Friday, July 24, 2009

The Aesthetics of Civil Enforcement



I live with someone currently being sent letters by bailiffs, as she's in the unenviable position of being a student and attempting to subsist during the holidays (jobs not being altogether easy to come by at the moment). Anyway, the bailiffs in question have a website. I have just been made aware of this website and it looks like this, and the contents are spectacularly interesting in design terms, so I can't resist a post. Bailiffs are not, you might suspect, a group for which society has a particularly high esteem. We have an image of them as being thugs who take things away from people who already have very little - a furtive profession, which likes to keep itself to itself. Or at least that's what you'd expect - instead, you click on the site and you have four wankers auditioning for bit parts in American Psycho, lined up inside a glass and steel atrium, all criss-cross trusses and 24 colours, shot from below so that they appear to be looking down upon the unfortunate sods who click on the website to make payment (or, equally, declare to the people looking for jobs in Debt Recovery and Civil Enforcement that you too could look this hard) Click around the site, it's an intriguing example of Blairite aesthetics - look at this man here on the phone, framed by the chrome armrail and the streamlined grille, and remember that what he is supposed to be doing is negotiating with, or threatening, someone who is in rent arrears or who has been overpaid housing benefit. This is how the class war is presented today.

18 Comments:

Anonymous James said...

Made all the more ridiculous of course, because the wonder of Google Street View (community CCTV?) allows us to see their actual offices: an industrial estate outside Swanley.

4:10 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Ha! So they will have hired some swanky Fostrosity only for the photo-shoot...and presumably those chiselled young Aryan bailiffs in the photo are hired also.

5:54 pm  
Blogger Blaize said...

I feel poorer and grubbier just looking at it.

8:19 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

Owen, it reminds me of the role children play in Nineteen Eighty Four.

And also of Bush's planned, but not passed (unbelievable!) Operation TIPS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_TIPS) that allowed undercover plumbers/sparkies etc. to enter into homes to gather information and report back to the government.

1:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is how the class war is presented today".

Couldn't agree more - this is the Blairite vision of 'normality' in this country. Most adverts, films, TV shows etc. (both U.K. and U.S. ones ) present this type, in similar surroundings as the representaives of the status quo.

I'm currently obsessed with the chiselled, harshly pristine semiotics of 'Law and Order' and 'The Bill' - none of 'em look like Peter Falk or John thaw any more. The 'weirdos' and 'scumbags' basically look like my friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours (and no, I'm not in prison!).

I'm also confused when I watch pop shows these days, as the performers also often share (sound like?) this 'look'. But that's probably down to the 'professionalisation' of pop.

I'm sure if you actually went down there, you'd find the usual assortment of chain-smoking, obese divorcees who failed the police entrance exams, though.

12:54 pm  
Blogger socialism and/or barbarism said...

Here in the States, until we get a proper reality show about process servers (although we do have the weed-hazed brilliance of Pineapple Express), we will forever, to ourselves and the rest of the world, be stuck with the bear-mace and God-talk of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Different civic role, to be sure, but that air of thuggishness mixed with pretending to care that is oh so American. All this running up against its obverse, the automated help lines of the banks to whom we all are in debt, the digital voice that tells us that our balance is overdrawn but that won't listen when we yell bloody murder at it.

4:48 pm  
Blogger tom s. said...

I actually thought the bloke on the "contact us" page was Clive Owen for a moment. He's walking the same line between square-jawed thug and suave city man.

6:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Daniel Craig (the most 'unethnic' Bond) or Christian Bale (is he American or British)? Surely their success is based on what a 'bloke' is supposed to be now (check out how they model the latest menswear in the gents mags)?

Funnily enough, both of them showed earlier promise playing creeps, psychos and twats.

S or B - going by Dog the Hunter, you Americans still have a niche for the more feral masculinity.

6:36 pm  
Blogger Tom Will said...

Deeply uncivil enforcers, I'm sure....

This look was affected with much irony by Heaven 17 on the cover of 'Penthouse to Pavement,' last time being an aryan sonofabitch was in fashion.

10:35 pm  
Blogger Kosmograd said...

I can almost guarantee that these images will be from a Royalty-free stock image library, found with keywords like "serious business people". Photo shoots are expensive things - ie models, locations etc.

If you head to Swanley expecting to find those square chinned Lotharios or pouting strumpets you're going to be disappointed.

I'm not sure if this symptomatic of the "Blairite vision of normality" of if the web designers watched too much The Apprentice or Dragon's Den and thought the strident business look was the one to go for.

But the discord between their online image and the grubby reality of their offices and actual workforce is perhaps the Blairite legacy: that appearances are everything, that it is acceptable, preferable even, to practice this deceit.

6:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was once on the receiving end of these geezers. I'd been royally ripped off by a letting agency and didn't have the funds to pay some council tax arrears. The letter I got was a scrawled and badly spelt photocopy threatening the seizure of all my wordly goods (at the time, an old VCR a PS2 and some books) and a handling charge of 75 quid for the pleasure of seeing them take it all away. I wrote back telling them that 'I had no surplus cash and that no further correspondence would be entered into' a phrase that though pointless in the scheme of things, has the pleasing effect of enraging those on the receiving end. They got nothing though - a month later, I bailed out of the country; They lost 500 quid. HO ho ho. Should I feel guilty - well the council tax thing still makes me feel bad. But with the rents down South and the wages so shit - I was living on the bones of my arse - I can handle it. Plus, this Whytey shitey firm bought the debt off the council - so granny'll still get her meal on a wheel, it's just the bailfiff bastards who lost out. Arf.

8:06 am  
Blogger Adam said...

What's this got to do with class war? Surely the 'thugs' at these companies are of the same 'class' as those they are working against.

10:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adam,

So are soldiers, police, teachers, foremen etc. - there's not enough room here to explain the structure of class war.

You're not one of those people who think American racism is 'over' because Obama got elected, are you? Or that Thatcher stopped sexism once and for all?

1:22 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

http://palacepalace.tumblr.com/post/200803490/plastic-profit-offices-architects-as-nerve-workers

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