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Monday, 24 May 2010

Hoobitus - Pierre Bourdieu and The Hoobs

Episode 232 of 250 of Series 1 of children's TV Show 'The Hoobs' and the female pink hoob Tula opens the microwave and carries her baking to the table. Enter Groove, a green male Hoob, "Ah Tula, you make the most hoobalicious hoobnip tart ever...when will the hooby cookies be ready?". Ivor runs in, also wanting some of that hoobnip tart, the ambrosia of hoobland, but Groove, the little bastard, has eaten it all. "It's ok Ivor, Tula can always make some more." Tula drops her spoon "Oh no she can't!" The boy hoobs are confused why she is cross - "I'm tired of making the hooby cookies, hooby fizz, hooby buns." The lovably camp Ivor excuses his lack of help in the kitchen, he does the cleaning and the tidying up. It is the lazy laddish Groove who does nothing. They decide to take her to a restaurant, but she is too scared, so they decide to set one up together.

There's some learning to do!

And so begins our foray into the world of the Hoobs - the world reversed - a simulacrum of social reality and a practice of acute symbolic violence.

The concept of the Hoobs is that they are outsiders to human social life - they speak the same language as the peeps (adults) and tiddlypeeps (kids), but they don't have the same cultural concepts, and lack the basic understanding of the social order. Bourdieu speaks of a habitus - an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it was constituted - the social life that the peeps take for granted, their latent contentedness and practical mastery of their lived environment, is something that the Hoobs lack. Raised in Hoobland, they haven't acquired the skillful mastery of the social intricacies, so when they encounter a problem, they head over to earth to see the tiddlypeeps, who inculcate them with an artificial 'practical logic'; this will only ever pale in comparison to the doxic experience of the peeps themselves, who see life through the lens of a pre-conscious and taken-for-granted world.

As they journey over to see the kids, the music plays a song, the same each episode. "We're off to see the tiddlypeeps, on the road we go. We're off to see the tiddlypeeps, they're smart, they're fun, they know. If we need to know, who what when why where and how, we ask them and they know." Thus we see, from the ritualised chanson, that the culture of the tiddlypeeps, and by extention peeps generally, is constituted in the hoobacious mind as the legitimate culture. The knowledge of the peeps is a 'fait accompli' - once the Hoobs have consulted the tiddlypeeps, they can cease questioning 'Why?'; the legitimate knowledge of the peeps is accepted as correct.

In this particular episode, the pedagogic authority is a pair of boys. The fatter of the two tiddlypeeps instructs Groove on how to be a waiter, and, with the confident authority of Sun Tzu, imposes a panoply of cultural arbitaries - an arbitrary that is posited to be concrete and natural through the legitmacy of the interlocutor. The first lesson from the rotund pedagogue is the 'correct' laying out of cutlery on a table. This is followed up by the second pedagogue who asserts that then you need to put flowers on the table, to make it look pretty. Little Ivor, subject to this peep-ocracy, eagerly notes down the teachings - "flowers, water...".

Groove assimilates the teaching and attempts to be a waiter - he gets the food and throws it onto the table in front of the tiddlypeeps. They laugh at him and point in his face - he looks around, startled and aghast! - this is what Goffman, in Stigma, referred to as a shaming ritual and as a blemish of character. It similarly links in to Foucault's concept of discipline - transgressions against socially normative behvaiour are avoided through adherence to the cultural arbitaries, and are monitored through omnipresent surveillance.

So the children laugh at Groove, who cannot perform easily as a waiter due to the constraints of his own boisterous Hoob-habitus (for which I coin the neologism - Hoobitus). This situation finds it's parallel in the amusement of children seeing an African woman carrying a basket on her head or the schadenfreude of watching somebody from China trying to pronounce 'lollipop'. Although cultures are equal, objectively, some are valued higher than others and those individual who considers her own to be the legitimate will thus denigrate other 'deviant' cultures - she will discipline those cultures which differ from her own.

The tiddlypeeps instruct Groove that to be a good waiter, he has to be polite and speak in an affected manner. He tries again - "Here you are Sir...and here you are Madam." The fat tiddlypeep pedagogical authority's doughface beams - "Very good Groove!!" Thus the legitimate authority corrects and controls the deviant Hoob, and is able to do so through such pedagogic action as befits a pedagogic authority.

Like this, in the 249 other episodes, the children sat in their homes, who watch The Hoobs are given a show of deference to their own culture. The naive Hoobs who gallivant into the tiddlypeep world on-screen can be seen as a simulacrum of the symbolic learning the children make in their pre-cognisant state, as their habitus is forming and before it displays itself in their hexis. The Hoobs ask the questions that the children don't need to. The children learn that the correct way to eat is with a knife, fork and spoon. But also at a table, whilst sat on a chair. Also in a designated room withing the abode. And at a designated time.

What the children viewing 'The Hoobs' see is a representation, vivid and engaging, of the idealised form of their own world, as seen from the perspective of the mores of the status quo in their society.


  1. (1) This is a very deterministic portrayal of society. Can a Hoob never learn the ways of the people? Can a Hoob never be a person? Goldthorpe found lots of evidence in advanced societies of upward social mobility. So, rather, the challenge is that Hoobs who anthropomorphise become the dominators, and this is just as bad, because now their are perpetuating inequality with a habitus that is compatible with both positions - a habitus that favours one legitimate culture only.

    (2) It's not as hard to pick up the ways of the people as Bourdieu says it is. Halle says that cultural capital is not that difficult to attain, particularly as they are being explicitly taught. Goldthorpe agrees, saying that Hoobs with initial low cultural capital can largely be resocialised by other institutions. Analogy: poor kids getting private school scholarships.

    (3) You have provided no background account of the Hoobs. This is so people-centric. Perhaps the Hoobs are bourgeoisie in their own societies, from where they originated? Sulkunen criticises Bourdieu for being too nation-centred and his theory is thus outdated because it is inapplicable to the pluralistic world in which we live.

    (4) Bourdieu's theory was not found to be very representative when empirically tested. It seems that the huge class disparity, embedded in hexis, habitus and doxa and obvious to anyone, whose aim is class exclusion, is a phenomenon isolated to 1960s Paris (Lamont). You might find that, like in this example, people and Hoobs are much more willing to intermingle.