So often in the broadcast media, the lives of working class people come packaged in the form of grotesque exaggeration for the pleasure of the voyeur, or through the cold and de-humanising lens of statisticians.
Mouthpiece on Sheffield Live! 93.2fm is a weekly politics and arts radio programme that features music, community news, and covers everything from local industrial disputes to discussing disability and sex; the interviewees are chosen for their ideas and experiences, rather than their title or privileged position.
Three elderly Jamaican migrant women who had been cleaners and factory workers spoke to me on the 50th anniversary of independence about their feelings towards the failings of their new black leaders to empower the poor, the racism they faced upon coming to Britain, their working lives and their admiration for the Queen.
Followed by a discordant rendition of “How Great Thou Art”, these were not narratives that neatly encapsulated radical anti-imperialism, but were a genuine reflection of the lives of these working class women. Mouthpiece is not a platform for sloganeering platitudes.
News and commentary so often narrow down discussion of complex issues by brushing over the human experiences and using lazy assumptions and simple dualities of the good and the bad, the familiar and the alien, plan A and plan B, strivers and scroungers.
Last year’s Mouthpiece special on prostitution featured a sex worker activist discussing criminalisation, ethics and organising in the context of an area in which journalism so often reverts to a binary classification of disgraceful harlots and pitiful victims.
A natural reaction to the neat blocks of transitory and seemingly distinct news items is to consume them and make only a cursory link with your own existence — perhaps for as long as it takes to splutter down the line to a radio phone-in. There is rarely encouragement to think critically about your place in the world, or how you can change it.
It is sad to think that mine might be the only radio show that would cover Sheffield Council’s implementation of Government cuts through interviews with its leaders, alongside Graham Skinner’s explanation of how Clay Cross councillors took their radical stance 40 years before.
Mouthpiece allows local listeners to start from the position of connecting their lives to ideas of theory or public policy, and through sharing their views — and their art — avoid simply being used to colour a story packaged for consumption by a distant, cosseted and comfortable audience.
• Mouthpiece is broadcast every Wednesday from 9-11am on Sheffield Live. Tune into 93.2fm or visit sheffieldlive.org