Sociology, seven ages and 'It' in a bottle

24th July 1998 at 01:00
NO DOUBT as to the television event of the week, at least for sociology teachers. 42 Up was the latest in a series of programmes that, beginning in 1964 with Seven Up, looked every seventh year at 14 children from all social classes. The 10 that remain had their lives raked over in a two-part screening that said as much about social trends as individual dispositions.

The BBC knew viewers really wanted to know about the fate of Neil, a poppet at seven and a shambling recluse at 35. So they kept him for the second programme.

Symon, illegitimate and with much of his early life spent in a children's home, was now on his second marriage with five children from his first and a step-daughter from his second.

Married at 24, Sue had divorced at 35 and brought up two children. Jackie, her childhood friend, had also divorced at 35 and was now the mother of three boys, with no father on the scene.

Living in a different world was Mick, a Yorkshire farmer's son who had travelled via Oxford to an assistant professorship in an American university. He went to boarding school, a fact that will not have been lost on those aware of the link between class background and educational success.

Also of relevance to sociologists, and even more to marketing students, was The Big Sell the first of three programmes that make up The Coca-Cola Conquest. In an entertaining history of the world's best-known product, one fact soon emerged: the drink is far less special than the way it is sold. Coca-Cola learned long ago to present itself not so much as a drink as a lifestyle accessory. The message in the bottle is youthfulness, fun, conviviality and whatever it takes to make life worth living.

Coca-Cola indirectly belittles any way of life that is not what the advertising slogan calls "It". This, according to the rest of this excellent series, is the message currently circling the globe. The likely consequence is analogous to the alleged effect of Coca-Cola on teeth: gradual corrosion and ultimate disappearance of independent cultures. The real thing, or just panic television? Students could spot an answer in the opening image of the third programme, "Cola-Colonisation": a crowd of men in New Guinea, feathers in hair and bones through noses, listening to two Coke salesmen's spiel.

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