7 Up

I’ve been watching the movies in the 7 Up series of documentaries (7 Up, Seven Plus 7, 21 Up, etc.)  They’re interesting on many levels.

  • As a parent of young children, it’s painful to watch the transformation between age 7 and age 14.  The 7 year olds are all bursting with energy and charm, while two of the 14 year olds seem physically incapable of looking directly at the camera.  It reminded me of Anne Lamott’s line that "worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades."
  • These are, in some ways, the first "reality TV" shows.  It’s hard to imagine how much of a novelty it must have been in 1963 to have a camera crew showing up in an elementary school.
  • One of the children in the series is Black, but there don’t seem to be any other non-white kids in any of the classrooms shown.  Twenty-one years later, one of the subjects has become a primary school teacher and his students are highly diverse.  It made me realize that for all the books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen showing Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in London, I know almost nothing about when and how that wave of immigration happenend.
  • The filmmakers are very interested in class, and how it shaped the experiences of the children.  They ask the upper-class kids what schools they’re going to, and almost all of them were able to accurately state which public (e.g. private/exclusive) schools and universities they’d be attending.  I wonder whether that’s still the case in England.  In the US, upper-class families can generally count on their kids getting into a "good" school but even money and "legacy" status can’t guarantee admission into a specific one.  Class may have as strong an effect as in the past, but it operates through the "meritocracy."  (Although even in the 70s, one of the upper class students complained that the documentary didn’t show any of the work involved in getting into the schools that he was expected to attend.)

I’m up to 28 Up now, and am looking foward to the rest. (They’re on DVD through 42 Up — 49 Up was filmed this spring.)

2 Responses to “7 Up”

  1. Russell Says:

    Thank you for introducing me to these films. I’d heard about them but did not know too much about their content. I have been looking for films, both documentary and fictional, that deal with class. I intend to use them or scenes from them for a class I teach that looks at class (in the U.S. specifically).

  2. Vicky Says:

    I recently watched the series. Yes, the entire premise, initially, was that class would determine who the children would become. I think it is obnoxious the way sociology and anthropology people are always looking for class and status. They dig up an ancient gravesite, and go on about how important the person must have been because of what was buried with them. As if class and status is the most interesting thing about a person.
    I’ve been living between the US and the UK over the last couple years; the US and Eastern Europe before that. I’m out of the country for a couple months, sometimes longer. I have a strange reaction when I first come back into the US, and it took me a few times to figure out what I was feeling and why.
    I find that the US is a very aggressive society and I believe the idea that we are self determining maybe the root of it. The pace of life, and the bombardment of advertising leads me to believe that no one is happy now. Everyone is involved with the pursuit of happiness, which is all consuming, and leaves people dissatisfied with the current status of their lives; always struggling for something just out of reach or lusting after the next aquisition.
    I have a friend who is a retired economics professor. I asked him, is it possible to be happy, or satisfied in a capitalistic society? He immediately responded, no; it’s insatiable.
    My experience is that class structure maybe more impermeable in other countries, but because of that, it’s irrevelant. Why dwell on something that can’t be changed? Might as well focus on enjoying life.
    I’m still sorting all this out. I welcome discussion.

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