Bleak House - Beautiful Things
by John Hartley — Queensland University of Technology (Australia)
November 17, 2006 – 06:13
I’m not sure what’s most appropriate for In Media Res. Something notable from recent broadcast television, like BBC’s Bleak House? Or something that represents innovation in television, from YouTube? How about a clip about Bleak House from YouTube? I’ve chosen a redaction called Bleak House – Beautiful Things. Bleak House (BBC UK 2005, PBS Jan/Feb 2006; ABC Australia July 2006, DVD 2006, trailer) stands out from current TV by reason of its unblinking commitment to the grim (scenario) and the plain (heroine), showing in detail how property law grinds against human sentiment. We don’t get much class analysis on TV these days, but if ever you were interested in why Marx and Engels based their critique of capitalism on Victorian England look no further. Bleak House is a grim tale about human decency in an era of private property, created by the dramaturgical masters, in a setting worthy of the ‘monstrous city.’ So what’s in it for the YouTube generation? Gillian Anderson for one; many of the videos or comments about Bleak House seem to be from Scully fans. The clip I’ve chosen is a generic YouTube redaction of scenes from Bleak House under a soundtrack of Andain’s ‘Beautiful Things,’ (lyrics), a song apparently about teenage suicide. It is classic DIY self-made creative content, using television (without regard to IP law) to produce a personal ‘trance’ or reverie about watching television with thoughts in your head (‘Beautiful Things’ turns up 24 times on YouTube – to howls of protest when commentators think the video used with it is inappropriate: see here). The heroism of the ordinary was a prime message of television. Now, instead of leaving the evocation of grim reality and how to survive it to the professionals, we can think it through by making our own creative version and sharing it with others. So what do you think?