Nathaniel Mehr 11/07/2007
A study of the current usage of the derogatory term "Chav", with its origins in working class culture but now very much in favour in respectable middle class circles, presents a sad indictment on the retrograde currents prevailing within respectable society and, by extension, the political discourse which that society controls.
In the first place, it ought to be clearly understood that there is nothing funny about the circumstances in which many low-income families find themselves, and that to laugh at someone merely for being poor is a sign of backwardness and decadence. However, there is furthermore a class dimension to this issue, as is noticeable from the fact that, among middle class circles, the word "chav" is no longer simply used to refer to a particular type of young person, but is now extended to apply to any person who shows the outward signs of being from a low-income background, perhaps most easily identified if they are not well spoken, or dressed in a particular way. Thus the clientele of a shop, or of a whole pub might by dismissed as being too "chavvy". So we have a return, of a sort, to Victorian values, and perhaps it is only the logical and natural consequence of the changes which have been taking place in our society, economically and culturally, since the early 1980s. Nevertheless the shameless cruelty of this particular type of hate, in an otherwise politically correct culture and climate, is remarkable.
For let us dissect what it means to derive amusement from the fact that a large section of our society has been seriously let down in every key area - housing, education, health - with the result that they are susceptible to the criminality and illiteracy that forms that basis of the "chav" caricatured by Little Britain and Catherine Tait with such heroic insight, and to the particular delight and approval of a middle-class audience. Let us consider what it means when the tragic results of the country's inadequate social infrastructure are deemed a suitable subject of comedy by, amongst others, members of the ruling class who collectively hold direct responsibility for the present state of the society they have created. It is nothing short of the most wanton cruelty, like kicking a man and then laughing at him for being on the floor. That Tony Blair himself deemed it appropriate for himself to appear in a comedy sketch, for charity, in which he sets Catherine Tait's obnoxious "chav" Lauren Cooper straight by shouting her down ("Am I boverred?" yells the Prime Minister) provides an unwitting incite into that politician's reactionary leanings and those of his target audience. This was a Prime Minister, after all, with his finger on the pulse of the sentiment of the nation, or at least of that part of it which counts.
That this sentiment has been embraced by a section of liberal middle-class society which is, in most obvious respects, politically correct to the extent that it baulks at racism and sexism in their overt forms, reveals a further insight into the insidious prejudices at work here, when we consider the assumption upon which all of this hate-mongering rests - the assumption that none of it is causing offence to anyone. This would appear to rest on the implied notion that unlike the ethnic minorities, who are innately oversensitive, working class whites are completely unfeeling, devoid of any sensitivity or sense of self-respect.
That this trend has all the characteristics, of the most disgusting snobbery is clear enough, and made all the worse by the fallacy of the implied assumption that the perpetrators are themselves particularly sophisticated. Its implications for the future of this country, however, are a lot more serious. If the problems of housing, of education and of wasted potential are not treated with the seriousness they deserve, then the problems of law and order, for which the liberal and right wing press profess such earnest concerns, will only worsen.
This trend, amounting to a policy of hatred and persecution towards an underprivileged and ultimately vulnernable minority, can only worsen the violence and resentment it identifies with such professed altruistic concern, forming the basis of a peculiar form of class conflict which degrades without exception all who participate in it, and which can only be won by the ruling class by means of increasingly repressive and backward measures, of which ASBOs and tagging are just the beginning. In respectable society's war against the underclass, mutual violence is coupled with mutual hatred. The continuation of this retrograde trend therefore threatens to correspond with the crystallisation of a an apartheid society which stands on the twin pillars of violence and hate.