As illustrated by the misuse of the Philpott case to support aspects of the current policy assault on the poor, social problems are framed both by government action and by the interplay of political and media rhetoric. In this context, the portrayal of social exclusion in two Guardian articles ('I didn't care whether the kids went to school'; Street violence is contagious. Its spread mimics infection, 8 April) was deeply problematic.First, any attempt at sympathy with those portrayed was undermined by salacious intimate detail, with repeated emphases on blood, dirt and excrement. This is not to be squeamish or to deny the reality of the problems portrayed, but at what point does this level of detail distort the issues and become a form of liberal pornography? Would the intimate lives of the political class bear up to such close scrutiny?Second, the articles' concerns with "hygiene" are carried forward by, 1) the fact that two young women in the "problem family" were given contraceptive injections; and 2) the portrayal of gang violence as a pathogen analogous to HIV. As the 20th century attests, the application of biological hygiene metaphors to the social regulation of excluded groups has the most brutal and shameful of histories. Is this where we are again heading?The Guardian needs to be clear that prurient and stigmatising case studies, David Simon-esque mean streets narrative, and glibly described US-derived "miracle" programmes only reinforce the political right's framing of both the "problem" of the poor and its "solution". A clearer editorial policy is needed if the paper does not want to be accused of active collusion in the very project it purports to decry.
|Publication status||Published - 8 Apr 2013|