With the recent debates about who should receive benefits from all your favourite tabloids, newspapers and politicians alike, it’s no wonder that there now is a programme all about this hotly contested topic.
Entitled Benefits Street is advertised by Channel 4 as ‘the reality of life on benefits’. The programme’s alleged intention is to display how people live on benefits, how they interact with each other in their ‘community’ (James Turner Street) and their opinions on the current economical situation.
There has been much debate about the levels of exploitation surrounding the series, and more recently, the exploitation of the children featured in the program. Many claim that the series has exploited the residents, and some say that it was meant to be a ‘community’ programme, and nothing to do with their life on benefits.
It seems fairly evident that there is a certain level of exploitation and manipulation of the ‘lower-class’ citizens of the street; many do not seem to have a very long list of qualifications. Some can’t read or write, some are addicted to drugs and other substances, and others live in squalid conditions. Whilst some may argue that this is an accurate representation, an audience must be wary and understanding of the holy grail of video production – the ability to edit.
Editing has the ability to interrupt the chronological flow; to rewind, to cut out bits which don’t suit and replace with something more appropriate. Whatever your opinion on the programme, ultimately, the power of the situation lies with production company Love Productions, and this programme could be considered as dangerous fodder to those arguing that everyone on benefits are ‘lazy scroungers’.
Ultimately, where do we draw the line on these types of ‘documentaries’? Do we, as an audience, simply sit back and take in the information, citing it as gospel and criticize those who we neither know nor understand? Do we believe it? In a world where the distinction between reality and fiction is becoming increasingly blurred, it is often hard to know what to think.
That said, it is a fair statement to say that Benefits Street features elements of the community in a more positive light – the lady who campaigned for greener areas around the street, the man who sold household goods from a box – these people are evident in the program. You’ll no doubt have an opinion on Benefits Street, but let’s remind ourselves that this is Channel 4 – the same people who brought you treasures like Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Celebrity Big Brother.