11 April 2006

Can You Be Working Class If You've Never Had A Job?

Chavs have been all the rage the past few years, from Mike Skinner's lumpen-prole song stylings to the inarticulate grunts and belchings of Little Britain's Vicky Pollard. In many cases, it's a matter of laughing to keep from crying at the spectacle of Britain's burgeoning underclass.

But this bleating heart (writing in the Guardian, where else?) is outraged at what he sees as the "demonising" of the working class by those artists, performers and commentators who in various ways express dismay at the rising tide of illiteracy, violence and crassness spilling out from the council estates and into the culture at large.

And he'd have a good point IF working class people actually were the target of the above-mentioned criticism, ridicule, and cultural co-optation. But, as you'd expect of a middle class intellectual locked away in the ivory tower of a Guardianista, the poor man is completely unable to distinguish between the working class and the underclass. Let me offer him some useful guidance: the working class generally consists of people who, erm, work. Or at least occasionally attempt to.

I can only guess that the author, one John Harris, has some romantic view of the Vicky Pollards of the world, that they would gladly stop having fatherless dole babies and hie themselves down to the nearest Job Centre if only if weren't for the constant depredations of the soulless capitalist state. What he's missing is another vital distinction between the working class and the underclass: working people generally have self-respect and ambition, and given half a chance, will find their way out of poverty, perhaps even into the middle class. Chavs, pikeys, underclass dole bludgers, whatever you want to call them, define themselves not by their economic position, but by their behaviour.

Through their attitudes, their language, their clothing, their general manner, they rule themselves out of ever being able to fully participate in society, and for that they deserve to be mocked, ridiculed, humiliated, perhaps, with some luck, shamed out of their self-destructive ways. To conflate them with working class people and thus try to declare them a protected species is insulting to the millions of working class people who actually work.

There's a similar mentality which tries to turn the gangbanging, dope dealing, jive-talking ethos of certain young black men into a representation of black culture in general, and which cried "racist" every time a copper or school administrator tries to impose some much-needed discipline. Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal, a young Asian writer who grew up in multi-ethnic West London, gives this very insightful account of the damage thus done. I've harped on this many times already, but his firsthand experiences should prove more convincing than any abstract argument I could make.


Matt Andrews said...

Larry: the first link is the same as the second!

Larry Livermore said...

Oops! Thanks for pointing that out. Should be fixed now.