Today something a bit different: a musing on life, humanity and ageing, spurred by the “Seven Up” series.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the films or heard of the Seven Up project. Just a week ago I knew nothing about it but then I watched “Life Itself”, the biopic on film critic Roger Ebert (who I’d also never heard of before), where he mentions the series and his love for it.
I’m so smitten by the entire thing that I don’t even know where to begin. If you haven’t yet, I suggest that you watch the first part of the project – which was never made with the plans to be followed up, that came later – and you will get sucked in in no time. It was filmed in 1964 in the UK and runs under the catchphrase “Give me the child until he is 7 and I’ll give you the man”. Here it is:
Now imagine these children as they grow up in years by seven. Picture them at 14, 21, 28, 35. How are they doing? How are you doing? Curious? Keep watching then. There is a film for all these ages (and they are all on YouTube). Not over yet. Then they reach 42. And 49. 56 Up is the last one from five years ago, or the most recent, I should say. Director Michael Apted, who is behind this project, has all intention of continuing and making 84 Up when he is 99.
On the age scale I fall to the left: I’m 14 years younger than the participants. I was born in 1970 as they filmed 14 Up. Which just means that they are all likely to die sooner. Just like pets. You get to know them and love them and then baaam.
In a way this was the world’s first reality show, with one big difference. This is how it used to be back when people said what they thought (or what they’d been taught), and not what would make them more popular. The effect of being on television was still not felt (even though this comes with time as the series progresses and one of them is asked for an autograph). They were not flirting with the camera yet and didn’t care for their best angle. They were all out. They were human when it was still fashionable.
Yesterday I read the post on No Facilities entitled “Life after People” in which Dan describes his experience of staying in the hotel without having to deal with a single employee. All was done by way of the phone. Obviously this is the now. As are the staff-less order and check-out options in restaurants and shops that are sometimes even cheaper.
I have so many questions. What will they do with the people? What will people do with their time? We can’t all just blog, can’t we? And how exactly will people earn money? Should robots get a salary too? How about sick leave?
Will there be friend rentals too? Will a robot or driverless car deliver a friend to your door for money?
Is this why I was so smitten with this series, and the internet in general?
Are they my friends as they tell me what is new in their lives every seven years and I silently tell them what is new in mine? Do they get comfort in seeing how the director has aged every seven years as well when he invades their privacy, just as the entire world does in their wrinkles and grey hair?
Are you, bloggers, my friends too when you show me the flower that grew in your garden, the mess your dog did, the landscape you saw from the plane, the poem you wrote in the waiting room at the doctor’s? Sometimes you tell me of a new illness, a new child (or two), or just new hair colour, lunch, film or door. And I don’t even need to wait seven years for the update.
Another reason why this series hits so hard is, of course, the comparison to your own life that you draw without really wishing to do so. (Not to mention that it brings back my phonetic training from the Univeeersssity and makes me write this post in a mixxxxxture of British aaaacceeeents, but this is something you caaan’t really heeeeaaarrr, innit?)
I rarely look back on my life but watching this forced me, in a way. As well as count my privileges. Let’s see.
At 7, I was in the second class of primary school with no idea what my next school would be, and after six years of being an only child just got a baby sister.
At 14, I was madly in love with a classmate, there were Olympic Games in Sarajevo in what used to be our joint country, Yugoslavia, and in September I started a new school, linguistic high school in the centre of Ljubljana where I learned English, Spanish and German.
At 21, I had my first serious boyfriend and we were just about to move in together. I met him at the University of Arts in Ljubljana where I studied English and he studied Italian. We both had journalism as the second subject. In a couple of years we ran an Italian language school but I never listened in (and hence still can’t speak it now… who knew). Also, I passed my driving test that year and went to France for two weeks with two friends. Also also, Slovenia won its independence from Yugoslavia and a 10-day war followed.
At 28, I was living alone, in the same street as my parents. About that time I visited a friend near London, and another in Romania. I went to Crete for a month with my Peugeot 504. The next year we found our first dog with his brothers and sisters in the trash and raised three, and I started to go to card tournaments where I met my next boyfriend of 13 years.
At 35, I have been living with the boyfriend from the previous paragraph for five years already. I was working for a magazine for Slovenians abroad which that year stopped getting funds from the government and died. We played cards at tournaments and picnics, and every summer went to a different Greek island for a week. I needed two more years to stop smoking and get my first digital camera.
At 42, I went on my first visit to Italy and the next year I moved over here. If not exactly historic, it surely feels heroic to me.
At 49 – ooops, not there yet. Two more years to go.
And two until the next film from the Up series as well. They will be 63. Still all with us, I wonder?
This was fun. Now I’d love to read everybody’s! You will want to do your own once you watch the films, I’m sure. And if you’re British, chances are that you have been following along all this time and the 14 participants are practically family. Imagine that.
I can see that other countries have started similar projects, for example Russia, Japan and the USA, but I feel almost too overwhelmed as it is and don’t know if I should start following these too.
Jung said something to the effect that the meaning of life is to turn into the person we are when we die. The best thing about this series is seeing how with time and added years – the process that often makes us cringe – each individual eventually slides into the kind of happiness that for them is exactly right. Isn’t that a comforting thought?
Here is a quick run through my years because no words can express what a single glance can convey. I don’t have many photos here from the predigital era though. I figured I could leave them behind because I was bound to make new memories. And this is exactly what I’ve been doing.
I wish you all a better future that you could ever imagine.