uploaded : Sunday 5th Nov 2006 at 02:13
by : Carol Gould
Carol Gould appeared on BBC 'Any Questions' on 3 November 2006:
Last week I attended a preview screening of ‘Mischief Night,’ a feature film about life in a tough and deprived town in Yorkshire that is riven with racial strife. In the same week a study on juvenile behaviour reveals that British teenagers are the most violent, sexually promiscuous and alcohol-addicted in Europe.
The first ten minutes of the film sweep one into a world that I have to admit is an eternity away from anything I have ever encountered in my entire life experience. The young family shouts and swears at the dinner table, the ‘F’ word being used about a hundred times by and in front of three children sired by three different fathers. Their aggressive mother and her current lover swear at each other before the entire family erupts, with dinner landing on the floor. This is followed by a violent street confrontation with a Muslim family.
The film gallops along, visiting the white and Bangla Deshi families of the neighbourhood and their respective dinner confrontations, although it is apparent there is a lot more love, dignity and decency in the Muslim homes than in that of the multi-fathered family. It soon transpires that the small Asian and white children are actively involved in drug dealing, as are the senior citizens. I had to turn my head away at the sight of two elderly women being terrorised by drug dealers and then being bundled into the boot of a car. Even worse was a close-up of a dog engaged in a revolting activity. I could feel the late great British film critic Alexander Walker revolving in his grave at the spectacle of grants funding such films.
There are great British films and then there are not-so-great ones. ‘Mischief Night’ is not a poor film; it has moments of genius when a fully veiled young Muslim woman in a niqab stops to look at a boy eating a huge ice cream cone. She runs off and we next see her lifting her veil to eat her own freshly-scooped cone. Later we see the same little boy opening his cellphone, on which a screensaver of Osama bin Laden appears. The love story that runs through the film is interracial and has considerable power.
In my previous life I was an ITV network Drama Script Editor and when I see blunders in an otherwise promising film my heart breaks. Script Editors are a dying species, but had Director Penny Woolcock used one she might have better explained the scenes of the ghastly drug dealers in a hot air balloon. The fate of the balloon at the very end of the film is hilarious but the reason for its existence until that point is muddled. Perhaps I found the characters so repugnant and so unrepresentative of the Britain that greeted me when I arrived in 1976 that I somehow lost the plot -- literally.
In the present discussions in Britain about the high rate of delinquency this film has a disturbing resonance. At some point in the screening my mind wandered to the recent national commemorations of the sacrifices made by British soldiers at the Somme and on the beaches of Normandy in the two world wars. They had fought to keep Hitler from these shores but now drug-dealing, violence, narcotics, alcohol and under-age sex are the order of the day in the communities depicted in this film. From the Blitz to this: it boggles the mind.
Notwithstanding the moments of inspiration in the story and the unexpected ending it is distressing to think that the lives we see unfolding are the norm in much of ‘Britain today.’ When I think of my own childhood in leafy suburban Philadelphia it is a far cry from this. Despite an absence of material wealth my parents provided a warm and caring home with delightful family dinners and exposure to their remarkable circle of friends.
Visits by my sister and me to the Phladelphia Orchestra children's concerts, to museums, to the Free Library and to countless historical attractions in the culturally-rich Quaker city of Benjamin Franklin enriched our young lives all year. Visits to baseball games in the packed Connie Mack Stadium with a father I adored and respected were full of fun, hot dogs and candy floss. (Unlike the 'father' in the film, mine would have been seen dead using the 'F' word at home or anywhere else.) Sporting events in the United States have always been a family affair from my childhood to today. Who would have needed drugs or alcohol?
Earlier this year PD James observed on 'The South Bank Show' that in the Britain of her youth the church, respect for the police and national pride united a nation, but these basic values have long ago evaporated. The Union Jack is bizarrely associated by the politically correct powers-that be with neo-Nazis, whilst in stark contrast the Stars and Stripes are proudly ubiquitous across America.
There is considerable ridicule heaped upon America in the European and British media, but the opportunities available for the huge majority of American teenagers of all races and faiths far exceed those on offer to the youth of inner-city Britain.
Many Britons I have met over my thirty years here laud the virtues of the Fulbright, Peabody, Woodrow Wilson and Ford Foundations for the opportunities provided promising young people of all backgrounds and creeds. I have met several British women of distinction whose lives were forever changed by American foundation grants after the War, when Britain could not possibly have afforded even young males, let alone females, a chance for academic advancement.
Appearing on the nationally-broadcast ‘Any Questions’ this past Friday on BBC Radio Four, I was not able, due to time constraints, to elaborate on the schemes in place in the United States for both rural and inner-city teenagers. Here is my overview:
First, sporting facilities are second to none in high schools and colleges. Girls and boys can expect to be in televised games if their varsity teams make the major leagues. High school basketball attracts huge audiences. Being in a team, in a cheerleading group or in a school band builds friendships and boosts interracial harmony. Young people who have sporting ability receive scholarships to college. Sport is a solution to obesity and keeps teenagers off the streets. A respondent to my radio appearance wrote in to the BBC that they had just spent time in the USA where they had seen the teeming Friday night activity in a local school. They had been mightily impressed.
Second, the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) provides university scholarships to boys and girls who agree to do military training. In recent years many youngsters have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and there has been increasing anger about the death toll, but until 2003 ROTC was a popular scheme that reduced juvenile delinquency. As a caller to BBC ’Any Answers’ pointed out after my radio appearance, ( she resented my reference to ’council blocks’ as the source of child crime) wealthy children can turn to crime. American children from wealthy families who go to West Point or to a Naval academy no doubt stay away from trouble.
Third, the church contributes to a reduction in American delinquency. In ’The Atlantic Monthly’ last year a lengthy article detailed the effect the church has had on the African American community. It was decided thirty years ago that the appallingly high crime rate in the inner cities could be solved by bringing black youth into church work. It has been reasonably successful. When I was in Washington last year I learned that youngsters were encouraged to attend church and therefore meet businessmen at afternoon brunches or Sunday dinners. They were sent out to visit heroic black war veterans and the elderly in veterans’ and retirement homes. They took up delivering meals to the needy and old. They joined gospel choirs, some of which had television engagements.
In Britain, where churchgoing has become a source of ridicule and is associated with ‘George Bush fundamentalism’ it would be a tough uphill battle to engage young people in church work, but the Alpha Course is in fact gaining ground in Great Britain.
Finally, American young people work their way through high school and college. They are pleased to wait on tables and wash dishes. The shameful situation in the UK where it is accepted that ‘Britons won’t do these jobs’ (565,000 people have entered the UK this past year including thousands from Eastern Europe) has created a generation that would rather ‘hang out’ and end up in an NHS ward with alcohol poisonong than earn money to help their parents.
American children -- including myself -- have for generations worked in two or three jobs to pay for prohibitive college tuition costs. My late father went to college at night and worked in the day. I worked in two jobs, including the college cafeteria, and still got a prestigious Phi Beta Kappa BA degree. Jobs for the young should be a top priority in the UK.
One hopes the world of the aimless, violent and really quite vile children in ‘Mischief Night’ will improve, but somehow one fears Britain is moving sideways. No doubt there are millions of wonderful children emerging from British schools. But radical change in the inner cities is needed before the appalling activities of the painfully young protagonists in this film proliferate nationwide. If this is the Britain of Tony Blair's new Labour I fear for the future of the nation.
'Mischief Night' (UK, 2006)
Directed by Penny Woolcock
Qasim Akhtar, Kelli Hollis, Katherine Kelly, Holly Kenny,
Christopher Simpson, Michael Taylor and Ramon Tikaram.