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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007
    Shameless's Sheila and the Cutteslowe wall
    If the lumpen working class is contained in places where no-one else dares to venture, their children attending schools that no-one else in their right mind would allow their own to attend, there is, surely, no obvious problem. If the poor will always be with us, isn't it best to leave them where they are and condescend, with wringing hands, from afar? Or to suppress the lingering shame of inequality with gallows humour? For today's middle class, contamination is the fear that dare not speak its name.

    If Lynsey Hanley's Estates; An Intimate History is starting where it means to go on then it will continue to be a rip-roaring read. The above paragraph follows a segment describing the wall which was built by the developer of the private estate in Cutteslowe to separate its residents - illegally and immorally - from the people of the neighbouring municipal estate. It's by no means the only wall, physical or metaphorical, which has been built around the poor of our estates over the years.

    I love Shameless because I feel real warmth for its full-on characters, and it's a scream from start to finish, but I can't decide whether or not the programme functions as another one of those walls. It could be said to 'suppress the lingering [middle class] shame of inequality with gallows humour'. That the Gallaghers 'aren't like us' is a perfect distancing mechanism for viewers. Except that we know that its creator, Paul Abbott, is writing from his own real-life experience. He was a child in a long-term parentless house. And that knowledge permits nuances to emerge and the possibility arises that Shameless - a real human story - might serve to bring down the walls of class division. In Shameless there is someone for whom 'contamination is the fear that dare not speak its name'. It's prescription-drug-addled Sheila; so perhaps she's not part of a distant lumpen lost caste after all, perhaps she's everywoman.