The truth is out there! Not!: Shameless and the moral structures of contemporary social realism

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This paper will examine the British drama series Shameless (C4, 2004–) within the context of British social realism, particularly as it was reflected in British television drama. In doing so, it will trace social realism's origins in 1930s documentaries through to its incarnation in television soap opera like Coronation Street (Granada, 1960–), single plays like Cathy Come Home (BBC, 1966), and to the newer forms of ‘contemporary social realism’ found in more recent examples such as Clocking Off (BBC, 2000–2003). It will particularly focus on the narrative and filmic perspective of traditional social realism, arguing that it tended to create a portrayal of the British working class from the point of view of the social outsider or ‘cultural tourist’. In contrast, it will argue that Shameless is an example of a new kind of TV drama that attempts to portray the working class (or more accurately, the post-industrial ‘underclass’) from the point of view of the ‘insider’, self-reflexively drawing attention to its own ambiguous claims of verisimilitude. In particular, it will show how the drama's construction of various narrative perspectives means that the objective authenticity of its view of life on this northern ‘sink-estate’ is consistently undermined; the very notion of an objective and impartial ‘reality’ challenged by a number of contrasting and contradictory discourses that profoundly distinguish it from the original moral structures that defined British social realism in the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-439
Number of pages19
JournalNew Review of Film and Television Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 08 Dec 2009


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