What does recession look like?

Sales of face paint are bucking trends...Now that the UK is officially in a recession, what is interesting to see is how news organisations want us to visualise economic slowdown.

When the Great Depression is mentioned, a lot of us would picture people walking around, in sepia, with mouth and brows arced downwards, like a sad clown. But where did this image come from? Television, most likely.

Though this isn’t a new piece of imagery, call me crazy, but this is how I’ve always pictured it. An episode of the Simpsons is one example that I can remember where this has been brought to screen, in the scene an ancestor of Moe Syzlack comments “Oh, jeez, there’s always a line”, when attempting to commit suicide from the top of a skyscraper in 1929 and is greeted by a long line of other jumpers, obviously a very popular pastime when Wall Street crashed.

Sky - Recession pictureGuardian - Recession picture

Today the image used by most major news outlets is the ‘its raining and here are some shops that have closed down, how depressing.’ scene. In this image there is usually 1, but no more than 3 people in the shot. None look interested in shopping in the least. Mostly they are shot speeding past the camera, blur lines and all, representative of an entire populous that just doesn’t have the money to buy.

BBC - Recession pictureThe BBC think that recession is best represented by a Hasidic Jew and a poorly dressed fat woman who hasn’t had the spare money to go to a hair salon in the last 4 quarters, quite obviously representing the length of time that UK growth has been negative and subsequently how long it has taken to get the official ‘recession’ stamp.

For quite how long growth will continue to fall, I don’t think anybody knows, but what is for sure is that while we’re in this state there will be a lot more images and depictions of life as it changes significantly. The boom and bust policies of governments and corporations have once again showed us its downside and we’re left kicking ourselves for being so naïve as to think that our prosperity would never end.

Where once credit was only an online application away, giving our society the illusion that we were flush with cash to spend on luxury cars, binge-drinking and all-inclusive Carribean holidays, many are having to learn new skills in penny-pinching, seeking out deals and shopping with thought. Perhaps then not all is bad? Responsibility being given back to individuals and families for their actions and spending is a way of giving back some free and constructive thought, previously clouded by credit lines that were tantamount to being unlimited?


  1. As much as I agree their imagery is wrong, its the media that have caused this recession. Maybe not caused, but majorly contributed to…

    The media was mentioning the word ‘depression’ a long, long time ago. Yet even now we are only just ‘officially’ in a recession.

  2. This is very true. As soon as the papers got a wiff of a downturn they jumped on it.
    The media most definitely caused the run on Northern Rock. I obviously don’t need to tell you what happened there.

    I’m all for a free press, but they do need to be more socially responsible, as much as readers/viewers need to learn to think for themselves too.

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