As Paul Abbott's Shameless draws to a close, is the era it so cleverly captured passing too?

The seminal drama was very much a document of its times. But even a cursory glance at history proves the themes and roles it portrayed are nothing new

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The Independent Online

Could it be the end of an era? Last week award-winning screenwriter Paul Abbott announced that the next series of TV drama Shameless will be the last. Many may lament the final waltz of the Gallagher family as they take to the Chatsworth Estate for the final time in their 11th season next year. But can we say the age of shamelessness has come to an end?

A recurring theme in Greek philosophy is that virtue can only be learned from the virtuous. Hence, in Plato's Republic, his seminal exploration of what makes a good society, one of the key ingredients of the good person is good role models.

If you buy into Plato's theory, then if society's idols are good, honest and well behaved then the people will be too. On the other hand, if their role models are liars, cheats and miscreants then it will follow that the people will be the same. If your role models are shameless then you yourself will be shameless too.


Without reading too much into a psychological template developed over 2,000 years ago, it is interesting to look at how heroes have evolved from the likes of Achilles and Hercules to Frank Gallagher and his ilk.

As anti-heroes go, Frank Gallagher has no redeeming characteristics. He binge drinks, takes drugs, ignores his children and is out for the sole purpose of his own hedonistic self-gratification. While no doubt amusing, Frank Gallagher is a role model that is more likely to lead to the behaviour displayed by the Autumn rioters than that of a good Samaritan.

Our TV screens are littered with shameless anti-heroes. Not only Frank Gallagher, but Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, or Don Draper in Mad Men. But it isn't just the working class who have anti-heroes. Mixed up in the glorified nostalgia of the much acclaimed Downton Abbey is a picture of middle and upper class shamelessness. It is all the worse when dressed up in nostalgia or comedy, because we don't notice it as much.

And real life isn't much better either. What with the economic crash, or the current inquiry into press standards conducted by Leveson, both our banking and media industries are in disrepute. The BBC is reeling from the allegations it has covered up the sexual misadventures of Sir Jimmy Saville, and MP's, still tarnished by the 2009 expenses scandal, are seen by many to be disinterested in the lives of normal people.

Top to bottom

Not to mention the behaviour of celebrities that regularly hit the red tops. Ours is a society that loves shamelessness and is shameless in our pursuit of it. Whether it's bankers taking huge bonuses while their clients see their money disappear, or journalists hacking into voice mails or email accounts, shameless behaviour runs from the top of society right down to the bottom.

Many a word has been bandied about concerning 'caring capitalism' or 'compassionate capitalism'. But 'caring' has to come from the top to the bottom, not the other way round. Employers have to care about their staff and MPs must be compassionate to their constituents before staff and constituents will be caring or compassionate to them. Threatening to take away benefits or worker's rights does not constitute a benevolent feeling to those who depend on them.

This problem is not endemic in the UK. There are people in all walks of life who do what they do with scruples, a sense of shame and compassion to their fellow man. But they are let down by those who don't. All over this country there are people who work everyday without even a thank you. We choose to point the lens towards the unscrupulous, so that these people are never rewarded for their hard work, while the shameless are idolised both in drama and the media.fran

Last year's riots epitomised the era of shamelessness, with opportunistic theft, vandalism and violence on a scale that would be worthy of the grand finale of Shameless. But while Abbott can take inspiration from this behaviour, the rest of us might wonder where to look to for inspiration of our own.