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Michael Apted's “Seven Up” series is reaching its conclusion (nytimes.com)
234 points by pseudolus 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments





This is a unique and very well-done take on Seven Up. It has the added dimension of how much of a learning process this was for Apted (the director), as well as other aspects that I hadn't picked up from other sources.

I first discovered this series a few weeks ago. I found the idea fascinating and I expected to be keen to dig into it. So I read some of the pieces that I found online and I stopped. My expectation of wanting to dive into this living soap opera turned into a feeling of bleak depression. Part of it has something to do with the blandness of even the happiest of near-endings, and part of it has something to do with the sadness of seeing a seven year old quickly progress in age to that point in life when we're sort of forced to evaluate who and where we are. It was far too quick of a journey for me. Their lives are presented like a history book, that places an emphasis on wars and other human struggles. It's also similar to a newscast: the bad news overwhelms and the good news is boring, so it doesn't get much attention. It's a CV that demands to know "what have you done with your life?" in a series of bullet points that skews toward points of merit.

I suppose that part of my feeling has to do with the fact that I'm at that point in life myself. Family and peers are getting sick and dying. I'll be doing the same. A lot of us aren't mentally prepared for what it's really like to be here. I think I've been working my way through it pretty well, but it takes a lot of emotional and philosophical work that we may not have a lot of experience with.

For me, Seven Up pokes and prods at life's battle wounds without enough attention to the boring bits that may actually dominate a life, which might be where our focus needs to be if we're to attain the contentment that should perhaps be our goal, whatever our class.


I've been following it for a few years. Couldn't agree more, it brings about a quite unsettling feeling of melancholy for me, seeing these now quite old people talking about their ups and downs, having seen them so recently as energetic, enthusiastic kids.

I think there's something about the sheer pace through youth, adolescence, early adulthood, prime adulthood, middle age, and then into old age, which hits our own understanding of mortality at a very deep level.

Deep stuff!


You have summed up something that I think of as, the existentialist dilemma, fairly well. If you live long enough, you will get to a point where you internalize that life really is just a journey with a start, a middle, and an end. All of it and none of it is precious. You realize that the change you make happen is more important than what you have achieved or not achieved.

It’s definitely a very different experience watching it “live”, ie every 7 years, versus watching the whole thing from start to finish.

I think I started watching when 35 Up came out. I’m not sure I could bear to go back and watch all the earlier series in full, for the reasons you describe.


Yup easy to get depressed about this stuff. It would be a better show if they paused it at critical moments and allowed an Allison Gopnik to talk about child development, a Jonathan Haidt to talk about motivation, a John Gottman on relationships etc etc. Lots and lots of teachable moments

It's a great show, but to expect people to arrive at healthy/positive conclusions by themselves isn't realistic. There is too much information presented.

It's sort of like handing Copernicus, Brahe and Keplers observations of decades worth of planetary motion to everyone and expecting people to work out Keplers Laws and Gravity by themselves. Not going to happen. It requires a whole lot of deep cognition for decades to make meaning out of all that data and that too if you are surrounded by the right people.

So whatever it is stirring in you, know that this is the age of knowledge, and use such programmes as jumping off points to go look for the best teachers to process things. It's easy to find them these days and there are so many out there.


Wonderful post, I wish you well on your journey friend. As a father of a seven year old boy who is already being buffeted by life's challenges, I also find this topic somewhat depressing but you expressed it more eloquently than I ever could.

Thank you! Pardon me for passing on a couple of unsolicited thoughts . . . I probably don't have to tell you, but these moments with your son are better than most of the bullet points that suffice for life accomplishments. Seize as many of them as you can. Your presence is every bit as important as the activities that may make up a list; arguably more. Validate his struggles because they're huge to a young person with such brief life experience. It's practice for the stuggles to come. Provide context and perspective. Speak a bit beyond his understanding. The point isn't that he gets it right away; it's to teach him how to approach life philosophically; how to resolve difficulties through communication; and that one way of expressing love is to listen and understand. The aim is that when your son grows up and faces difficulty, he'll pause and say to himself, "I remember when Dad used to say . . ."

Thank you kindly, profound advice for any father! I do my best to advocate for him every day, and I have made some mistakes along the way, but will never waiver my commitment.

This thread was a nugget of gold. Thank you both, for sharing this wonderful discussion!

My take is different b/c like millions of other people I’ve been watching the series from as soon as I was old enough for it to catch my eye. Let’s just say that was decades ago.

Watching a string of these films as they have been released has been more profound, I suspect, than catching up in a condensed period of time.

The true art of these films is in what they help us to see about ourselves, as we live our by and large unexamined lives, and demonstrably short, lives.


I caught wind of the series a few months back, and hunted the episodes down as well as I could. I'm up to 56 Up and I've found it really interesting especially given the timeline on camera is roughly in line with my father's (before he passed away a few years ago.)

The biggest takeaway for me was that, while you can't necessarily 'see the man' in a seven year old, you can most certainly see the seven year olds in the adults. Everyone's just trying to get along; but we're all still just kids inside, a little scared and a little uncertain about how to deal with the world at large.


while you can't necessarily 'see the man' in a seven year old, you can most certainly see the seven year olds in the adults.

That’s a very keen observation. Not quite as strong a claim, but it fits better with the minority of participants whose lives seemed to take an unexpected direction.

Growing up as a successive winnowing of possibilities; a lot of the winnowing complete as early as age 7, but by no means all.


Adults are children in bigger clothes.

My first born cured me of childish ways.

My experience with having kids was that it taught me that adults/parents are mostly getting through life by guessing. You don't figure life out at some point, you just pick up small things along the way and get better at rolling with the ups-and-downs.

Indeed, this was my point.

And yet many a 50-year old will get a fast car, chase younger women, etc, despite having 1 or more children already...

My kids reminded me how much fun it was to be one.


downvote: this piece was well researched and a piece of art itself, and not just another NYT throwaway op-ed. If you don't want the world to be twitter rants and facebook meme reposts, we need to support pieces like this, and the publications that fund and publish them.

Thank you for providing this.

Please avoid clicking the OP link and giving traffic to a company that engages in gray/black web and SEO patterns.


Are you referring to The NY Times? I typically want to send traffic to the original content providers and creators.

I think it's a tough balance: I personally want to support original content creators but to discourage anti-patterns like showing different versions to different consumers (other than for usability purposes): that helps make search less useful. Eg. there might be better content from a smaller producer, but a big one like NY Times will shadow it.

The articles on NYT get paywalled after some time... So it's pretty useless to post them here without an archive link. I think the archive.is problem is with the ".is" domain and some DNS issue. It's recommended to share the http://archive.today/p3ZK7 link.

I do too, but after the text pops up and I start reading it, I'm in some kind of (non-paywall) photo album about the people involved, I haven't clicked on anything, I'm just trying to read.

Interesting take since archive.is refuses connections from Brave.

Anyone interested in this would probably enjoy the 7-Up in the Soviet Union series titled "Born in the USSR", which provides a fascinating contrast to the UK series along with a glimpse in to a world that has since been transformed almost beyond recognition.

14 Up - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_YY7xxyp_M

21 Up (Part 1) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=391ljmNeLMQ

21 Up (Part 2) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2Hr1rO8ncA

28 Up (Part 1) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyra0MgJ-Xs

28 Up (Part 2) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqvk0Zd9Q9k

These are the only videos in the series that I can find, but it seems that at least the first video in the series (7-Up itself) is missing. If anyone can find a link to that, I would be grateful.


This is a great program. A few of the stories stick with the viewer ... for me, the man who had mental illness but by 35 or 42 seemed to recover somewhat. I am not sure what happened to him.

I also wondered a lot about the people who dropped out at a relatively young age.

Wasn't there an American version started at one point? I remember seeing the first episode when the kids were 7 (probably in the early 2000s) but I don't know if it was ever continued.


I've seen all the episodes of the "Up" series. And I think it's affected the way I approach and talk to people at my high school reunions. 30th and 40th were the most interesting -- seeing people at their peak maturity (in the 30th) and starting to decline (at their 40th)

I remember a simpsons parodity. Does anyone elsw share this memory?

I remember watching this at 35up and lower as a kid.


Do you remember which episode that was? Or do you remember anything else that could make the search easier? Tried to google but couldn't find the parody


In 21 and up something very interesting to me comes from the introspection of the prep school boys. The one who obviously has somewhat conservative viewpoints(for the UK I suppose) believes that USA business influence is corrupting the ethics of UK business dealings. He also believes in a "moral obligation" for those who have been more fortunate to stay and put back into the system in the UK. The guy that is attending Durham, who doesn't seem to agree with a lot of the other guys more conservative points even in 7 up, also finds a common ground in this.

I took some classes taught by Nick Hitchon at UW-Madison a little before 56 Up was released. Nice guy who really focused on the conceptual understanding of electrostatic / electrodynamics instead of just teaching equations and how to solve them.

It’s really... odd that I’m going to be able to just check in on how he’s doing in 63 Up.


From my own viewpoint: yes.

This despite several different eras of life involving quite different standards of living and careers.

I am still that 7 year old, just older and grayer.


This possibly can help people understand themselves and their trajectory in life, and also be better parents if they have children.

I was a huge fan of the Seven Up series when I was introduced to it in the mid 2000s and watched the latest 63 Up. However, with the advent of social media, his series seems like a dinosaur. The public can directly follow people on a day to day basis and there really is no place or need for his documentary. The subjects themselves can now reach the public directly if they want to.

Get frustrated with the Times a lot with their tech bashing and political homomgeneity but pieces like this are worth the price of a year's subscription alone. Wonderfully written and a clear subtle mirroring of Apsted's biography using the framing device of his series.

I disagree completely. I got introduced to the Seven Up series on social media ( digg or reddit? ). The discussions there are far better than an article like this. But even if you think the writing is great, it doesn't excuse supporting a morally bankrupt enterprise like the times. Millions of innocent people lost their lives from wars peddled by the times and no moral human being would support such a company financially or otherwise. Just my opinion.

Can we please stop posting those pointless paywall articles here? Thank you.

If there's a workaround, it's ok. Users usually post workarounds in the thread. They did so in this thread.

This is in the FAQ at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html and there's more explanation here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10178989

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20paywall&sort=byDate&...


Sequence:-

1. Try private mode

2. Disable javascript and hit reload.

3. Use lynx

But then, this article is one of those rare ones where I'd like to be able to contribute more directly.

(Edited)


It's not terribly hard to get around the paywall if you want to.

reader mode in firefox works and has the advantage of getting rid of lots of other crap as well. (Its the little "page" icon at the right of the address bar).

On mobile?

Not sure myself - I always read it on the laptop.

Yes please. Open -> paywall -> close.

The first law of genetics: who you are at birth is who you are when you die. So, yes, 7 and 63 are a sub-range.

Ok, but please don't post unsubstantive comments here.

That assumes that "who you are" = "your genes", though. That's... let's just call it "not proven".


If you read the link that you yourself posted carefully, you would have noticed "A typical human behavioral trait is associated with". Associated with != determined by. Of course, genetics influence our behavior. Which is a completely different claim from "genetics determine our behavior".

What if you switch out two brains from people? Who is who?

Or more realistically, when you have a stroke you are now a different person. Though I'm wondering if a stroke victim ends up recalling different memories and thus be more like their 7 year old self than 63...



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