The Sex Lives of the Potato Men and the Decline of the British Working Class

Dr Ian Hunter
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"Sex Lives of the Potato Men" (Andy Humphries, 2003), a sex comedy starring Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook about two Brummies on the pull, received some of the worst reviews in living memory, and largely deserved them. A number of critics, declaring it the worst British film ever made, were scandalised that the UK Film Council should have invested lottery money on a low-grade imitation of "Men Behaving Badly" and the American 'gross-out' movie ("Dumb and Dumber, Freddy Got Fingered").

As a depiction of the contemporary working class, however, "Sex Lives of the Potato Men" is of considerable symptomatic interest. Like the "Confessions" films of the 1970s it is a crude but fascinating document of changed perceptions of white British proletarian masculinity. On the one hand, according to the director, the film is a satire of the "Loaded" generation that 'took the stupidity of men and made a stupid cartoon film vision of it'. But on the other, it is an inadvertent requiem for the white working class, now marginalised, invisible and one of the few social groups it is still acceptable to mock.

With reference not only to academic work on class but also to popular writers such as Ferdinand Mount, Michael Collins and Theodore Dalrymple, this paper explores the representation of white working class masculinity in economic and moral decline. Whereas once the proletariat was imagined to be the universal class of the future — in Leftist fantasy at any rate — now it is chiefly visible as obese, feral and pathetic fodder for reality TV freak shows, and scarcely distinguishable from the underclass of right-wing lore. As well as "Sex Lives of the Potato Men" and its precursors in British exploitation cinema, the paper briefly discusses "Bottom, Guest House Paradiso, Shameless", "The Royle Family", "The Fat Slags" and the films of Shane Meadows.

Keywords: Comedy, Masculinity, Race, Sex, Film
Stream: Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr Ian Hunter

Subject Leader and Senior Lecturer, Film Studies, Faculty of Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester

Dr Ian Hunter is Subject Leader in Film Studies at De Montfort University, Leicester, and has published widely on British exploitation, horror and science fiction cinema. He is Editor of Routledge's British Popular Cinema series, for which he edited "British Science Fiction Cinema" (Routledge, 1999) and co-edited the forthcoming "British Spy Cinema". He also co-edited "Pulping Fictions" (1996), "Trash Aesthetics" (1997), "Sisterhoods" (1998), "Alien Identities" (1999), Classics (2000) and "Retrovisions" (2001) in Pluto's Film/Fiction series. He is currently writing a "British Film Guide to A Clockwork Orange" for IB Tauris.

Ref: H05P0122