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Journal Article

Boys, Class and Gender: from Billy Casper to Billy Elliot

Alan Sinfield

in History Workshop Journal

Volume 62, issue 1, pages 166-171
Published in print January 2006 | ISSN: 1363-3554
Published online January 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-4569 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbl008
Boys, Class and Gender: from Billy Casper to Billy Elliot

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The film Billy Elliot (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2000) brings supposed working-class assumptions about masculinity into confrontation: it is 1984, the miners are on strike and fighting the police, while young Billy has this unfathomable need to be a ballet dancer. ‘It's not just poofs, Dad’, he insists. What is scarcely questioned is the conventional gendering of ballet as feminine.

Billy Elliot alludes purposefully to Kes (dir. Ken Loach, 1969), which presents another boy, Billy Caspar, with an aptitude and an obsession that marks him out in an industrial working-class town. The two films offer specifically different stories about class, the state, gender and agency. Elliot's individual talent removes him to London in a consolatory fantasy of personal escape. For Caspar and his like there is no idea of leaving Barnsley; the viewer is left to intuit prospects for changing it. The two films are separated by distinct attitudes toward social transformation. As Cora Kaplan remarks, in the mid seventies many on the left took it for granted that significant new advances were possible. That is difficult in the present context.

Journal Article.  2579 words. 

Subjects: history of gender and sexuality ; public history ; labour history ; oral history ; social and cultural history

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