Along with my current reading list, I also mentioned that I’ve been watching the Up Series documentaries. The Up documentaries have been a continuing project over the last fifty years, following the lives of 14 children. It was actually Tim who first found this series, and realized that it might have connections to everything I’d been reading about.
The series begins with a short film, 7 Up, that was actually meant to be a stand alone documentary showing how a child’s future in Britain was already limited by the age they were 7, simply by the class they were born into. (And yes, I realize I used “they” where I should have used “he,” but I really dislike using only the masculine form in such cases, and he/she is so awkward.) In this first film, it’s rather striking to see how the more affluent children have a pretty good idea of how their life will be charted out, rattling off a long stream of schools they plan to progress through. In contrast, those on the opposite end have only vague ideas of what they’ll be doing in the future. Since it was 1964, the idea of going to the moon was pretty popular, along with more down to earth aspirations, such as being a clerk at Woolworths.
What Tim had noticed — and what I was excited about — was that the first two installments, 7 Up and 7 plus 7, started to give you a pretty good idea of what types of expectations the children’s parents had for them, what types of structured activities and lessons they took part in, and how much free time they had. Given that my reading was pointing to the importance of free time and the roll of parental expectations in anxiety and happiness, I was eager to continue watching the series and see if I could trace the influence of these and other characteristics I might notice. And since the latest installment, 56 Up was released just last year, I wouldn’t even have to wait 30 years — like I will with my own kids — to see the results!
However, as the films progressed, I couldn’t decide if any conclusions could be drawn. I considered the possibility that my expected results might not be matching up with the films’ results. (It’s always better to go into a study unbiased.) But I also started to recognize the films limitations more and more. Briefly, this was partially caused by the fact that the first film, 7 Up, was expected to be a stand alone documentary, a one off. So to illustrate the constraints of the class system, and on a limited production schedule, they picked children almost exclusively from the upper and lower classes. (Although I noticed they didn’t have any children from the very top class. This might not be evident to most Americans, but in the top class we would have seen children who were in line to inherit a nobility title.) They mostly left out the middle class, which experienced the most changes during the next fifty years. And it wasn’t even until many installments later that Michael Apted, one of the researchers of the original film who went on to direct the rest of them, realized that they’d managed to pick only four girls to compare to ten boys. (This was immediately apparent to me. See my above comment about the they/he/she issue.) This means they missed out on being able to document the changing rolls of women since the series began.
After finishing the series, my idea of studying the films to see the results of a child’s upbringing on their future success and happiness seems a lot more clinical and intrusive than it did at the beginning. Watching the clips from the sixties, seventies, and eighties felt pretty much like watching any other type of historical documentary. But as the installments got more contemporary, it started to feel more invasive.
However, I’m grateful to the participants that chose to continue to take part in the films. In spite of the limitations, after finishing the complete series I did find myself contemplating what it could reveal about education, effort, circumstances, attitude (Mindset, if you will), and life. However, going into an analysis of the lives of people who haven’t really given their permission just feels wrong.
Permission of the children’s parents did not have to be obtained prior to the first film in 1964, and continuing the series was difficult for many of them. So I’ll not not go into an analysis here. (Could you imagine how long this article would be if I did? I can’t believe how long this post is already! I think it can be said that I’m not a writer of few words.)
I’ll simply summarize it by saying that the series shows how satisfaction and personal success in life can be found in a broad range of circumstances. And even though there are a limited number of subjects, I’d be surprised if you didn’t find something you can relate to in many of them, even among those who at the beginning you might find unlikely.
They have a broad range for occupations, including a scientist, which always stands out to me because of my background. Nicholas (Nick) Hitchon, a farmer’s son, grew up to be a nuclear fusion researcher. Fusion, which is the process that generates energy in the Sun and other stars, was a hot area of science back in the 1970s and 80s.
I’ll leave it to you to see what similarities you find you share with the children in 7Up. Besides, I’ve disagreed with pretty much every analysis of the series I’ve read. It’s broad enough for every one to draw their own conclusions.
You’ll also get some interesting insight into some of Britain’s recent history and the changes that have taken place as Britain recovered from the Second World War. (The Britain of 1964 was still greatly suffering from the effects of that war.) Parents will also notice a change in attitude toward child safety. In the closing scene on the “adventure playground” used in most of the documentaries, watch for the rock that the girls head narrowly missed as she twirls upside down on a rope. And all this happens while adults watch while filming!
The entire series is currently available on Netflix, which is where I watched it. Viewing the entire series will require a commitment of over 14 hours. I started the series awhile ago, but was able to power through most of them during a recent viral illness. If you don’t have time to watch the whole series, I suggest some shortened schedules below.
Shortened Viewing Schedule for the Up Series
(9 hours, 40 minutes)
Quick Blitz Viewing Schedule for the Up Series
(6 hours 47 minutes)
If you only want to watch only one, then I suggest 49 Up. But I warn you, after you watch it you’ll want it watch them all, and it will be like reading a book after you’ve already turned to the end.
And that 60s super-hero theme music used at the beginning of all of them? Gotta love it. 🙂
What about you? Have you seen the Up series? Have you been following it for years, or is it new to you?
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