It’s difficult to imagine a more suitable presenter for Channel 4’s Working Class White Men than Professor Green given that a) he is white, male and from a working class background and that b) he is perhaps the most insightful and perceptive documentary-maker of our time on matters of social interest. I was taken aback last night by the rapper’s eloquence and ability to look at ‘the bigger picture’ rather than making quick judgements about his subjects as many of us would. He asked why hate movements like Britain First are so hateful instead of simply slamming them for their inability to see the truth of social inequality. He showed us the reality of working class life in Britain that isn’t necessarily all drugs, gangs and high-school dropouts. He dispelled the myth that unemployment is always by choice and that young people today are inherently lazy. On Channel 4 News, Jon Snow commended the programme for its professorial analysis and called for the eponymous Professor to consider a political career. After seeing last night’s first episode, I couldn’t agree more.
The format and running of the programme is minimal and smooth, Professor Green follows six working class, white men over two episodes. The three we meet in the first are an eclectic mix. David from Bolton was left homeless after the loss of his parents, Lewis from Eastleigh defies the odds and is accepted into Cambridge University, and Denzil from Canvey Island is determined to make money by whatever means necessary. Working class, white men are the least likely social group to attend university or achieve five GCSEs, we are told. This statistic only gives each story added poignancy as we learn more about each of their backgrounds. “It’s not really our fault”, explains David on the subject of working-class disenfranchisement – there is no denying that the system has failed him. Having never learned to read, being dyslexic and still struggling with the loss of his parents, it’s no wonder that he feels unheard. His journey from homelessness to full-time work by the end of the episode is nothing short of miraculous and it’s evident that Professor Green empathises. Lewis, on the other hand, focusses on a different struggle: defying the imbalanced statistic that suggests working-class people are not going to university. And on Canvey Island, Denzil turns the stereotype on its head that someone from a low-income background should continue that way – his entrepreneurial endeavour is admirable.
To me, the most striking achievement of Working Class White Men is that it emphasises the importance of the individual over a statistical generalisation. When you consider the vast cuts to public services made by the current Conservative government, it is no surprise that they deal in statistics and figures. What they don’t see is that each number is a person, each statistic a story. In this first episode, we are exposed to three variations of working class life and are, by the end, wiser about the subject – an accolade for a documentary maker. In many ways, this was a much-needed continuation of the artist Grayson Perry’s series All Man (also made by Swan Films for Channel 4). A national conversation about the multifaceted nature of masculinity began around last year in this country and the continuation of this is an achievement of Professor Green’s and director Christian Collerton’s. Primarily, I think that the reason this documentary works so well is because it has an astute and fitting presenter who fully understands the subject. I for one am bored of the randoms (Piers Morgan/Louis Theroux/Reggie Yates) who seem to present whatever, whenever. Having a pensive expression and an inquisitive stance is not enough to make a powerful and moving documentary.
Working Class White Men continues next Tuesday at 10pm on Channel 4.