"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

-- Oscar Wilde

Real people are the Player character in the RPG of Life. Or, if life were a role playing game, that's what you'd call them. They are the ones who think for themselves, the innovators, revolutionaries, and true leaders.

Do you ever notice that when you're in a new place, you see people who look like aquaintances and old friends? Some might say this is because all humans are biologically identical and therefore there is a limited amount of physical variation possible. Do not buy into this myth. The "people" you see are echoes of your own mind, images brought in to fill the vast expanse of space given to humanity.

I'm a real person. Are you?

The year was 1979. America had no more heros. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The "anti-hero" reigned supreme in movies. We worshiped, as a nation, screen idols like Michael Corleone, Howard Beale (Who? Sheesh, dude, Peter Finch's character in Network), and Randle Patrick McMurphy (Who? Oh for the love of Christ, that's Jack's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

America's traditional heros, men at arms, were proven by the Vietnam war to be nothing more than ugly killers who would not think twice about herding women and children into a grass hut and then tossing in a few frag grenades. You couldn't even buy a G.I. Joe at Kresges anymore, not even for ready money. Any chance the public had at finding some real America sports heros in the upcoming 1980 Moscow Olympics were quashed when the commies over ran Afghanistan and civilized people everywhere boycotted the Red Games.

So, sing, with me. Sing with me people,

All the children say
We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond

But baby, you couldn't be more wrong. We do, or did, need another hero. But where to find such a hero? Where to find a hero in America circa 1979?

It occurred to NBC that we were the heros. The every day schmuck that buys American, curses Saudi oil princes every time it costs him an extra two bucks to fill up the Dodge Charger, drives to his honest day job at US Steel on pot-holed Allentown streets unionized civic employees refuse to fill, votes Democrats into the House and Republicans into the Senate, and brings his family to Ponderosa for a family dinner every Saturday night. Oh yeah he drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. The real heros, you know, were real Americans. Real people.

Well, that's a show!

In 1979 NBC and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter debuted a show about real people doing real things and being sometimes really funny. It called it Real People. It got Skip Stephenson, the most unreal human being on the planet at that time, to host. Apparently they passed over a young David Letterman for Skip. Imagine what the world would be like today?

Real People ran from 1979 until 1984. They dressed Skip Stephenson in a lot of bright crew-necked sweaters.

So, basically, Real People was a bit like 60 Minutes but about people who offered the world nothing. Hence their heroism, facing their blight-filled daily life with such stoic resolve. There were a number of video segments, designed to be amusing and heartwarming. Segments included things like:
  • A man in Des Moines, Iowa who can walk backwards.
  • An American martial art called Belly Bucking, which is basically fat men bashing their beer bellies into each other.
  • A grandfather and his middle aged son who spend their day on their porch and wave at traffic passing along I40 East.
  • Various subcultures in America that enjoy getting naked.
  • And more Mark "I can sing anything political to the same rag-time piano tune" Russell than you could ever stomach.

Along side golden boy Skip Stephenson were cohosts Sarah Purcell, Bill Rafferty, Fred Willard, and Byron Allen. In spite of Skip Stephenson's best efforts, the show had some great success for a couple years, likely due to the presence of the beautiful Sarah Purcell who shamelessly paraded about the Real People stage in high heels and slit skirts. Despite the racy outfits, Purcell was cast as a feminist foil to Skip Stephenson who was the resident male chauvinist pig.

The show proved so popular in its initial couple years that it spawned imitators like That's Incredible. It was Reality TV in a nebulous form. However, after a couple years the format began to get a bit old. Trying the "Cousin Oliver" gambit, Real People added A Christmas Story demi-god child Peter Billingsley (who apparently is an adult porn star now).

Alas, Peter Billingsley's cute, sassy self could not save the show. It was cancelled after his sophomore season. Real People briefly tried to make a post-NBC go of it in syndication as More Real People.
The UK's Channel 4 recently ran a poll of the greatest 100 films of all time, as voted for by the viewers. Not surprisingly (and, I should add, deservingly) Trainspotting came very high in the list, and as suh there was a little mini-junket with the author of the novel on which the film is based, Irvine Welsh. One of the strengths of the sotry according to its omniscient creator is the fact that it showed the experiences of "real people", not "a bunch of middle calss wankers".

Oh. Because, you see, middle class people are fictional.

Now, I was born and grew up in rigidly classless societies (the USSR and Israel respectively). However, both my parents are highly educated professionals, I never wanted for anything in my life and am now living in a prosperous suburb of Oxford. I can be safely called middle class.

Conclusion: I don't exist. I am not, according to the Irvine Welsh Orthodoxy (and he's not the only one who holds these views, just the one who happens to have pissed me off this week), a real person.

Not only that, but I am not a real person according to the governement, either. After a year and a half of paying tax at the emergency rate, I am still not entitled to any welfare or housing help from the authorities. They also consistenly call me by my husband's name despite the fact I never took it and that all the documentation they ever received from me identifies me by my own name. While the governement exuberantly adopts the rhetoric of "the needs of real people", this sends the clear message to me that as far as they are concerned, I don't exist.

In a country which is hell bent to preserve it more wasteful and undemocratic traditions (the landed aristocracy) while completely wiping out some of its more productive ones (farming and heavy industry), I wonder - how many other people are not "real people"? The white collar slaves of the City, the elderly living in humble bungalows after a life of service to the economy, the teachers and nurses and miserable office workers subjected to the worst working conditions and the lowest pay in Europe - neither Tony Blair nor that champion of the underbelly, Irvine Welsh, seem to recognise our collective existence. Both the political and artistic establishment seem determined to ignore it.

Imaginary People of the UK Unite! The middle class is the new proletariat. It's here, it's real, and it's the only section of society which is paying its own way (the poor being too poor and the rich too clever), and it deserves its share of respect and recognition.

I for one am done playing the game of humble beginnings one-upmanship. I'm middle class and I'm proud!

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