Updated: Dec 26, 2020
I still vividly remember the first time I watched People Just Do Nothing. As an international student, I was looking for ways to engage with the British culture. It was in my university halls in Fallowfield, with a friend who frequently went to raves and was well-immersed in the UK’s underground dance music scene. Naturally, she thought that a mockumentary about a group of people running (or failing to run) Kurupt FM, a pirate radio station, would be exactly what I needed to watch.
In “Car Boot” of season 5, MC Grindah, Kurupt’s MC, and his girlfriend Miche, find out that their tower blocks are being knocked down for a new real-estate development which is supposed to make “the area more attractive to live” (People Just Do Nothing, 2018). Miche calls the council to secure the flat for their relocation but as she called too late, she is told she will have to move to Essex. This news comes as a shock to her, as she is aware that the move puts her and Grindah’s livelihoods at risk. Both of them have built their lives in Brentford – Grindah is responsible for running Kurupt FM, whereas Miche is newly-hired hairdresser in a salon in Brentford. Unsurprisingly, she is left devastated by the news and is worried about Grindah’s reaction.
Even though the show continually makes fun of their idleness and wilful ignorance about the world around them, I could not help but feel sorry for them. I recalled my experiences as an immigrant, and how much it hurts at times to be away from everything I am used to. I relate to Grindah and Miche, who are having to relocate due to circumstances beyond their control. The unshakeable sympathy I had for them led me to question: how can we resist the system which forcibly determines the relationship between us and the world?
This is where I found Lefebvre’s thoughts on capitalism and the everyday quite useful. Lefebvre wrote on the everyday, the mundane and the banal activities we do not reflect on, and how these are useful in understanding the capitalist mode of production. Lefebvre conceptualised the everyday as the time and space where all of the boring, day-to-day activities happen.
These are the activities which are shaped around our pursuit for the “higher” activities and the “higher” activities themselves. We satisfy the need for these higher activities through consumption, which we need to work for (Davies, 2014:386). For example, you might plan your meals around your working time, or you might watch that TV show episode another time if your boss asked you to come in early. In that way, the everyday is seen as subordinate, since it has to follow the trajectory of the “higher” activities (Lefebvre, 1991). Therefore, the everyday, as we do not give it much thought, becomes the way we subject ourselves to control. Nevertheless, even though the everyday does not occupy most of our attention, it is still where we live and where we produce our experiences (Davies, 2014:385), which gives it its emancipatory potential.
Housing has to be understood as central to capitalist mode of production. It is a store of capital, meaning that its consumption does not lead to a decrease in its value. The poor classes’ inability to purchase a home exacerbates already existing inequalities between the rich and the poor (Albers and Christophers, 2014: 376), and this crystallises with the example of Grindah and Miche. As the poor perpetually chase the goal of homeownership, the wealthy have the power to displace the poor, for the purposes of building newer, fancier stores of capital. In turn, this chase is what the everyday is shaped around – Miche and Grindah will have to fundamentally change their life to fit their position within the capitalist system.
Housing, by its very nature, is what shapes the everyday. It is where the everyday meets the reflective activities: it gives the mundane a space to exist, but by the virtue of enabling the everyday, it enables the existence of “higher” activities, too. Home is a place for rest and leisure, but that rest and leisure only exist to facilitate the “higher” (Lefebvre, 1991:30). When the everyday is disrupted, we are able to notice its unreflective nature. This provides an avenue for change, as we realise that there is nothing natural about the way that we organise our mundane.
Miche’s and Grindah’s everyday is fundamentally disrupted by their relocation. They will have to find not just new jobs, but also new friends, new routes to work and a new favourite supermarket. DJ Beats, who runs Kurupt FM with MC Grindah, describes MC Grindah as “the best MC in the galaxy”. This change is bigger than just relocating – it is leaving their social life, culture and memories behind.
Nevertheless, dozens of people in British urban zones are facing the same reality of displacement and uncertain housing situations. Council estates across the UK are being demolished for expensive housing developments, which illustrates the capitalist tendency of profit pursuit. This, in turn, shapes the residents’ lives, and of those who came before them. As a result, their everyday becomes, what Lefebvre calls, a site of “colonisation”, where the state penetrates into everyday life and is able to alter it according to the needs of capitalism (Wilson, 2013:4). The everyday, thus, becomes an object for programming and planning (Davies, 2014:386).
Towards the end of the episode, Miche’s mum offers to sleep with the bin man who knows someone in the council to “pull a few strings” to which Miche responds:” I don’t want you to shag a bin man just so I can stay in Brentford, mum.” Although hilarious, this sentence stuck with me because it elucidates the weight of the everyday and the potential for change it holds. We begin to recognise its importance when it is disrupted, which is why making the invisible visible and giving everyday a voice is necessary for successful resistance.
Aalbers, Manuel B. and Christophers, Brett. 2014. Centring Housing in Political Economy, Housing, Theory and Society, 31(4), 373-394.
Davies, Matt. 2014. “Is the financial crisis part of everyday life?” In Global Politics: A New Introduction, edited by Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss, 385-404. Oxon: Routledge.
Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of Everyday Life, vol. 1, London: Verso.
People Just Do Nothing. “Car Boot”, BBC iPlayer, 28:31. October 12, 2018. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bs6h2n/people-just-do-nothing-series-5-1-car-boot.
Wilson, Japhy. 2013. Model villages in the neoliberal era: the Millenium Development Goals and the colonization of everyday life. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1-19.