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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 13/11/2010 | 2 Comments

Last weekend I was in the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool for one of their Changing Scotland weekends – an informal gathering, held twice a year in March and November, with sessions on culture and politics. This time the most interesting and memorable speaker (for me anyway) was Eleanor Yule a Scottish based film maker. Eleanor's topic was 'Scottish miserablism' -  a genre of Scottish films which not only focus on tragic themes such as drug addiction, violence and urban squalor but which are also completely without hope.   

Eleanor traced the roots of this genre back to the 1970s and Bill Douglas's acclaimed Trilogy (My Childhood, My Ain Folk, and My Way Home) but it didn't really get going for another few decades and in the intervening period there were some lighthearted, whimsical Scottish films such as Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl.

Throughout the talk on miserablism Eleanor used clips from films such as Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting; Peter MacDougal's various works on sectarianism; Rat Catcher; Sweet Sixteen; Wasted; Close … . After five or six excerpts, the verbal and physical violence and the total bleakness of the scenes, left me feeling that I had been assaulted. 

Eleanor summarised the key ingredients of a miserabilist film as being based on a central character who is either a hard man or has some kind of addiction. Violence is portrayed as an everyday activity – both in the community and within the family. The hero is usually part of a dysfunctional family and this dysfunction stretches back generations with history repeating itself. People in these films do not seem to have the capacity to forgive, to live and let live, to use dialogue, discussion or introspection to solve problems. Women are secondary characters often trying to get the men to change but to no avail. Indeed it is because the protagonists are  portrayed as fundamentally incapable of change that this genre offers little hope.

Eleanor argued that part of the problem now is that miserabilism has become a habit: it is what is expected to come out of Scotland.  IT is what film makers can get money for and investors know there is a steady market for miserabilist films.

I am a firm believer that Scotland needs to face up to its growing problems with drugs and alcohol.  Scotland is now the 8th highest consumer of alcohol in the world (England is 15th). We are also the 6th highest country for illegal drug use, after Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritius, Costa Rica and Russia. Since none of these countries are higher than Scotland on the alcohol list we can assume that we may well be the top country in the world for substance abuse. This is a bleak picture but it is one we have to recognise.

Since I set up the Centre I have been amused at how I can be described in such radically different terms.  One journalist referred to me as a California style happiness guru! Others have similarly criticised me for being too positive. On the other hand, some have said to me that I'm much too negative.  This  sounds to me like I'm in the middle then. I would describe my approach as honest but hopeful. My version of optimism is not to deny difficulties and challenges but to confront them but with the belief that they can be tackled and changed.  I also think it important to recognise what's good and build on that whenever possible.

To help us face up to and tackle the problem of drugs, alcohol and violence, we need less exposure to miserabilist films and have the opportunity to hear stories of redemption, forgiveness, recovery and hope.

Comment By Comment
ClareKerr
Joined: 15/11/2010

Comment Posted: 15/11/2010 19:47
Hello Carole - our Scottish feature film Night People has been described by Mark Cousins as '...brutally honest but full of hope. A gleaming film of real power and insight.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot line, but we set out to make a Scottish film that left the audience with a sense of hope - and by all accounts many people who have seen it come away with that feeling.

It won the BAFTA Scotland Audience award was shown at festivals all over the world and is now available to buy at Amazon. I can send a copy if you'd like to see it, and there's more info about it at our web site http://www.meadkerr.com

I know lots of Scottish film makers with ambitions to break the miserable stereotype, so there's hope for the future!
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