seeing discarded fast-food wrappers and general crap lining the streets. People should have more pride in where they live and the rubbish situation is disgraceful.

or the spots where teenage Muslim boy gangs will harangue your wife because she has cycling clothes on while cycling (while they wear black sabbath t-shirts).

The area where I live is about 30% Muslim and I don't notice any particular trouble with any particular ethnic group - I've no idea where this has come from and the race discussion isn't really one I'd like to get into. I like living in an ethnically diverse area and the sense of community is really strong.

You won't be subjected to endless media mentions of things available only to Londoners or Southerners. You won't notice that the only local news you get from the BBC is a weekly human interest story of a pensioner with a broken pipe the council won't fix.

Do you ever listen to the radio, or just watch the BBC's lacklustre local TV news programmes? The BBC's local radio is, with a few exceptions, excellent and provides in-depth coverage of sports, politics and culture at a city or county level where the TV bulletins try to cover huge areas. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even tune past the BBC and take a listen to some of the 250+ community radio stations all over the country where enthusiastic volunteers are producing independent local media focusing on their own area. The BBC isn't our entire media landscape, not by a long shot.

You probably won't see the retired/unemployed older men heading to the pub at 10 in the morning or notice the high street covered in vomit every morning.

Nope, never seen this. We do have a drinking issue, and I don't like the fact that Friday and Saturday nights are so rowdy around here, but I've never personally had any problems and the streets certainly aren't lined with vomit. And pubs at 10 in the morning? I used to work opposite a university - it was mainly students having a coffee.

You won't see that people are so desperate for work that they defend the area's major employer knowingly poisoning people.

Again, I've never noticed this in real life. People generally tend to be fairly scathing of big local employers generally if they're crap places to work, and the British way tends to be fairly questioning of authority. You might be thinking of America.

There are social ills everywhere and every country does have its failing or failed cities but there is something particularly tragic and abandoned about the former industrial parts of England. They are the saddest places I have ever experienced (English seaside resort towns are even worse and will rip your heart right out).

It's what you choose to see. Look around you, wherever you live, and choose to see the shit and you'll live in a shit place. I'm not saying we live in heaven, I'm not saying the country doesn't have problems - but I prefer to look around and see the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, the friendly folk, the great and cheap food from all over the world, the plethora of educational and social opportunities that people in some other places simply don't have. I feel lucky to live in Britain - there are far worse places to live, and that's borne out by the fact that people choose to come from all over the world to live here!

Five years of 'coalition' have left us in a bit of a pickle. There are social problems currently being exacerbated by funding cuts, particularly at the local authority level. But we've been here before and things got better - and they will again. I'm certainly not resigned to it always being like this - that's how the Tories would like you to feel, they want you to feel that it'll always be shit and there's no option, that's the natural order of things. It makes their lives easier. But we're a great country and we'll get through this temporary patch of shitness - and I can't wait!
posted by winterhill at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


They are the saddest places I have ever experienced (English seaside resort towns are even worse and will rip your heart right out).

I must love misery. Born and raised in a seaside town, then moved to the North after 18 years. Spent 20 years here now and live in Rotherham; Jewel of South Yorkshire. Next stop, two decades in Scotland...
posted by longbaugh at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"This is what happens after 5 years of a conservative government."

That's the most positive thing I've heard anyone say about Blair in a while.
posted by klangklangston at 2:41 PM on January 29, 2015


most positive thing I've heard anyone say about Blair

Honestly, on the domestic front, it seemed to me that Blair's first few years made a massive step change in life in towns like this. It was a combination of PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) with the power to inform ASBOs, Sure Start and a lot of work getting the NHS properly funded, salaried and organised. This included the years when the government ran a budget surplus, although not all of it.

One big side effect of the quality of life improvement was massive house price inflation. Where my parents live, houses tripled in price from £33,000 to £100,000 over the period 2001-2004, both because the area became livable and because so many people felt confident to, well, borrow up to the mortgage lenders' limits. Of course, this domestic success led to hubris, and thousands dead from futile militarism, and blown government surplus targets, but Blair did improve things in quite a few poorer towns, if not the ones totally deadened by the end of mining and factory closures of their single employer.
posted by ambrosen at 3:10 PM on January 29, 2015


I had the slight advantage of working Newport which is universally regarded as utter shit

Newport? I thought that was the height of luxury when I was in Risca...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I must love misery. Born and raised in a seaside town, then moved to the North after 18 years. Spent 20 years here now and live in Rotherham; Jewel of South Yorkshire. Next stop, two decades in Scotland...

I lived in Barnsley for a few years up until recently. It's a fantastic place - really friendly people, great countryside locally, more to do than you'd think, Sheffield on your doorstep, the Peak District on your other doorstep, cheap housing, the quality of life there is excellent. But as long as everyone thinks it's a shithole, the house prices will stay low, so shhh...
posted by winterhill at 1:55 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Offline underclass   |   Theatre should be written on water. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments