This weekend, I watched 49-UP, the most recent in Michael Apted’s series of movies about the lives of a group of people who were first interviewed as 7 year old schoolchildren in Britain and have been reinterviewed every 7 years since.
Interestingly, Tony, who grew up in working class poverty and now appears to be solidly middle class (with a second home in Spain), expresses what I would consider the most "conservative" views about the appropriate role of government in society, saying essentially "I made it, why can’t they?" Upper-class John, who always seemed quite the snob and is now a Queen’s Counsel, describes Tony Blair as a "conservative" and says that his concerns about the government are about the attacks on due process. And upper class Andrew points out, as I did previously, that you can’t imagine any 7 year old today being able to confidently (and accurately) predict where he was going to go to university, the way they did now.
But overall, the whole question of class seems to have faded in importance. The time-lapse aspect of the show — watching the same people at 7 and 21 and 49 — is just overwhelming. (Among other things, it makes me want to grab the video camera and ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up and if they want to marry and where they want to live.) It helps me imagine the next decades of my life far more vividly than anything else I’ve seen or read.
It’s also far more of a positive picture of middle age than is generally provided. Those who are married (either still married or remarried) seem genuinely happy with their spouses, not just partnering off because it’s expected. And those who are single mostly seem to have made their peace with that. Suzy, who was so awkward as a teen and then seemed to disappear into the role of mother, finally seems to be comfortable in her own skin. Nick’s research has hit a dead end, but he clearly loves teaching. Bruce has compromised his ideals somewhat, but also thrives on teaching. Lynn starts crying at the prospect of being pushed out from her job as children’s librarian. Andrew has made a late-in-life career change. Jackie challenges the picture of her from 42-Up as being overwhelmed by her physical limitations.
And Neil. Neil, who was so bright and lively as a child, who wound up homeless and questioning his own sanity, has found a niche as a small town politician. I can’t help but thinking that he’s a walking advertisement for the welfare state, since I have little doubt that he’d be homeless and addicted in the United States, if not dead.
If you’ve got the time, I recommend watching the whole series from the start. But if you don’t, there’s enough clips from the earlier shows to provide some context. It’s worth watching.