All entries for Wednesday 12 April 2006

April 12, 2006

Chavs And The Working Class

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1751172,00.html

Ah, I knew it would happen eventually, and I knew it would happen in the Gruaniad. And sure enough John Harris has leapt forth with a long article about how the rise of media coverage of "chavs" is a manifestation of a new snobbery. Finally the middle and upper classes have the stick with which they can beat the lower classes anew. From Vicky Pollard to the front page of all tabloids, the working class are again mocked and denigrated.

Except the working class don't really see it that way.

Harris's article makes some interesting points. It also makes some claims which I personally find to be a little overblown. But the main point of contention is that I don't see things his way, I do not believe that the chavs are the new working class, do not think, as he seems to, that to be working class is to own a Burberry cap and some white tracksuit bottoms to go with their Crazy Frog ringtone. The article says that 66% of people consider themselves to be working class. If this is so then I can honestly say that 66% of the people I see everyday are not chavs. And I live in south Leam so get to see two of the three areas of the Leam, the poorer south and the slightly better off centre and north west. Only the rich area remains a mystery to me.

So what are chavs in my experience. They are a tribe. Tribes transcend class boundaries. One of the biggest chavs I knew was screamingly middle class, offspring of a company owner, and set up for life in a job in the family firm. Just not all working class are chavs, so not all chavs are working class. When I was growing up the Crewe to Manchester train line ran through my town. Each stop was either a "scally" (north western chav) or "mosher" town. The kids in these tribes were no better or worse off than each other, they were just as working class as each other (with a few middle class locals mixed in). The difference was that the goths and moshers were more likely to end up leaving school with A levels and going to university. Even the middle class cahvs were heading off at 16 to lounge around on their family fortune.

The chavs are a tribe whose defining feature is not their working class status but their anti-intellectualism. They were the school bullies who terrorised the kids who did well in school. The disrespect they show is less about class rebellion than a desire to demonstrate how against "swots" and "spoffs" they are. A lot of people will disagree with this. But go to a lot of universities and I can guarantee you will find people raised in a chav environment who have lost a lot of their chaviness. Yes, part of this is conforming to social environments but even in a place like Warwick those of similar socio-economic class tend to end up nearby (the difference in accommodation rents sees to that) and yet the chavs at university become less like the non-university chavs through being able to express their desire for education rather than having to supress it.

I know people will disagree with this.

The concept of people aspiring to the middle classes is something which Harris mentions in his article. Many people see the chavs as a valiant defence against the menace of middle class mundanity. But there are plenty of vibrant people in the working class who aspire to something better than chav life without being what these writers seem to see as class traitors. There is nothing middle class about having books in the house and a degree. Not anymore, anyway. The influx of immigrants in the last century has done a lot of affect the class structure here as there are many from countries where class matters less and these people are bringing in a new indifference which will hopefully spread and get rid of this moronic attachment to class we have here.

One thing which annoyed me was Harris's use of cultural touchstones to indicate the class war. Now I can sympathise with him when he points to royalty and upper class kids mocking the chavs without considering the subtle difference between them and class. But his attacks on culture were a little more bizarre. By all means criticise Little Britain's Vicky for being a chav stereotype, but remember that the rest of the characters are by no means unanimously chav. The vomiting middle class lady, Florence the cross dresser and even Marjorie Dawes all seem considerably more middle class/aspirational middle class.

Also Harris's claims about Britpop's fuelling of class war were ridiculous. Damon Albarn gets criticised for being sneering of his characters which he sang about in a "mewling" working class accent. But it's worth noting that the characters he sang about included Tracey Jacks (a civil servant), the Charming Man ("educated the expensive way") and the star of Country House (a city slicker and quite rich sounding with it). Albarn was guilty of playing the working class lad when he wasn't, so he could mock the middle classes.

Britpop was a stab against chav culture. True there was the success of chav-blueprints Oasis (whose Noel G isn't half as dumb as is sometimes assumed) but it was also a time when people like Jarvis Cocker were allowed to flaunt themselves and their working class brains. Working class and against everything chavs appear to stand for? That was much of Britpop. After all who gets remembered from that era? The Gallaghers, Blur and Pulp. The middle class Britpoppers like Elastica, Menswear and co got forgotten (probably rightly in all but Elastica's case).

So chavs are still a divisive issue. It'd be nice if the upper classes stopped laughing at the working classes but it would also be nice if bleeding hearted liberals stopped defending them as symbols of the working class. They're not. In fact the only person who is allowed to defend the working class/chav link is Julie Burchill because, even when I massively disagree with her, she's still damn good value to read. Plus I couldn't change her mind if I tried…


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