2000s >> 2001 >> no-1163-june-2001

TV Review: Born to it – or just up for it?

Are you a born athlete? A born artist? Naturally intelligent? Or were you born with the wrong genes?

There is something depressing about the assumption that to be good at anything. you have to he born good at it. It’s depressing because it robs us of control over our own lives, and seeing as we give up most of the control we could exercise over out lives to our employers for the vast majority of our time, it’s a loss we can ill afford to make.

It’s all part of the ruling ideology, of course. We’re told that the reason we don’t have any power over our lives is because we don’t have it, and we don’t have it because that’s part of the natural order of things, and we wouldn’t know what to do with it if we did have it. You’re either a born leader – or an entrepreneur – or a natural follower or employee. Socialism is against human nature.

But this is in contradiction to another ruling idea, namely that if you want to get on in life and achieve something worthwhile, or become an entrepreneur, all you have to do is “put your mind to it”. Hard work (i.e. hard work for an employer), dedication and long hours are all that is required and, sooner or later, you shall surely succeed.

The fallacy of the first idea was exposed in an entertaining way in Faking It, a Channel 4 documentary showing until recently on Tuesday evenings. The idea of the show was to take Joe or Josephine Public, and see if they could perform a role other than that which capitalist society had assigned to them. They were given a month’s training by people with expert knowledge on the role they had to play. Then they were thrown in the deep end: they had to perform the role for real alongside those for who it is a “natural” job. The “experts” were asked if they could spot the “fake”.

For example, a painter and decorator was trained how to paint modern art, and successfully fooled the art critics who instead denounced a successful modern artist as a fake; a cellist was successfully trained to perform as a dance DJ; and, in my favourite episode, an effete, toff homosexual Oxford student was trained up to be a bouncer working the door on a busy London nightclub.

Having been bought up on a farm in the country, the Oxford student’s only previous experience seeing their housing estate, all his worst prejudices were confirmed. “Oh my god,” he said in horror as he passed a discarded matttress in his taxi. “Did you see that? There was a mattress on the pavement. That’s exactly what I was expecting. Oh my god.”

Given everything that we knew about this student, the chances of his making it as a houncer on the door of a nightclub could not seem more unlikely. When he met and stood side by side with his trainers – towering doormen experienced in the martial arts and in real-life street-fighting – the physical and cultural differences between them seemed all the more startling. The doormen looked “naturally” big and imposing, and the idea of turning this slightly built, nervous student into one of them was comic – plain impossible.

But the show demanded the impossible. We followed him as he went through a metamorphosis – not exactly waking up one morning to find himself transformed into a gigantic fighting machine – but a gradual and hard process of training. He was put through his paces in martial art skills – including a few sessions in the ring so he would know what it feels like to get hit hard – and was given acting and voice training lessons so he looked and sounded the part – “y’aint caming in, y’ah daan’t meet the dress code”.

By the end, not only did he look and sound the part but, when he played for real on the door of a busy London nightclub, not one of the “real” bouncers identified him as the fake. Natural born bouncer?

Another essential part of the training process was a night of bonding with his new-found friends. He was taken on a piss-up, which rounded off the night in a strip club. When asked if he had enjoyed the night, the student came clean to the huge loud-mouthed cockney doormen, and told them he was gay.

The interesting thing about this was that the student assumed they would be horribly prejudiced, coming from the background that they did, and would turn against him – indeed, would feel dodgy about having rough and tumbled with a poof. As it turned out, it was the student’s prejudice about them that was unfounded. They couldn’t give a shite about his sexuality – and pointed out to the student that he was the one who was prejudiced for making assumptions about them based on their accents, their job, and their housing estate.

I loved the whole series because it showed that human beings are capable of a wide variety of behaviours and skills when given a favourable environment. It sent the mind reeling with what is possible when we assert our own needs.

Imagine what we could he and do if we participated fully in the creation of our own lives! Our social existence may determine our consciousness, but there is now no reason, other than the rule of capital, why we cannot actively create our own social existence, and therefore our own consciousness. This is real freedom – not just freedom from oppression or freedom to do what you want, nor even freedom to choose but a dynamic freedom to determine what the choices are in the first place

Stuart Watkins

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