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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Me Generation

A year or so ago, thanks to Speechification, I caught an episode of Alan Dein's superb "Don't Hang Up". The idea of this series was to ring phone boxes late at night and interview anyone who answered. One of the voices on this programme belonged to Hannah, a 14-year-old girl living the feral life on Margate sea front. Understandably concerned and fascinated, Dein has subsequently tracked her down and done a programme about her. It contains the elements you might have predicted: a violent stepfather, a teenage mother, drugs, drink and a series of failed interventions by police and social workers. He interviews Hannah at length. She betrays the classic symptoms of a contemporary malaise that teachers talk about all the time: noisy assertiveness masking a desperate lack of genuine self-esteem.

The same theme is echoed in Tim Adams's excellent piece on the Karen Matthews case in The Guardian. Having observed the trial he concluded that Matthews seemed incapable of putting anyone's needs, not even her children's, above her own for even a moment. It's a rare case of a Guardian writer suggesting that the liberal establishment has done people like Karen Matthews no favours by excusing the way they go about their lives. He mentions Bea Campbell's contrasting of the media's differing attitudes to the Matthews case with that of Madeleine McCann.
Campbell's argument may not have been true - can any couple ever have been subjected to more media scrutiny about their lifestyle than the McCanns? - but it appealed to the class warriors on the blogs. The McCanns were traitors to their working-class roots, with their medical careers and their aspirations for their children and their Mark Warner holidays. Karen Matthews, who had never worked a day in her life, became an unlikely role model for working-class solidarity.
Right now there's a discussion about the case on Woman's Hour. Actually, it's not so much about the case as about what Woman's Hour listeners are supposed to think about it. It features someone called Anastasia. Bet she's never been to Dewsbury Moor. I have.