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December 04, 2011

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Cian

Given some of the (verified - as in trust the source, or in a couple of cases know the person involved)) stories I've heard would suggest that they're putting massive pressure on civil servants (or whoever's processing them) to reject as many people as possible. These are not people who anyone would every think was anything other than disabled, and they will without question win their appeals (and appeals cost the government money - so much for cost cutting). But in the mean time these are people who are ill and in pain, who have money cut off and have the stress of this hanging over them. It is incredibly vicious.

I keep expecting the provisional wing of the disability movement to start protesting. So far they haven't which really surprises me.

Tom

"I keep expecting the provisional wing of the disability movement to start protesting. So far they haven't which really surprises me."

There's been a bit of this, mainly around picketing/chaining your wheelchair to ATOS buildings - Cambridge and London spring to mind. I've also been at a meeting where Boris Johnson tried to defend cutting the programme of making London Underground stations step free, and getting the bird from the blue rinse brigade, which was amusing.

Andrew Gilligan wrote a Spectator piece not long back on how terrible it was to spend £100m making Green Park station step free, if you're collecting data points - there's a strong streak in the whole Policy Exchange/Spectator/Cameroon set of seeing providing for the disabled as, in some way, detrimental to our manly Spartan bodily fluids and probably opening the door to the Muslamic Hordes, or something. It's a particularly choice article.

JamesP

My uncle is one of the cases Cian mentioned; he's always had learning difficulties, but a series of health problems in the last few years left him partially blind and deaf, as well as hospitalized for depression. He worked all his life previously, but that was now impossible. He still got turned down for disability twice, worsening the depression each time, and if it wasn't for persistent relatives helping him and the advice of his doctors and nurses as to how to get through the system, he'd have probably given up. Just got approved after over a year in the process, only to have the notice come through the same day he had to put his dog to sleep (cancer.)

In fairness, that last *probably* isn't the Tories' fault.

bert

Sure. It'll have been that bastard Clegg.

Under Labour, in the years before 2008 there was a drop in the number of unemployment benefit claimants, and a drop in the overall number claiming any kind of benefit. At the same time there was a rise (well below 200k - so not massive, but definitely there) in the number of disability benefit claimants.

You can explain this as part of New Labour's Scandinavian-style thinking on welfare. The unemployed were to be reoriented back to the world of work, via retraining as necessary. Anyone genuinely unable to work didn't belong on unemployment benefit, and needed reclassifying as disabled.

Or you can explain this as devious ZaNu LieBore fixing the figures by dumping the workshy off the unemployment rolls.

The Tories certainly prefer the second explanation, which accounts for much of the enthusiasm they're putting into crutch-kicking at the moment. I offer this as the current rationalisation for what would otherwise be indefensible heartlessness, without claiming that there aren't plenty of Clarkson types around who thoroughly enjoy kicking crutches and don't need any excuse.

Alex

There's been a bit of this, mainly around picketing/chaining your wheelchair to ATOS buildings

Follow "Benefits Claimants Fight Back" on facebook for the advance notice.

Cian

Or you can explain this as devious ZaNu LieBore fixing the figures by dumping the workshy off the unemployment rolls.

Even if this was true, and it may be, some of the people getting rejected are clearly disabled. They have medical records that state this, plus in some cases you only really need to look at them. Cerebral Palsy is a hard thing to fake.

ajay

And on the cultural front, the lads off Little Britain can give themselves a pat on the back, too.

Big time. Little Britain always seemed to me like the evil alternate-universe version of The Fast Show. The Fast Show's characters were hopelessly drunk, or senile, or insane, or utterly repressed, or prone to crippling outbursts of rage... but they were all basically, well, nice. You got the feeling that the people who played them actually liked them.

Little Britain is comedy by men who hate humanity. They hate the poor, they hate cripples, they hate women - they hate women in particular - they hate people who look after other people.

Fury's good in comedy. Fury's a driver. Lots of great comedians are furious - look at John Cleese, who spent two decades with the top of his skull about to blow off.

Hate, though, is a brake.

bert

There's also a revolving door. You can find yourself keeping your benefit only until the next review. Given the slowness of the system, some are in a semi-permanent limbo of anxiety and doubt.

The official view, by the way, is that medical records aren't reliable. Asked to choose between their relationship with their patients and their role as enforcers of welfare crackdown, GPs have turned out to be a fifth column. Current policy is to downgrade their involvement in the process.

CMcM

Ajay: bang on. I can't quite put my finger on why Catherine Tate's school girl Lauren is, somehow, mainly a celebratory triumph of underclass 'pointblankrefusalness' whilst the Little Britain's awful Vicky Pollard is just them laughing, hatefully, at the same sort of person, but that's the size of it at the end of the day.

Cian

Yeah but they seem to have decided all medical records are suspect, not just those created by GPs.

Again this seems symptomatic of this government. Not only is it vicious, but it's a stupid viciousness that will cost them money in the long run (appeals are not cheap). Mind you, that just as easily describes the last government too.

ajay

CMcM: I hate using jargon, but I think it's about laughing at the Other (ugh) vs. laughing at yourself. John Cleese frantically thrashing his car with half a tree is funny because we can recognise that sort of futile hysterical rage in ourselves from time to time, and he just takes it a little further. In effect it's observational comedy; but it's observational comedy based on introspection, rather than on observation of the world. (Which can be funny too: Eddie Izzard, for example, does a lot of this kind of thing.)

But you aren't meant to have that kind of empathy with Little Britain characters, because Walliams and Lucas don't have that kind of empathy with the characters they portray. To reduce it right down to the basic level, Catherine Tate is a woman doing female characters which are based in part on her own experience. She's funny doing an obstreperous teenage girl because she's been a (presumably obstreperous) teenage girl, just like Michael Palin is funny being the well-meaning middle-class Roman ("line on the left, one cross each") in "Life of Brian" because he's been a well-meaning middle-class bloke.

Walliams and Lucas haven't been teenage girls. All they've been is people who hate obstreperous teenage girls - hence, all they can do is Vicky Pollard.

In summary they must be CRUSHED. Ideally beneath the weight of a defenestrated Ricky Gervais.

Ken MacLeod

I've never been quite sure why I loathed Little Britain so much I couldn't watch it. Now I know. Thanks ajay.

Jakob

I'd managed to wipe that from my memory - thanks Alex.

From people I know who've worked with him, Matt Lucas is apparently a sweetheart and a delight to have on set. Which makes his comedy blacking up and nastiness even harder to understand. I can only vaguely remember his bits on Shooting Stars - were they as offensive?

ajay

Alex: Making the "British comedy is going back to the 70s" point again, I note. Have we all just agreed to forget that the alt-com 1980s ever happened, just like apparently we are all now pretending that the Great Depression never happened and so we don't have a huge big prior example of How Not To Solve A Massive Worldwide Recession to heed and avoid?

"Hegel wrote somewhere that the history of entertainment tends to repeat itself. He forgot to add: the first time as comedy, the second time as tragedy." (Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Retirement Tour Of John Cleese").

bert

Contempt for their audience ran alongside contempt for their characters, and became blindingly obvious towards the end.
They weren't the first show to do the same jokes every week (the Fast Show, obviously, and Vic & Bob). But as Charlie pointed out re Catherine Tate, there was a difference in spirit. They cynically milked every last drop out of Little Britain.
I remember a couple of Januaries ago coming across shelves full of unsold novelty plastic crap they'd pocketed the licensing fees for. They stank the shop out.

CMcM

"Hegel wrote somewhere that the history of entertainment tends to repeat itself. He forgot to add: the first time as comedy, the second time as tragedy." (Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Retirement Tour Of John Cleese").

Are the options before us sociability or barbarism?

...I'll just get my coat.

hellblazer

I think it's about laughing at the Other (ugh) vs. laughing at yourself.

prompts a tangential thought: is there a case that the only three "characters" in The Office were Tim, Dawn, and David Brent? The others were just the Other, as it were.

Agree re Little Britain, btw.

BenSix

...prompts a tangential thought: is there a case that the only three "characters" in The Office were Tim, Dawn, and David Brent?

And Gareth.

I remember someone - Mark Fisher, I think - doing a post on how Gervais completely misunderstood the reason people liked The Office. They laughed at David Brent because they recognised his traits in their colleagues (and, perhaps, themselves). He thought they were just laughing at Brent for being a weirdo. He hasn't written about normal people since.

(On the other hand, I have another theory that DB was intended to have been a sympathetic character...)

Dan Hardie

I think 'The Office' is genuinely good, despite what Gervais has got up to since. The minor characters are well-written- particularly Finchy, who is a very good portrayal of a bully (and who keeps his job well after Brent has been fired).

Brent's character was pretty subtly done: you saw most of the nastiness at the start. Brent is quite happy to have junior staff members fired if that's what it takes for him to get a promotion, and he joins in with Finchy's bullying because he's too weak to do otherwise.

But he's also got the pathos of a man whose self-image is completely delusional. He thinks he's the funniest man in the room and can't see that everyone bar Gareth is bored by him. He is proud of being a brilliant manager but is in fact hopelessly inept. He ends up, in the Christmas special, struggling to make a living as a travelling salesman, fantasising about a career in showbiz and unable to stay away from the company that sacked him.

BenSix

Oh, I think The Office was splendid too. I'm just not sure if RG and SM knew why.

hellblazer

Clarification of previous point: I felt that the three I mentioned were those whom one could have some empathy with (in Brent's case, a rather horrified empathy; I only started feeling that in the 2nd series). Gareth and Finchy and even Lee are well drawn, but they somehow seem... like pictures on the wall, if that makes any sense; like the scenery in this vision of Hell.

(Am a bit peeved with work at the moment; this may be showing.)

Dan Hardie

I agree that the original post is on a very important topic, and I apologise for going all sitcom obsessive, but...

Ben: I agree that Gervais and perhaps Merchant have turned out pretty odd, and sometimes nasty, but I'd blame that on their success. They were different people when they wrote 'The Office' and 'Extras'- which I haven't seen all of, but which struck me as pretty good, particularly the Christmas specials. Those scripts are by people who know what it's like to be trapped in a useless job, having to do humiliating things because they can't afford to be fired. Now Ricky's rich, and he is different to the rest of us.

Dan Hardie

Hellblazer: I agree, but it's pretty standard for a British sitcom to have only three, or sometimes two, rounded characters.

Who can you empathise with in 'Fawlty Towers'? Polly, right away. After a while, possibly, Basil, with even more horror involved than empathising with Brent, once you've realised just how awful his life is. Just maybe Sybil, who is trapped in the worst imaginable personal and professional relationship.

In 'Porridge'? Fletch and Godber, and possibly Mr Barraclough. Not Mr Mackay, unless you're deeply authoritarian. 'Only Fools and Horses'? Del and Rodney; maybe Uncle Albert; when he's dead, perhaps Racquel. Boycey, Marlene and Trigger are all very funny but they are sketches rather than characters.

Whereas some American sitcoms do end up developing more characters because they have more time. 'Frasier' started off with one real character, and he came from another show. Roz, Daphne, Martin and Niles were all one-note characters, there be more (Niles) or less (the others) effete than Frasier. By the end of the show, they were all real people.

ajay

Who can you empathise with in 'Fawlty Towers'? Polly, right away. After a while, possibly, Basil, with even more horror involved than empathising with Brent, once you've realised just how awful his life is. Just maybe Sybil, who is trapped in the worst imaginable personal and professional relationship

And, most of all, the guests, surely? After all, that's where the series originated - the Pythons staying in a hotel run by someone very close to Basil Fawlty. The guests are the normal people who find themselves in this bizarre hell.

Cian

The American office did have more rounded characters once it moved away from the Gervais writing. Probably because with 25 episodes a series, and multiple seasons, you kind of have to. I'm sure there's a PhD in comparing the two, and what it says about the respective cultures.

Generally the problem US sitcoms have, and there are definitely exceptions (the very great Arrested Development, for example), is that they're written by committee. So they can end up being a little bland. There are very few US sitcoms which wander off into insanity, whereas this seems to be normal for British sitcoms.

JamesP

I never felt Daphne was a real character in Frazier, but perhaps that was just because her accent kept making me wince.

bert

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bxoAsvhcOI
Making the most of her character here.
The accent's still terrible though.

Phil

I thought she approached reality as the Niles/Daphne plot developed or ground on, but lost it again - or at least lost interest - after they actually got together; in fact I can't remember what the series was about after they got together (hilarious shenanigans at the radio station?).

ejh

In 'Porridge'? Fletch and Godber, and possibly Mr Barraclough. Not Mr Mackay, unless you're deeply authoritarian

Except for his views on Xmas, with which I concur

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