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Ol’ Red Eyes is back : Peter Kay's Car Share

Jon Bounds looks at TV — the new opiate of the masses — from a Marxist perspective. This month the new Peter Kay vehicle that struggles to change gear.

Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC, debuting on iPlayer) would probably be the greatest advert for the Marxist dialectic since the Second International: if the characters were that aware talking could be more than just a way to pass the time. The show, Kay’s first sitcom since 2004’s Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere is almost exclusively a dialogue between John (Kay) and Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) as they commute to work in a supermarket somewhere in Manchester.

The ride is accompanied by the burbling of local commercial radio, a Kay staple, and exquisitely quotidian landscapes painted with muted colours and exhaust dust. These and the chatter place the characters — Kay’s irascible but kindly manager, and Gibson’s uninhibited salesperson – deep within the proletariat. And while they are obviously engaged within the class struggle, they don’t pay it too much mind. The premise of the show is however a study in historical materialism: the primary influence on the micro-society pictured is a change in material conditions. To wit, the removal of enough car parking spaces at the store in which they work in an era of declining public transport and alienation from the centres of labour.

The viewer, if they could tear themselves from the deliberate Proustian trickle from the waves of nineties hits, would expect some tension between worker and management. But apart from some pressure from Kayleigh to go easy on what would be a member of the lumpenproletariat they would both appear to be on the same side in the struggle. Considering the likely salaries of the protagonists (around about £30,000 pa for Kay’s junior manager, less for non-management) they are both firmly proletarian, with little hope of even obtaining the most petit of stations of the bourgeoisie. Kayleigh we’re told — we see nothing outside the orbit of the car — struggles even to know the price of petits pois.

Even though the dialectic is not attempting a synthesis of an answer to control of the means of production, there are competing thesis and antithesis. These, on the importance of Beyoncé, or the meaning of the word ‘dogging’, are – for the viewer — steps towards what we hope will be the inevitable romantic entanglement of two characters adrift on the machinations of capitalism. But while the journey is entertaining — even if the inset music video parodies aren’t — “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. Our heroes exist in context only to each other, much as we see them only in one context during the show, they converse mainly through the prisms of work, and of media. There is interpretation, hope you may think, and a long wait for Christmas: when the tunes in the car will no doubt be upbeat.

As Marx himself would say “[these] philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”.

Or to put it another way: garlic bread? And circuses.

Photos CC by: Nathan Wind & Stephan

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