What Professor Green's New Show Tells Us About Working Class White Men

Photo: Courtesy Of Channel 4
There's a moment in Noel Gallagher's Desert Island Discs that sums up the trouble many British men have talking about their emotions. "A poverty-stricken childhood is one thing," host Kirsty Young tells the Mancunian musician, who grew up working-class and then made millions with Oasis, "but it's not the case that everybody's subject to a significant amount of violence from their dad." Noel replies: "I don't write about it in my songs, I've never felt the need to go and see somebody about it. It's just the way it is." In many families like the Gallaghers, men are just men – stoical providers. That's the way it is.
So it's testament to Professor Green's affable, empathetic interviewing style that he gets a group of working-class white men to open up in a new two-part documentary. The rapper and working-class hero, aka Stephen Manderson, fronts Working Class White Men, the first episode of which airs tonight on Channel 4. The 34-year-old, who is on course to establishing himself as the Louis Theroux of the millennial generation, explores the particular gripes facing a demographic that’s maligned by the media, forgotten by policymakers and angry as a result.
Manderson, who was raised by his nan on a council estate in Hackney, east London, is the perfect man for the job. He has rapped and spoken openly about his low-income background, his father’s suicide and struggles with mental health, and the dissolution of his marriage, across social class lines, to former Made In Chelsea alumni Millie Mackintosh. All of which make him a warm interviewer who can empathise with six case studies from around the country, some of who feel ashamed, abandoned and demonised.
At a post-screening Q&A, Manderson said the men "enjoyed being asked to think about things they hadn't thought about" before. These men have never been expected to talk about their feelings, the reality of living hand to mouth or the scarring experiences of their pasts – let alone share them with anyone else.
In the first episode, Manderson meets Lewis, an 18-year-old aiming for the grades to meet his offer from Cambridge University; the entrepreneurial cheeky chappy Denzel, who tries to host an illegal rave in an abandoned prison, to hilarious effect; and David, who is homeless after losing both parents as a teenager and flirting with far-right politics. (There's tension when Manderson, who was the only white boy in his primary school class, attends a Britain First rally. "You don't really wanna give people like that a platform but how could we do [the documentary] authentically without going there?")
Unfortunately, the documentary barely touches on Brexit and could have done much more to contextualise the crisis of white working-class masculinity. It doesn’t delve into the impact of the neglect by successive governments or the effects of Tory austerity, which has disproportionately hit the most vulnerable in society, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Manderson admitted that while he’s proud of his class, he wouldn’t want his own children to grow up in a similar environment to his own. "I regret a lot of things," he said, referring to the scholarship to a prestigious private school that he never applied for, despite a teacher's recommendation. He was a bright kid and "should have gone for it. But I am who I am and I've made peace with the fact that I can't change anything."
For a society that's notoriously obsessed with social class, it’s remarkable how reticent many of us are about it in polite conversation, whether that’s because we’re embarrassed about our humble beginnings or, on the contrary, our level of privilege. But our silence breeds winners and losers: in 21st-century Britain, the working-class are still at a glaring disadvantage – the poorest white boys get the lowest GCSE results of any group and are the least likely to get to university – and social mobility has dropped off a cliff in recent years. Most of us know which side of the class divide we'd rather be on.
Coming of age in a secure environment with a financial safety net frees you up to invest in yourself, not just financially. "Being poor creates stress," Manderson pointed out in a recent interview. "There was a lot of screaming and shouting in my household growing up, as there was in many households on my estate, just because of the situations families found themselves in. And it stays with you as a kid, it doesn’t just go away. It’s not something that disappears over time, it’s always in you. Those stresses and those anxieties still exist within me now."
Working Class White Men airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4.
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