The TV series ‘Struggle Street’ is an “us-and-them” style of documentary that judges those less fortunate, says culture critic Mark Hadley.
Opinion Piece A TV Review by Mark Hadley
The documentary that Keo Films have set out to make is to document what is going on in Mount Druitt and their particular struggles.
But what they’ve chosen to do is magnify certain aspects.
SBS in their own publicity say, “In Struggle Street, meet the people behind the labels ‘dole bludgers, housos , druggos, and find out the circumstances and life events that led them to the difficult situations they face today”.
The problem with even just using those terms is that you inflame a certain view point in peoples’ minds.
So it doesn’t really matter if you say “there are really good reasons for this person being a druggo”. The moment you use the term druggo you actually raise certain ideals in peoples’ minds as to how a person should live and shouldn’t live, and you declare these people as failures.
And that’s a real problem.
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Another amazing tragedy with this series – which doesn’t even come out in the promo – is that they’ve used a style of narration that has been critiqued and criticised in Australia for at least 20 years now.
In particular we know it from the Australian satire series Frontline that is studied in high schools now. The style of narration is so close to the style of the beat-up journalist character in Frontline.
It is so over-the-top-gritty that it almost sounds like it’s supposed to be a spoof – but then you realise that this is just peoples’ lives.
When the narrator starts phrasing things like ‘he claims to be on the run from police’ or ‘that’s how it is when you’re on the fringe’, or ‘how you do it in the Druitt’, it’s very hard to take this as a serious examination of the problems.
It’s been pitched as a fly on the wall approach but that’s just not enough.
It’s irresponsible not to contextualise things. Sometimes, to contextualise problems, you’ve got to go to psychologists or experts or welfare workers and let them give feedback so you can get a sense of what the people themselves might be incapable of explaining well.
How could they be the best people to express their own concerns? They’re not professional media workers. So this is a problem with Struggle Street as a series.
We like to say to each other that we’re ‘telling it like it is’. But without the love that’s supposed to come with truth, it’s really not helpful at all to just ‘tell it like it is’.
I think there’s a lot missing here from my observation as a documentary maker.
It’s bizarre that it’s coming from a public broadcaster that usually has such high standards.
I’m on the same page as the Mayor of Blacktown who says this is like abusing people for the problems they have rather than helping them.
How this was ever going to benefit these people is beyond me.
There are little second-chance stories, but most of this is cobbled together with so much cliché, that it’s just likely to be seen as cannon fodder for TV viewing and more likely to exacerbate the problem rather than actually solve it.
This is a style of television I call ‘us-and-them’. It tries to be sympathetic but puts the problem ‘all the way over there’ and these people become like goldfish in a bowl for me to look at. And we start to see the world in a polarised way, in terms of people who are good and bad.
The Bible says we all have problems and are all poor spiritually and all need to address that.
Jesus said ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ – those who realise they are in need are likely to be blessed by God. Because you can’t actually receive help until you realise you need it.
About The Author: Mark Hadley is a journalist, TV producer and documentary maker, whose work has appeared on the ABC, and the Seven, Nine and Ten Networks. He produced the award-winning The Christ Files and The Life of Jesus, and reviews films, TV and books for Australian papers and magazines, radio and web.