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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  1. Christopher Rossdale

    Interesting thoughts.

    I often wonder what really divides class these days. Money isn't really it – plenty win the lottery or make it rich as a footballer-come-model, and it doesn't really 'elevate' them. It's not success either, as your post makes clear. At the root of it all is the culture of acceptability – you can be up there if you're acceptable – if your table manners work and your conversation knows which channels are correct. I think it can be traced back this way for a long while – you can correct me on that though.

    But if it is based around the culture of acceptability – from which opportunities and therefore often money and success follow, then surely the chav is wholly symbolic of modern underclassness? Or i'm talking bollocks? Not really sure, just supposing….

    12 Apr 2006, 23:36

  2. Moz

    I have a bit of an issue with the whole Chav 'phenomenom', which is gonna make me sound like some South-hating Northern nationalist (which I am :P), but here goes…

    Since my third year of high school (Manchester, circa 1996–7) I can remember the words townie and scally being banded around to describe the kind of people who the media (largely based in the South) have 'recently' (in the past few years) started calling Chavs. Interestingly, the word scally is probably only used in the North-West it is short for Scallywag, which apparently (according to Wikipedia) comes from an old Irish word for drudge or farmservant – Sgaileog, and there are lots of people of Irish descent in the Manchester and Liverpool areas.

    So why did it take so long for the media to cotton on to this 'tribe' existing? Did they start appearing in Tunbridge Wells and all the Tory voters started to panic? I don't know.

    I remember buying the music magazine Clash and it having a fashion feature called 'Chavs Like Us'- a guide to how to dress like a chav I guess. One of the models was wearing a woolen cricket sweater and jeans- NO chav/scally/whatever would wear a cricket jumper, and trust me, most of them wear tracksuits (I work in Stockport, I know what I'm talking about), not jeans.

    You're quite right Holly to say that not all working class people are 'chavs'- at the college where I work there are lads training to be brickies, joiners, etc. from working class backgrounds who probably have more ambition and drive than some of the students at Warwick- unlike students doing degrees and not having a clue what to do afterwards and who are just there coz they think it's the way to get a better job, these guys know what they want to do, work hard at it, and go on to earn good money doing it.

    As for saying that chavs are anti-intellectual, you need look at where that attitude comes from- working class ideals (look at Paul Willis' book 'Learning To Labour'), the superficiality/anti-intellectualism of a lot of mainstream media, or somewhere else?

    And a final question- if everyone inspired to be intellectual, who'd stack the shelves at Tesco? :P

    13 Apr 2006, 00:04

  3. Weird Dave

    And a final question- if everyone inspired to be intellectual, who'd stack the shelves at Tesco? :P


    13 Apr 2006, 00:38

  4. And a final question- if everyone inspired to be intellectual, who'd stack the shelves at Tesco? :P


    13 Apr 2006, 00:40

  5. Christopher Rossdale

    And a final question- if everyone inspired to be intellectual, who'd stack the shelves at Tesco? :P

    The problem is the status given to those people. Who does more for the world, a road sweeper or a marketing exec? Go roadsweepers!

    And holly and dave, you're both right, Immigrant Students!

    13 Apr 2006, 01:54

  6. Some of the bigger Tescos seem to be Chav heaven… all the white goods a chav could want and all the chemical goodness of cheap, mass produced food, too!

    13 Apr 2006, 11:19

  7. The difference between chavs and the working class are that the working class actually work for a living, whereas chavs are the underclass, those who live off benefits and can't even be bothered to look for a job. The working class are hard-working and have their own culture, of which I only really know the East London one, coming from that sort of area with a family descended from Cockneys. Chav 'culture' is trash, and its insulting to even compare the two.

    I loved the article on goths :P Totally agree, but I would. I'm integrated into my local goth subculture (just about to go out to the club as it happens!) and everyone is very interesting to talk to. I spoke to the lead singer of The Last Dance after a gig and we had a civilised discussion…can't see that happening with some chav rapper. One thing that annoys me is how people always equate goth music with metal and screaming…it's actually melodic, dancy even. I think it's just the appearance that scares people, which is ridiculous because everyone's much more welcoming than in other 'subcultures' (so I find).

    13 Apr 2006, 18:13

  8. Jeremy Stein

    This is something I've been thinking too. Being a chav has little to do with being working class, despite what some dictionaries might say ("non-working class" might be more appropriate), but is a general attitude of laziness, cheating, social conformity (can you imagine an openly gay chav?), and, as you say, anti-intellectualism.

    13 Apr 2006, 20:41

  9. The Times had a retort to the Guardian article yesterday (we only got it cos my Grandad's staying, honest), written by public-schoolboy James Delingpole, who was wingeing about the bleeding-heartedness of John Harris, saying that the charvers are the way they are because they're irresponsible, not victims, and are therefore fair game for comedy. I'm tempted to agree with him, but he fails to make any distinction between charvers and the working class as a whole. Plus, he made a programme last year about how great the upper classes are and how we should defer to them, which immediately makes his opinion worthless.

    Trouble is, even if the media do eventually acknowledge the distinction, Julie Burchill will start mewling about how the non-charver working class are nothing more than Uncle Tom figures, betraying their heritage by not wearing tracky Bs tucked into Rocky Ps, getting pregnant accidentally, rejecting intellectual advancement, drinking in Yates's, etc.

    14 Apr 2006, 15:00

  10. Aren't chavs Alf Garnett tories, but younger?

    15 Apr 2006, 11:49

  11. Or perhaps there's a continuity of working class conservatism something like

    Alf Garnett – Proud of Empire – 1st half 20 Century
    Affluent Worker – keeping up with Jones's by working hard – mid 20 Century
    Chav – the ultimate consumer, everything must be dumbed down and easy to consume – late 20 Century


    15 Apr 2006, 11:59

  12. I found the article pretty offensive, in honesty. As previous comments have pointed out, chavs are a subculture, not a class as a whole. I'm working class myself, my family rent their homes, most are on minimum wage, and I can't say any of them conform to the chav stereotype. It's just laziness to attribute mockery of a subculture to mockery of a class as a whole.

    15 Apr 2006, 15:43

  13. Rhys James

    One thing that has been (rightly) attributed to Chav culture is their conspicuous consumption, and the tastelessness of that consumption – but how is this any different to many other groups in society? Cheap bling may be tasteless, but surely a £50,000 Range Rover is equally so – both are basically the same, unnecessary baubles bought in a conscious effort to advertise membership of a certain social group. Indefensible, though, is the Chav taste in bathroom fittings – in my role as weekend lackey at Argos (the Harrods of Chavdom), I have noticed one of our tracksuited friends' most popular items is a transparent plastic toilet seat, with actual barbed-wire inlaid into the seat. Lovely.

    16 Apr 2006, 09:52

  14. James

    I find the British wrestling with class amusing. We could abolish the aristocracy overnight but Britain would still be as class-ridden as every other country necessarily is. You would still have intellectual, cultural and economic snobs looking down on others. You would still have inverted snobbery as reflected by the Guardian, desperately trying to find wrong in "the establishment" and out and out snobbery in every level of society. It's human nature.

    I think it was John Major who farcically wanted the 'classless society'. Think about it for a moment. The class of people depicted on Eastenders do not seem to have much in common with those who post on these blogs, for example (literate, law abiding sorts who appreciate good food and wine, I trust). Would one suggest that Jose Carreras is indistinguishable class-wise from a dustman? Ivy League graduates the same as the average Bronx resident, anyone?

    This isn't to suggest that there is not social mobility between the classes, still less that we shouldn't encourage that. My own family emerged from the war firmly entrenched in the austere working class, but the next generation through the 50s and 60s climbed firmly into the professional classes. The same of numerous of my work colleagues. Indeed I know two successful barristers whose parents were labourers.

    Now to chavs. It's just the latest example of an anti-culture, one which celebrates being seen as trash. It is a milder form of punk, and a culturally inferior equivalent of heavy metallers (of whom I used to be one). The difference is that it is more celebrated by the chattering classes, such as Harris. Indeed, not simply chavness but other aspects of what was formerly considered 'working class' cultures is entering the mainstream. As ever, there are good and bad points. Increased social mobility is I think a good thing, assuming that is a consequence. Some of the stuffiness and sexual represssion going is also a good thing. Then there is the steady replacement of received pronunciation with Eastury English. On that I simply observe as a foreigner that it is easier to understand Stephen Fry than the aforementioned Eastenders crowd, and that if someone were to learn English as a second language, where would they know where to begin in terms of pronunciation? Far worse is the sharp decline in public standards. Not just the abuse one receives from teenagers, the increased taxes one is forced to pay for the ever increasing chav mums on the dole, or the fact that fewer people are prepared to stand in queues, not eat on the underground, or assist pregnant ladies. We also have an ever increasing crime rate, in particular muggings and burglaries, despite the working class now enjoying material wealth unknown to previous generations.

    16 Apr 2006, 12:01

  15. The problem is prejudice. People hear a certain accent or see a certain way of dress and then make outrageous assumptions about that person's attitudes, attainments and life-style.

    A few years back an 18 year old named Tracy applied to a Oxford college but felt mocked at interview by the don who referred to "Essex girls". So she decided to slum it at Warwick and got a first.

    (although what a first from a second class uni like Warwick is really worth is another matter)

    16 Apr 2006, 15:02

  16. Sarah

    I like you're style George. You're so right.

    16 Apr 2006, 17:19

  17. Moz

    Rhys- a cousin of mine once bought that toilet seat, and she's far form a chav. She's just moved to America where she's earning 6 figures from what I've heard. Don't confuse taste (or lack of, if you don't like that kind of thing) with belonging to a subculture, or whatever you want to call it.

    16 Apr 2006, 18:34

  18. Christopher Rossdale

    That's largely what the argument's about Moz – preferences as related to 'class'

    16 Apr 2006, 19:05

  19. nick

    I love this site – link

    'A users guide to the ASBO generation'

    17 Apr 2006, 19:29

  20. Rhys James

    Moz, one of the key aspects of the Chav phenomenon (as picked up by the media, anyway) is a sense of taste, or that group's perceived lack of it, be it in clothing, jewellery, choice of vehicle and so on. Chavs are defined by their taste and consumer choices – you cannot remove the idea of 'taste', subjective as it may be, from a discussion of the subculture. 'Good' and 'bad' taste obviously cannot be attributed to entire groups (or those with certain incomes). I would suggest, though, that anyone purchasing a bathroom accessory incorporating a form of cattle-restraint fencing should see a doctor.

    18 Apr 2006, 13:25

  21. James


    I've no doubt that prejudice does exist in all levels of society, but in response to your specific point, (i) I doubt that 'Essex girls' is a term originally coined by Oxford Dons; and (ii) the anecdote smacks of the Laura Spence debacle. Gordon Brown shamelessly put out a lie about Oxford supposedly discriminating against Ms Spence, when it had done nothing of the sort. His lie was quickly exposed as such. He only did it as a sop to the 'traditional' Labour supporters who he presumed wanted a bit of class-bashing. Yet no apology was forthcoming from Brown and his ilk, or even a retraction. The mud has stuck, as reflected by the fact people still mention the affair.

    18 Apr 2006, 14:16

  22. I was wrong, I apologize,. The college wasn't at Oxford, but Cambridge. link

    18 Apr 2006, 16:52

  23. Moz

    Rhys, my point was that you can't attribute 'taste' or a lack of to one particular group when some of the things they 'like' (making massive assumptions and generalisations here of course) are liked by other people. As I said, my cousin once purchased one of those 'wacky' toilet seats in her early 20's, and she's no chav. What you're basically saying there is 'I don't like that thing, and if you do, there's something wrong with you.'

    Funnily enough, a lot of behaviour people seem to criticise chavs for could be applied to some students (and I stress the use of the word SOME, I'm having a go at all students here). Getting wasted a lot? Check. Stealing things when drunk? Check (traffic cones…). Reading 'low brow' magazines like Nuts and Zoo? Well, I doubt the Costcutter on campus would stock them if they didn't sell…

    PS I used to be a student and Warwick and did the above things, except I didn't buy Nuts or Zoo.

    19 Apr 2006, 00:11

  24. I agree with Lucinda – there's a world of difference between 'Working Class' and 'Chavs' – working class actually work, whereas chavs scrounge off the state and don't even bother looking for work most of the time. I have no problem with people who live in council houses who genuinely need to and are working/ looking for work. Whilst it's easy to make fun of chavs and imitate their 'uniform', the annoying thing about them is not their dress sense (though that does leave a lot to be desired…) but their attitude. The unwillingness to contribute to society and refusal to aspire to something better, gain a decent education etc.

    Nick – I've seen that site before – hilarious.

    21 Apr 2006, 16:19

  25. Zoe

    iv lived in essex all my life and im a chav but i am in quite a well off family. the link between chavs and working class is stupid, because we buy more expensive clothes etc than other people becauseours are branded.
    its appalling that people say all chavs are stupid and have no intentions of working hard and stuff. i go to a grammar school and hope to become a doctor and im a chav.
    i can see why people h8 chavs so much because of all the press/TV etc but most chavs are actually rly nice and u wouldnt realise they wer a chav until u saw wot they wear cos they r just as nice as every1 else.
    Zoe, 13, Essex

    06 May 2006, 18:24

  26. gypsy

    i myself are working class and so are my parents and my 4 brothers and yes there are alot of us but none of us are chavs we all listen to metal and we are all geeks at school(you know the kind that get picked on) and we are all gypsys the kind of people that get looked down upon by every class especially by chavs and the news papers

    14 May 2006, 17:57

  27. chavs4eva

    chavs rule!!!! rock on

    13 Oct 2006, 09:36

  28. Cardiff Bob

    If I was to think of traits for someonewho was “working class” as being less well off as in having to think about the cost of certain ‘luxury’ items to buy them, like say, a widescreen tv. Also some traits of daily life have a bearing on it, such as reading the sun/mirror/star newspapers, prefering to eat dinner in the lounge rather than dinner table, or making tea in the cup rather than a teapot etc. It doesn’t really have a bearing on anything other than being “a bit less posh” that supposed benchmark middle class values. Chavs however are a different thing entirely. Where as the difference between classes of people is financial and cultural (Its the little things) the generall idea of a ‘chav’ is a worthless person (class irrelevant) as they profess to fraudulently claim benefits, steal, cause trouble and generally behave loutishly. Chavs are just people who serve society no purpose and the fact that some ill informed youngsters want to be chavs is dissapointing indeed… tut tut…
    I would define a person who who looked a bit chavish as a townie. This is different to what I’d class a full blown chav as, as they would gain the moniker for being scum pure and simple. Please people, don’t ‘want to be a chav’ it’s disgraceful!

    07 Dec 2006, 01:27

  29. chris taylor

    I think chavs are all gay, thats why they commit crimes. so they can go to jail and be bummed by bigger boys.


    dirty, scummy, drugged up, pissed off there heads, social retards, blood sucking benifit vampires. an earring for each kid they have that seems to grow each year the kid gets older, horrible chav clown necklaces that move.

    wtf is to like about these idiots.

    17 Jan 2007, 09:27

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