In 2011, Owen Jones published a book, “Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class.” In it, he sets out to explain how the poor, misunderstand chav (a UK slang term of uncertain origin, although “Chavo” is a Romani word meaning “boy”, which refers to a certain type of – usually – working class youth, known for poor grammar, deliberately scruffy, poorly-fitting clothes, and generally treated with a roughly equal mix of fear or contempt) has been cast as a media scapegoat, on whom can be laid all the political and socioeconomic woes of the world – simply because they haven’t been listened to!
I am working class – I grew up with both parents working full time, no car, at one point no carpet (my father couldn’t stand the faded, threadbare dark brown anymore, and ripped it up – only to realise, when faced with bare concrete, that we couldn’t afford to replace the carpet) and, one year, no heating or hot water – the boiler broke down, my father attempted to repair it himself, but needed to get at the underfloor pipes – he couldn’t afford either the tools or a professional plumber. So, we lived without heating for about eighteen months, until he’d saved up enough money to pay a local plumber.
Even though – thanks only to my father’s death from a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and the resulting compensation paid to myself and my mother – I own my own home, I’m still living without heating or hot water – the boiler broke back in August. I can’t afford to fix it. I also can’t drive for medical reasons, but wouldn’t be able to afford a car even if I could. I can’t remember the last time I had a holiday.
I am working class, and I am not a chav. I don’t care for them, or what passes for their culture, although I have had passing friendships, usually through work, with chavs who, on an individual basis, were pleasant enough, and, in many cases, brighter and more talented than their appearance and attitude would have you believe.
The targeting of “chav culture” is not the real demonisation of the working class – the real demonisation of the working class is a lot more subtle.
It’s the “Well, of course we ended up with Brexit/Trump – the working class vote ensured it. They voted that way because they’re incapable of understanding the broader issues at play.” (Thus simultaneously laying the blame for any and all ills those respective outcomes may bring at the door of the working class, conveniently ignoring the dedicated effort of the high-profile elites and their respective media to skew perceptions of what “the issues at play” actually were, and ignoring the many working class people who didn’t vote that way as “not really working class” – stripping them of their identity, and turning the people who should be their community and support network against them.)
It’s the unpaid internships in media, politics, law, the arts, which are not-so-subtle “Keep Out” signs to anyone from a working class background, whose parents can’t afford to foot the bill while they work for free to gain “experience” and “exposure.” Unpaid internships ensure that the working classes are, for the most part, kept out of areas where they would, eventually, be able to tackle issues of social justice – and thus the elites and their media can keep up the pretence that the working classes are either incapable of managing high-level jobs with a lot of responsibility, or simply don’t care enough – that they’re quite happy doing their minimum wage jobs, playing the lottery, and trotting down the pub every pay day.
It’s the way social media, education, literature and art conveniently forget to mention the long and illustrious history of working class autodidacts, who came together first to learn, and, later, to demand and create change – the way these sectors leave people with the impression that education and intelligence are the preserve of the mythical “liberal elite”, that, if you are working class and intelligent, you are not, in fact, working class – again, stripping away an identity, community, and support network.
It’s the casual mockery of manual labour, the dismissal of those who make and maintain useful things, like cars, houses, and heating systems.
It’s university tuition fees, it’s mandatory membership fees to professional organisations, it’s the team lunch everyone is expected to “chip in” for in expensive, fashionable restaurants, it’s the focus on extra curricular activities.
It’s the savage attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party.
It’s a “celebrity” culture that promotes and prizes stupidity and complete lack of talent.
It’s newspapers written in an easy-to-read format – ideal for those who may have had a hit-and-miss formal education (mine was more miss – the school I went to was consistently rated as “failing” by Ofsted, teachers were often not-so-functional alcoholics, and, thanks to daily bullying, I was only there about half of every term anyway), or with late-diagnosed, or, indeed, undiagnosed, dyslexia – focusing on celebrity lifestyles, racist and misogynistic invective, outright lies, and opinions masquerading as fact. It’s the fact that these publications also happen to be the cheapest available, and offer things like affordable holiday offers, which will have an obvious appeal to someone on a low income.
The working class is a powerful, talented, intelligent, compassionate force for change – it has always, previously, been responsible for forcing through changes that went on to bring improvements to everyone’s standard of living – but the real demonisation of the working class is the elite’s subtle – and not so subtle – insinuation that, if someone is intelligent, if they are concerned about social justice, if they are involved in the arts in any way, they are “part of the liberal elite” – an enemy of the working class, rather than a member of it.
It is the withdrawal of funding for, and subsequent closing down of, Adult Education courses – the leaving of a token remainder of flower arranging and jam making.
It is the rosy-hued misinformation about how the working classes were and are happier, because “their lives are far simpler, and more practical.” It is the leisured classes adopting as hobbies, with a nice little side income from the fayres that working class people can’t afford public liability insurance for, upfront costs of, and travel to, of things that working class people did out of necessity – rag rugs and wicker baskets, home-made preserves and home-baked bread, sewing and knitting and keeping chickens.
The real demonisation of the working class is not a name – it’s a systemic attack.