Monday, 6 February 2017

Playing the Corrie Class Card: When Johnny met Jenny

Guest blog post from Leslie Katz
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Wherein lies the spark between Johnny and Jenny?  They're like the Bogey-Bacall of Corrie 2017. He's old school and so is she. Somehow, they smolder and spark. I don't mean champagne, cigarettes, and dusky dialogue. I mean that, unlike so many Corrie couples at the moment, they visibly occupy different social and economic strata. Given that Jenny emerges from a relatively murky past, we cannot answer with any confidence questions like: “How much does she have in her bank account?” However, the writers have introduced her in this most recent reincarnation as Johnny's foil. He runs Underworld, whereas she is considered lucky to have received a menial position there as cleaner. As a sign of his position, he takes possession of Carla's luxe apartment at Victoria Court, while Jenny remains a dependent lodger at Rita's. Although somewhat of an interloper himself in Carla's “empire,” he, nonetheless, occupies the position once held by Mike Baldwin, and thus the power to lift up Jenny, the fetching scullery maid who catches his eye.

This is a storyline we haven't seen in a while, at least not in its archetypal form. With Carla at the helm of Underworld, it was harder to conduct business in the old “boy's school” way, so, apart from Carla's fling with the binsman, we never got the idea that she was slumming it romantically. Even her decision to make Peter Barlow a partner never took on quite the dimensions of Linda Baldwin, gold-digging her way to the top, sleeping with Mike Baldwin's son en route. As sewer-rats come, Peter was relatively benign, not the least because he occupies a quicksilver relationship to class. Yes, the Bookies had fallen on hard times, but, as a man, even temporarily unemployed, Peter could not accept his wife-to-be's largesse and, anyway, doing so would clearly be the finishing of him, as any man who lives by his wife's pursestrings is doomed to emasculation, ergo cheating. (For one relevant case study, there's Karl Munro and Sunita.) Anyway, the writers never defined Peter as stuck, in a class sense, below Carla. While the Barlows are not rich by most standards, they still occupy a staunch middle class position on the Street. Tracy Barlow looked down her nose at a packing job at Underworld, while, at the same time, scoring a relationship with the boss's brother, Rob. In short, people like Carla and her brother thought that marrying into the Barlow family was, in one way or another, an acceptable union of peers. I'm not saying this makes a ton of sense, given their disparate incomes. It's just that the writers chose to represent the families on a more less equal footing.

I was too young to watch Coronation Street in the 70s, but with youtube I've been able to revisit the episodes where Mike Baldwin would show up in the Rovers for his extravagant Scotch, waving around his cash, and buying drinks for the neighbourhood clientele, at prices which were for him, undoubtedly, laughable. He was the proverbial Big Fish in the small pond of Weatherfield, able to afford flash cars and snazzy digs precisely because the living costs were dirt cheap. His love interests inevitably came from similar stock (claw and scrabble), but, having experienced less success than he, they were easily blinded by his kitschy displays of “living high.” Well, not everyone. Dierdre, at least, appeared to like the man more than his bling, and, despite genuine feeling, rejected Mike's lifestyle for Ken's lack of material affectation. On the other end of the spectrum, Hilda Odgen swooned over Mike's assets, at the same time he grew to respect and care for her, almost as an extension of his own gutter-rat origins.. None of these relationships, however, could have been explored without first delineating a sharp understanding of class difference. Mike was a self-made man, pulled up by dubious bootstraps from his Cockney origins, but he was also a success story, a ruthless union-crushing entrepreneur, who swanned around, at the same time rubbing elbows with the common man and woman whom he knew, deep down, were his closest kin.

Today's Corrie mostly skims over this class stuff.  Nick, Dev, Carla, and now Johnny have flats at Victoria Court, but they come and go from those flats, often inviting family members to visit, share, or live there in their absence. We have little idea what constitutes a desirable income, with or without perks. Unlike the olden days, when Fred Gee had it all, working as potsman at the Rovers, with bed and board + access to Annie Walker's Rover 2000, now employees flit between shifts behind the bar, filling in at the Bistro, time behind the cash at Dev's, and who knows what else. The characters who make enough to afford their own home blur into those who can barely afford rent and those who have nowhere to live at all. Apart from weird vagaries of time and circumstance, we are mostly party to a classless microcosm where a hairdresser lives at the same standard of living as a business owner, or a skilled mechanic at the same standard as a pensioner.

But, getting back to Johnny and Jenny, they fit into a recognisable, old-world paradigm. Whether she's lost everything or had nothing to begin with, Jenny starts off at the bottom, a lodger who is grateful for a position as a cleaner in Johnny's factory. Likewise, whatever Johnny's shady past, at the moment he's sitting at the top of Underworld, and he has both the swank flat and the high-end clientele to prove it. In class terms, the original Coronation Street template falls back into place. Whatever Jenny's motives, gold-digger, or real-life Cinderella, her character definition is already sharper than the indeterminate Evas, Sarahs, Toyahs, all of whom left reasonable employment for a sabbatical or gap-year break in Weatherfield, mysteriously getting by on odd-jobs, while miraculously avoiding poverty or frown-worthy scut work.

Corrie 2017 is mostly class-blind, or, if you will, post-class. Even Sally and Tim, although filling out the roles of snob and everyman respectively, appear to combine incomes and live in relative comfort. Genuine romantic drama, however, relies on harder edges and an old-fashioned sense of erotic taboo – the high falling for the low and vice-versa. Maybe that formula doesn't fit our reality anymore, but, if Johnny and Jenny's relationship can be believed, it still functions in the world of soap.

By Leslie Katz
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Maricha said...

Thanks Leslie, I love this analysis. This is really a lot like looking at an old movie. And, with Jenny sometimes looking sinister you could even say this storyline has elements of film noir to it. I wonder if Jenny will end up in a white dress or a white straight jacket first though her complete lack of interest in Kevin's son Jack since her return points to her being a bit saner than before.

coconno196 said...

Jenny probably doesn't recognise Jack, as he's now played by a different actor, looking 3 years older and with a completely different hair colour!

Humpty Dumpty said...

Jenny, as an individual, is no more working class than Johnny in terms of privilege, interests and maybe even politics (guess work on the last one). If any of the residents can be called middle class it would be the current Nazirs, Ken and Daniel by virtue of their higher education. The other residents are divided by those having dosh and those who have not. What made Jenny a shock choice for Johnny was that she *currently* has a menial job. While class distinctions are becoming blurred in the UK, good old-fashioned snobbery is alive and well. I think the couple work well together and might become the new Alf and Audrey.

Joseph said...

It's a real pity because I feel like the class differences between characters were unique to Corrie and now that's disappeared. While lines between classes are blurring, I do think Corrie should still be providing a social commentary on what it means to be poor, middle-class etc. But I guess never-ending affairs and sensationalistic storylines are easier to write...

I do quite like the pairing of Johnny and Jenny though, from what little I've seen of them.

Antiphon said...

I wonder if we will ever find out more about Jenny's first marriage when her child died which caused her to kidnap Jack, or if that part of her history will now be airbrushed out now that she has hooked up with Johnny.

Anonymous said...

Johnny is too old for Jenny - he should be with Liz.

Anonymous said...

Humpty Dumpty, having had higher education does not necessarily make you middle class. If you were middle class you wouldn't be living in a small terraced house in Weatherfield.

Maricha said...

Actually, education is a bigger factor in getting you put in a social class than money is.
A university professor or a writer,for example, might only be able to afford a tiny house in Weatherfield but he'd still be viewed as middle class, whereas a construction worker earning twice his salary would be considered working class. For the construction worker to enter middle class he'd have to rise up in his profession by owning his business like when Owen was a builder or acquire special skills to the degree that he'd be an artisan.He might not earn more money than when he was unskilled or wasn't a builder but he'd have more than just basic knowledge and it would be taken into account when evaluating him.

Anonymous said...

Thx Maricha:) Joseph, I agree it would be great if Corrie still provided a social commentary on class. At least we can get a conversation started here. I live in Canada, so I appreciate your comments on what economic mobility looks like in the UK right now. It helps! -LK

Ruth Owen said...

I agree with your comment Maricha - class is less about money and more about culture and education. If the queen lost everything tomorrow, she would never be working class. Likewise, the Beckhams, very rich, are not really middle class. Class is about everything from the car you drive to the newspaper you read. It us also very complicated and attitudes are a good guide to class.

Maricha said...

The Queen is the perfect example :D