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Yes but no but yes but no...
June 3, 2011 5:55 AM   Subscribe

There have always been regional labels equivalent to chav - skangers, spides, charvers, scallies and neds, respectively in Ireland, Northern Ireland, North East England, North West England and Scotland. But chav has somehow scaled regional barriers to become a national term of abuse.

Previously, Bottom of the Class.
posted by veedubya (136 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole argues it's a harmless updating of "oik".

Delingpole is a handy indicator of the not-truth. If that's who's arguing the case for, then that's automatically a win for the case against.
posted by liquidindian at 6:01 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


The media like to dress this up as a class war. It's about class, yes, but it's not about your accent or your income or your place of birth or your profession or any of the things we traditionally associate with class. It's about a class of behaviour, something that transcends traditional class, as evident from your average night at Annabel's. You don't have to be piss poor and on the dole to be scum.
posted by londonmark at 6:03 AM on June 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


(Not to imply the opposite is true either, sorry...)
posted by londonmark at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a chav.
posted by fullerine at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ned or schemie is the preferred term in my part of Scotland. Chav, not so much.
posted by the cuban at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


What the term 'chav' does is handily sidestep a lot of issues. Why is this person functionally illiterate? Why are they foul mouthed? Why don't they have a job, and have no intention of seeking employment? Could there be some deep reason for this? Cultural, political, sociological? Maybe even, when it comes to estates, architectural? Who is at fault?

Oh, no, they're just a chav. It's their fault. Case closed.
posted by liquidindian at 6:08 AM on June 3, 2011 [26 favorites]




Scallies is a Manchester/Liverpool thing - in Lancashire they were called 'townies' and they would beat you up for walking in front of them.

liquidindian - remind me to lend you Estates, by Lindsey Hanley. It covers some of these issues, one of which is that schools on the edge of estates tend to teach poorly as little is expected of pupils. Some relatives of mine went to one of these schools, and truanting and poor attainment was much more common than the 'nice' (or to them, 'posh') school down the road; since then they've tried to turn things around, mind.
posted by mippy at 6:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The dyes in counterfeit Burberry hats have recently been found to cause fundamental changes in the brain that result in binge drinking, functional illiteracy, and proclivity for knife fights.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole argues it's a harmless updating of "oik".

James Delingpole is a shameless social climber who tugs his forelock in the presence of the genuine upper classes whilst pouring scorn on the place he came from, ashamed of the possibility of anyone finding out he grew up in a household without fishknives.
posted by mippy at 6:14 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]



"The dyes in counterfeit Burberry hats have recently been found to cause fundamental changes in the brain that result in binge drinking, functional illiteracy, and proclivity for knife fights."

You got that the wrong way around - it's functional illiteracy that's the start, not crappy clothing.
posted by mippy at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always thought chav = redneck, guess that's not entirely true.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


To this USian, the acceptability of "chav" in the UK has been astonishing, shocking and disappointing. It's so clearly about the resentment of any working class person who does not make an attempt to conform to middle class norms - if it's not, why is the absolutely farcical behavior of the British hereditary aristocracy accepted but people get all worked up about a few tacky hats and some drinking? Prince William dressed up as a Nazi; the royals pop out with all kinds of racist garbage; Prince Charles has the creepiest, most controlling architectural projects ever (and he's the best of them!), etc etc.

Most of the anti-chav articles I've read (and the anti-traveler ones too) seem to focus on resenting working class status symbols. No one really likes the way traveler culture seems to treat women, but everyone gets the most worked up about how they have expensive weddings or buy fancy caravans or whatever. Similar with the Burberry and glittery clothing and so on. Everyone knows that poor people are supposed to look poor and preferably humble...and even if they're so poor that they can never ever save up for anything meaningful, they're not supposed to buy fancy things with the money they do have.

Plus, it's not like middle class and rich people are never rude or selfish, eh? At least if someone is working class I can assume that they've got more stress and less time, but the rich jackass pushing to the front of the line doesn't have that excuse.
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


Oh, and about working class status symbols - what really offends the middle class is when working class status symbols either trash something rich people used to own (Burberry in the UK; the thing of poor people driving old Cadillacs that helped mess up the brand in the US) or when the working class status symbols aren't an imitation of rich people, so that rich people can't automatically have higher status in that hierarchy.

To clarify - in my neighborhood, I have way nicer shoes than my poorer neighbors (because I have a good union job, for the moment at least). But my shoes don't give me any status at all - to my neighbors they're boring and dorky and weird and they can't figure out why I don't buy some attractive clothes for once. Being richer and having more middle class taste doesn't bring middle class people status in the working class world - and some middle class/rich people resent the hell out of that.
posted by Frowner at 6:32 AM on June 3, 2011 [15 favorites]


It's so clearly about the resentment of any working class person who does not make an attempt to conform to middle class norms - if it's not, why is the absolutely farcical behavior of the British hereditary aristocracy accepted but people get all worked up about a few tacky hats and some drinking?

I'm pretty sure it's more about the random violence than knock-off burberry hats. Read through the old thread, there's some really good stuff in there.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:35 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Delingpole pwned.
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:37 AM on June 3, 2011


what really offends the middle class is when working class status symbols either trash something rich people used to own

aka prole drift.
posted by liquidindian at 6:37 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Prince Charles has the creepiest, most controlling architectural projects ever"

Wait, how can architectural projects be creepy? Are the plans called doom prints or something?
posted by oxford blue at 6:38 AM on June 3, 2011


I studied for a year at Glenalmond College in Perthshire. A year after I left, some kids I knew there made a video extolling the virtues of "Chav Hunting." Still after that, the school became embroiled in big old mess after a student on scholarship was teased relentlessly for his background.

I think 'scoit' was the most common insult at the school, and I was surprised the article didn't mention it- for those with a thick, lower-class Scottish accent (the school had the reputation of being largely English.)
posted by Vhanudux at 6:42 AM on June 3, 2011


These people are largely stuck in vicious circles at the bottom, the social riptide. In order to survive and function in the part of society in which they live, they learn to behave in a way which disqualifies them from the rest.

aggression makes sense as a strategy when you are at risk of being beaten up. Why bother with school when your role models (often rightly) consider finding steady work unrealistic? Why bother finding menial work if it means losing your housing benefit, paying for travel, and hence losing your flat?

So these people exist, they don't all look like stereotypical chavs, and both the state and culture in the UK are complicit in keeping them there. If I were a UK politician, I'd also find it difficult to think of a systemic solution which got rid of the catch-22s, removed a few perverse incentives, added a carrot or two, and removed some sticks. Hence, slap a label on the non-rich non-voters and get it over with: the official underclass of the UK.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 6:49 AM on June 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


To this USian, the acceptability of "chav" in the UK has been astonishing, shocking and disappointing.

I don't know - its clearly a cultural thing that Americans (myself included) can't really appreciate. The British issue of Class is very different then in the US, and you can't think about the whole issue w/o really understanding that.

people get all worked up about a few tacky hats and some drinking?
Uhm - I might suggest you go look at some of the data on alcohol issues in the UK.
posted by JPD at 6:52 AM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Eat the rich.
posted by fullerine at 6:54 AM on June 3, 2011


It isn't the hats, it is more of the
and they would beat you up for walking in front of them
thing that does it for me. The hats are just silly looking. Even real Burberry is garish.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:57 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Prince Charles has the creepiest, most controlling architectural projects ever"

Wait, how can architectural projects be creepy? Are the plans called doom prints or something?


Poundbury. Twinned with Disney Land and Uncanny Valley.
posted by run"monty at 7:00 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This isn't about a class-war, that's really overstating what this means.

"Chav is an utterly misunderstood term. It is used in envy by the lily livered, privileged, pale, besuited bank clerk who sees people dressed up to the nines and going to the West End."

Yes, this is about snobbery, but Britain is rife with inverted-snobbery and this almost never gets reported on. The moment someone even begins to sound posh, the tabloid press are all over them. This may be justified in some cases (Cameron and the other one) but most of the time it reeks of the same thing that is being decried in this article.

Her comment appalled the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who wrote: "She would presumably never say nigger or Paki, but chav is acceptable class abuse by people asserting superiority over those they despise."

Chav is not like these terms. Ah, the Guardian, always ready to match right-wing hyperbole blow-for-blow.
posted by ob at 7:02 AM on June 3, 2011


It's about class, yes, but it's not about your accent or your income or your place of birth or your profession or any of the things we traditionally associate with class. It's about a class of behaviour, something that transcends traditional class...

Well, that's handy!
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:03 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am so fucking tired of the whole ned/chav thing being portrayed as being about class. In reality it has nothing to do with that.

I spent my first 21 years living in a council estate in Glasgow. Rough as fuck and very working class but by no means was everyone living there a ned.

The neds were easy to spot - they were the ones smashing your windows because you stayed on at school longer than you needed to; they were the ones pouring paint stripper over your car because you had the audacity to go and get a job and pay your own way. They were the ones who formed a gauntlet in the lane between the scheme and the shops; the ones who would throw crass, sexual insults and, sometimes, even dog faeces at elderly women as they brought their shopping home. They were the ones who, through constant harassment, caused my father's health to fail until he died. After he died, it wasn't long before my mother gave up and died, too.

You know, the ones with the same background as me but who chose to do fuck all about it and live off the dole.

Fuck neds.

And fuck all of you apologising for them.
posted by littleredspiders at 7:07 AM on June 3, 2011 [68 favorites]


Chav is not like these terms.

Why not? Those terms are about taking the way someone appears and making them the 'other', just like 'chav'.
posted by liquidindian at 7:07 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poundbury.

For some reason the three words "Pummery Square, Poundbury" amuse me deeply.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2011


I was going to write a long reply, but then I read littleredspiders' post and that said it pretty well. I will say this as regards comparing "Chav" to those other terms. There's more in the those terms that just making people "other".
posted by ob at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2011


and they would beat you up for walking in front of them

I have no problem with a critique of the whole beating-people-up thing. But it's always working class violence that's described as pathological; when a working class kid beats someone up, it says something about the working class as a whole, but when a middle class kid shoots up a school, it's mental illness or a tragedy or an individual gone wrong. Working class virtue is described as an exception; in the middle class it's described as the norm.

Working class violence/profligacy is figured as irrational and middle class behavior as sensible, even though they're both absolutely conditioned by capitalism and necessary to it.

And of course, punching someone is described as awful (and I was horribly bullied as a child, I'm no stranger to both working class and middle class violence), as if it's much, much worse than running an insurance company and doing people out of their benefits, or redlining mortgages, or collaborating with, say, the genocidal government of East Timor, etc etc - things that cause far more long-term damage than your average punch-up.

If you're happy with rich people violence - structural violence - it's a bit hypocritical to whine about working class violence.
posted by Frowner at 7:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think they prefer to be called "persons of coarseness" now.
posted by Xoebe at 7:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Self-hating chavs are the worst.
posted by fullerine at 7:15 AM on June 3, 2011


If you're happy with rich people violence - structural violence - it's a bit hypocritical to whine about working class violence.

chav=/=working class. Chavs are at most a subset of the working class, and there's a significant number of middle class kids participating in this behavior as well. This was covered at length in the previous thread.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Working class violence/profligacy is figured as irrational and middle class behavior as sensible, even though they're both absolutely conditioned by capitalism and necessary to it.

Smart people can usually avoid "rich people violence", but they can't avoid working class violence.
posted by smackfu at 7:22 AM on June 3, 2011


Okay, I read the rather unhelpful link and the wiki article on Poundbury and I still don't get what's so creepy or weird about the concept. Do all the residents eyes glow blue at night?
posted by oxford blue at 7:22 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


To clarify - in my neighborhood, I have way nicer shoes than my poorer neighbors (because I have a good union job, for the moment at least). But my shoes don't give me any status at all - to my neighbors they're boring and dorky and weird and they can't figure out why I don't buy some attractive clothes for once.

I grew up somewhere full of 'chavs'. The common thing - I see it with my nephews - is that clothing is judged by how much it costs, and the best way to make this clear is to get a logo on them. Hence Louis Vuitton, or at least the knockoffs, gaining a big working class popularity, hence the very recogniseable Burberry check. My clothes very probably cost more than, say, a Helly Hansen tracksuit, and they fit my frame better, but because they're not outwardly expensive they would attract derision (though this is also true for the 'wrong' brands - this was a place where the majority of clothing retailers were sportswear places - my DMs got a lot of the wrong kind of attention.)

And then there's the other side, which is that the aspirational working class (working class and 'chav' are not equivalent) are quick to put down those beneath them as 'common'. People outside the UK see the class system as mysterious, but in places far removed from the aristocracy, where people's accents are more or less the same, and where 'where did you go to school' is a weird question, it's based on money and possessions just as it is in the US. And so certain brands or things start being called 'chavvy', and derided, and avoided. In my mum's day it was 'common', now it's 'chavvy', and in ten years there'll be another name for it and it will be interesting to see whether there's a mutual antagonism still.

I wonder what Bourdieu would have made of it all.
posted by mippy at 7:23 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I believe the folks in this thread when they say that it is violence and willful ignorance they deplore, but there clearly are some people using the word as a socially acceptable way to sneer at poor folks, though. The Baroness' tweet wasn't "Help. Trapped in a queue in chav-land! Woman behind me happy-slapping another woman and jeering at a man reading a book," after all. It was Eastenders and bun-eating that aroused her scorn.

It seems disingenuous to insist that a word only means X, not Y, even if that is how you use it, when there clearly are people who use it to mean both.
posted by No-sword at 7:25 AM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


chav=/=working class. Chavs are at most a subset of the working class, and there's a significant number of middle class kids participating in this behavior as well. This was covered at length in the previous thread.
Do you honestly think when AA Gill or Prince Harry calls someone a Chav they make this distinction?
posted by fullerine at 7:26 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


And of course, punching someone is described as awful (and I was horribly bullied as a child, I'm no stranger to both working class and middle class violence), as if it's much, much worse than running an insurance company and doing people out of their benefits, or redlining mortgages, or collaborating with, say, the genocidal government of East Timor, etc etc - things that cause far more long-term damage than your average punch-up.

I think the better analogy is that benefit fraud is less damaging, in real terms, than fucking with pension schemes or white collar crime. But, you know, I'm unlikely to go to East Timor, but there are whole estates five minutes walk from my mother's house where I can't go during the day because small children will come out and throw things at me for not being someone they know, or I'll get harrassed, or mugged. This is why people bring this stuff up more than world events, because street violence/crime/harrassment is round and about for many.
posted by mippy at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's getting away from the point, but I will never understand the attitude that attempting to understand why people commit crime and act in an anti-social manner is the same or even close to condoning or even apologising for it. By asking why someone would throw faeces at elderly women, I'm not saying it's okay. Surely "how the hell can someone decide to step way outside social norms?" is a good question?
posted by liquidindian at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hence Louis Vuitton, or at least the knockoffs, gaining a big working class popularity, hence the very recogniseable Burberry check.

I wonder if it's a branding nightmare for these companies or is a sale a sale?
posted by oxford blue at 7:32 AM on June 3, 2011


Do you honestly think when AA Gill or Prince Harry calls someone a Chav they make this distinction?

Probably not. I guess the word has just taken on a weird connotation. It used to have a pretty specific meaning that really didn't seem to be class-related—at least to me, when I lived there. I didn't really have enough time to grok the English class stuff though, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:33 AM on June 3, 2011


Do you honestly think when AA Gill or Prince Harry calls someone a Chav they make this distinction?

Yes, I think they do. Chav describes a style or sub culture that was very recognisable when the word first appeared, although things have moved on since then. Prince William didn't dress as a working class person. He wore a tracksuit, baseball cap and gold chain. He dressed as a chav.
posted by Summer at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2011


It was a huge branding nightmare for Burberry.
posted by vbfg at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if it's a branding nightmare for these companies or is a sale a sale?


Huge problem. Virtually any business article on Burberry disusses the issue and what they are trying to do to keep it from impairing the brand

Also famously, someone from Cristal once made a comment about the issue, led Jay-Z to basically buy a brand and start shilling it.
posted by JPD at 7:35 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was a huge branding nightmare for Burberry.

Only inside Britain; if you see their shop at, say, Singapore Airport, it's still trading off the mythology of British upper-class grandeur.

Much like, say, Ben Sherman. The shirts they sell in Sydney or LA are more stylish than the ones they sell to the British market, because outside, they're marketing to Anglophilic cultural snobs who own Vespas and idolise Damon Albarn, whereas inside, they're catering to lads (i.e., bros with British accents).
posted by acb at 7:40 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Prince William dressed up as a Nazi
Um, I am a republican and can't wait to see the Royal family have to get a job and all that, but if you are going to rip on them, get your info right. It was Prince Harry who dressed up as a Nazi.
posted by Megami at 7:57 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


So they're kind of like our American Juggalos, but they resent the term rather than embrace it?
posted by longsleeves at 8:06 AM on June 3, 2011


From what I know of Juggalos, this is kind of close - swap out the bad rap-rock for bad happy hardcore and you're there.
posted by mippy at 8:07 AM on June 3, 2011


Huh. I always pegged chavs to be more like the Tap-out/jager bomb crowd than juggalos.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:10 AM on June 3, 2011


Chavs are not the poor people. Chavs cause things like this to happen. It should be an insult when someone calls you a chav.

To me it is synomous with the Chris Rock stand up but about niggers vs black people.

Chavs are the reason I can't keep anything in a locked shed because they will either bust the lock or gum it up so I can't open it up again. Chavs need to be dealt with, except they're usually 13-16 year old kids and the law essentially can't touch them. A neightbor caught two chavs breaking into the shed red handed and the one inside used the crowbar the crash through the door to get away. The police were called, but if my friend had stopped the guy armed with the crowbar, but in doing so had hurt him then my friend would be the one in trouble not the shitty chav that broke in in the first place or armed themselves with a crowbar. The police didn't even bother to turn up for two days and I am sure nothing will ever get done about it except that now I've got a broken shed.

They should really bring back borstals and try to nip the chav problem before it starts.
posted by koolkat at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always thought chav = redneck, guess that's not entirely true.

Rednecks work. *Ba-dum-tish*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:15 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me it is synomous with the Chris Rock stand up but about niggers vs black people.

The one he stopped doing because white people were laughing at it for too long?
posted by acb at 8:15 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


What your neighbour had to deal with was a "criminal", an existing term that perfectly describes the actions of the two lads without adding a ton of additional socio-economic baggage. I think if you've experienced violence or shitty behaviour from someone you shouldn't immediately assign a label to a whole swathe of society.
posted by longbaugh at 8:18 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Says me about to be moving into a "chavvy" area over the next few months due to an expanding family roster - forcing me to have to deal with local anti-social behaviour and quite literally awful schools. I have no idea how I will cope but since I don't tolerate cheek or violence directed at my family or myself I strongly suspect I'll probably end up injured or in jail within the first couple of months...
posted by longbaugh at 8:21 AM on June 3, 2011


The problem is that, for a small segment of society, such casual criminality is a lifestyle; a way of asserting dominance within said segment. Unlike normal criminality, it isn't motivated by either material opportunism or by a dispute with the victim, but it emerges from a subculture in which such behaviour is the norm.

The term "chav" used to refer to this subculture. Unfortunately, it has been used to refer to poor people in general ("Milord, the peasants are revolting!" "They are, aren't they?"), lumping in anybody below a middle-class-or-higher social milieu (depending on the speaker) with the most dysfunctional, which compromises the word as a label for the actual phenomenon it represented.
posted by acb at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It should be an insult when someone calls you a chav.

Hey!
posted by chavenet at 8:34 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always thought chav = redneck, guess that's not entirely true.

I've always thought the closest equivalent is "trailer trash" rather than redneck.

But even that's not quite right, it covers littleredspiders usage, but not the other version you see a lot in the papers, which is more "poor person trying too hard to be aspirational"
posted by madajb at 8:35 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just finished up Diary of a Chav last night ("Trainers v. Tiaras" in the UK). It's YA fiction about a fifteen year old girl who goes to a school her local paper calls "Superchav Academy" in Essex. It's pretty funny and the slang she uses is incredible. I wasn't really familiar with the whole "chav" concept to begin with, as I'm an American, but I feel like I have a bit more of a handle on the whole thing now.

What's interesting to me is that the narrator is clearly in the same socioeconomic strata as her peers, but her classmates who shoplift and commit crimes are "chavs" to her, and she's just "keeping it real" by wearing blinged-out clothes and wanting to be a reality tv star and whatnot.
posted by zoetrope at 8:37 AM on June 3, 2011


They should really bring back borstals and try to nip the chav problem before it starts.

I don;'t see what you mean here - that children should be sent to corrective schools before doing anything wrong? How so?

There are pupil referral units, residential schools, young offenders' institutes - how do these differ from borstal?
posted by mippy at 8:45 AM on June 3, 2011


There are pupil referral units, residential schools, young offenders' institutes - how do these differ from borstal?

They're not brutal enough to satisfy the Daily Mail-reading public's bloodlust?
posted by acb at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


To clarify - in my neighborhood, I have way nicer shoes than my poorer neighbors (because I have a good union job, for the moment at least). But my shoes don't give me any status at all - to my neighbors they're boring and dorky and weird and they can't figure out why I don't buy some attractive clothes for once. Being richer and having more middle class taste doesn't bring middle class people status in the working class world - and some middle class/rich people resent the hell out of that.

I'm pretty sure the upper-class taste is there to appeal to other upper-class people, if it appealed to the "lower classed" it would probably lose its appeal...

And actually, i'd wager that trying to use stuff to "increase" your status towards members of other classes would be seen as distasteful, especially when the interpretation of the "good taste" is "wrong" or not as subtle or whatever.

In my opinion, things get tacky when the supposed symbol becomes bigger than whether the actual item or combination is of good quality, or beautiful, or durable, or any other reasons pertaining to the actual item instead of what it symbolizes. You rarely need to spend obscene amounts of money to look good, for instance.
posted by palbo at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2011


Yeah the borstal comment was a bit too far what I meant to say is that the police should actually press charges on the minor crime front to try and nip the problem in the bud before it gets too big. Instead you get police responses like when I called them at 3 in the morning, people got bricks thrown through their windows at 4 and they police bothered to turn up at 8. They even had the audacity to ask if I was satisfied with the outcome.

All I want is the ability to store my locked bikes in a locked shed and be able to get to them when I want to get to them. The chavs prevent me from doing that and they also cause other problems in the area that are all essentially minor but add up to be a major thorn in the side of a lot of people. What should be done about it? They have shown that they don't want to live according with the wished of the majority of society. What should be done with petty criminals as (in many but not all cases) there seems to be little possibility for reforming them into something other than a criminal, and yet it seems way to harsh to lock someone up for life because they (broke into a shed/threw a brick through a window/throw poo at old ladies/harass someone to the point of suicide).
posted by koolkat at 9:15 AM on June 3, 2011


> I think if you've experienced violence or shitty behaviour from someone you shouldn't immediately assign a label to a whole swathe of society

Exactly, and I think people in this thread are being disingenuous at best when they say that they're not using chav as a class slur but as a valid and entirely unbiased criticism of a correctly identified and unambigious class- ahem "tribe", a people unity in a moral code with criminality and violence at its core.

I know that the chav stereotype is decidely unlikeable, but it's just that, a stereotype. And it's a particular nasty one at that, as it was designed from the outset to house a whole set of prejudices and negative connotations. It is one of those horrible othering words that removes the responsibility of further analysis, or the shades of grey that are so vital to liberal thinking, and instead becomes a single simple cultural/psychological motivation (or perceived motivation) for the people it's attached to. That's how right wing thinking functions when it comes to race, politics, gender, and liberals see through those values, but for some reason in the UK we seem blind to it when the same thing is applied to the white working class.

Is it a class slur in that it encompasses the whole working class (or at least the extent of the working class as it is perceived by the middle class)? Probably not. But is it a class slur in that it targets a subset of people exclusively within the working class, with the idea of othering them, disenfranchising them? There can't be much doubt about that, surely.
posted by iivix at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Personally I'm rather partial to the term "Pond", as in "Pond life". It allows one to make amusing veiled remarks about the level of distasteful prole presence in an establishment by saying things like "I say. Pond's deep in here tonight, what?"

As a child raised by working class northerners I am allowed to insult my own class, by the way. You know, it's a "nigga" thing.
posted by Decani at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


No one really likes the way traveler culture seems to treat women, but everyone gets the most worked up about how they have expensive weddings or buy fancy caravans or whatever

Well, articles might comment on that, but when it comes down to it? Actual people get more worked up about how travelers have a tendency trespass on your property and steal all your shit. My sister-in-law lives on a farm in Co. Laois, and they have a TERRIBLE time with travelers around those parts.
posted by antifuse at 9:30 AM on June 3, 2011


zoetrope: I just finished up Diary of a Chav last night ("Trainers v. Tiaras" in the UK). It's YA fiction about a fifteen year old girl who goes to a school her local paper calls "Superchav Academy" in Essex. It's pretty funny and the slang she uses is incredible. I wasn't really familiar with the whole "chav" concept to begin with, as I'm an American, but I feel like I have a bit more of a handle on the whole thing now.
Maybe. Although the book was written by a 37-year-old Guardian journalist with a Lit. degree from Stirling University, not an actual chav, so the degree to which it participates in the othering/shaming culture being described here is a bit debatable. It's a comic novel, after all, not a piece of social documentary.
Frowner: To this USian, the acceptability of "chav" in the UK has been astonishing, shocking and disappointing. It's so clearly about the resentment of any working class person who does not make an attempt to conform to middle class norms - if it's not, why is the absolutely farcical behavior of the British hereditary aristocracy accepted but people get all worked up about a few tacky hats and some drinking?
Sure. But in terms of lived experience, it's the social obnoxiousness stigmatized as "chav" that most people will be exposed to most often. It's not like we all live next to the royal family here. I, to my knowledge, have never clapped eyes on one of the Windsors, but all I'd need to do is go out on my balcony to see (or hear) behaviour that could classed as "chav." It's this familiarity that breeds the contempt mentioned in the article. The experience of having to use a certain bus route that will reliably fill up with drunk 15-year-olds heading into town after 5 o'clock on a week-night; being regularly woken up in the wee small hours by pounding dubstep from the council flats across the road; having to share space constantly with people made ugly and loud by 'orrible lives. It's this that drives a certain kind of person to sit hunched over the Daily Mail on their bus commute, mentally attaching the hated epithet to all who crowd around them—Chavs!
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:43 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actual people get more worked up about how travelers have a tendency trespass on your property and steal all your shit. My sister-in-law lives on a farm in Co. Laois, and they have a TERRIBLE time with travelers around those parts.

But the thing is, the rhetoric of working class violence is used to muster a consensus among people who don't experience (or only trivially experience) the violence in question - there's a big difference between "I personally hate dealing with travelers because they steal my stuff" and "I hear that people who live far away hate travelers for [shocking working class violence!] and therefore I totally agree and support restrictive social measures, those travelers are terrible!"

I live in a violent neighborhood (in the US, but still) and my sense of what could improve my neighborhood is way different from the babbling of somebody from the deep suburbs who associates working class brown people with crime - and I'd like to think that my feelings and policy recommendations are more realistic. What's more, I don't want to build political solidarity with a bunch of conservatives based on a narrative of working class violence when in reality I have way more in common with most of my neighbors than with them.


I'm pretty sure the upper-class taste is there to appeal to other upper-class people, if it appealed to the "lower classed" it would probably lose its appeal...

My point was more "it pisses rich people off when poor people don't admire rich people for having rich people stuff; it also pisses rich people off when poor people can get rich people stuff". The ideal would be for poor people to long for and therefore validate the lives of richer people, but not be able to have those things....rich people as tastemakers and patrons and poor people as 'umble servants.
posted by Frowner at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2011




People in this thread might like to read Owen Jones's just-released Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Jones responds to Delingpole:
When a privileged journalist such as Delingpole uses his newspaper column as a platform to spray abuse on those with no ability to defend themselves, it is difficult to sympathise with his own claims of persecution.
Further comment from Richard Seymour:
The meritocratic 'common sense' is one which we, of course, have to work on. It contains certain tensions, and the reality will never live up to its ideal. [...] Yet we mainly have to work against it. For to believe that, even if one is not well off, then with sufficient hard work one can be, is to believe something about the market, about the creation of wealth and about the relative abilities of one's fellow human beings. [...]

The 'Chavs' phenomenon condenses many of the themes of this savage creed. It charges poor people with getting ideas above their station, with being feckless and irresponsible with money, tasteless, stupid, drunk, thuggish, and barbaric. In the guise of lewd satire, celeb-bashing and tart social commentary, it gives us a hit of class hatred. It references, and caricatures, the outward signs of social problems such as poverty, alcoholism, bad education and so on, but does so in the manner of a taxonomising anthropologist or zoologist, naturalising these very signs as qualities of a particular social sub-species.
posted by RogerB at 9:57 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a child raised by working class northerners I am allowed to insult my own class, by the way. You know, it's a "nigga" thing.

I like and agree with this comment - even though it's lighthearted - but it seems less to do with reclamation than it does with being able to target it properly. Knowing the distinction between working-class and chav, and how to apply the them, is a knowledge that other people might not have. I live in an area which is fairly strongly working-class, but with few to no real chavs (or townies as we call them). To think that somebody might mistake us is almost unimaginable, but the mistaken representativeness of a group over the community is possible and damaging.
posted by Jehan at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class is the Guardian's Book of the Week

The only people demonizing the working class are those who equate them with chavs.
posted by ocschwar at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


koolcat: They should really bring back borstals and try to nip the chav problem before it starts.
Er, really? It sounds like what you're really hankering for there is the Royal Navy from the golden age of sail, which might be a bit difficult to "bring back" in this time of deflation and cutbacks. Cool uniforms, though, I'll warrant you.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


But last week a Lib Dem peer on that very commission caused controversy by using the term on twitter: "Help. Trapped in a queue in chav-land! Woman behind me explaining latest Eastenders plot to mate, while eating largest bun I've ever seen," Baroness Hussein-Ece tweeted.

That sounds like it's entirely about class to me.
posted by rocket88 at 10:18 AM on June 3, 2011


There has always been a criminal underclass and it has always been reviled. Those with a social conscience have always tried to explain away the acts and have always worked hard to try to create solutions to the problem.

I've been reading a lot of 16th C Tudor-era texts and things like the Poor Relief Law of 1572 (aka the Vagabonds Act) were essentially trying much the same things our current coalition government is suggesting today. It just strikes me as dumb to be banging our heads against the wall trying to fix the same old problems with the same old methods.

I believe, given that we have spent the last 400-500 years trying to deal with vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, thieves and chavs or whatever you want to lavel them as that we must simply accept that there will always be a certain population of people who find it impossible for various reasons to exist within our cultural norms.

The question then becomes - so what do you do when you know that certain people cannot hold themselves to the same social contract espoused by the rest of the population?

I can't condone workhouses, borstals, removal of benefits, building walls around estates, forcible sterilisation or any other Daily Mail fodder but I am genuinely stymied. I have no solution to throw into the ring that would be acceptable. Maybe the reason we're still trying the same thing is because there simply isn't any other option?
posted by longbaugh at 10:27 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am amused to discover that James Delingpole's RP accent makes him sound almost exactly like Rik from The Young Ones.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:45 AM on June 3, 2011


To Paraphrase Nick Cohen: How can you fight for the emancipation of the working man when you despise him.

This is class war, look at stuff on the tv: little britain mocks the poor, that posh one by Fellows about the country house is all about class (he was even in the Times recently saying "things were better then" because "everyone knew what they should do" i.e. their place. Upstairs Downstairs is back.

And while there are clearly problems, the problem is that society has been changed via 30 years of right-wing government, such that we end up with a country like this. Why try when the jobs were outsourced years ago. And Thatcher underfunded state eduction, taking out the extra teachers that were employed during the 70s. God i could go on for ages here....
posted by marienbad at 10:49 AM on June 3, 2011


"I can't condone workhouses, borstals, removal of benefits, building walls around estates, forcible sterilisation or any other Daily Mail fodder but I am genuinely stymied. I have no solution to throw into the ring that would be acceptable. Maybe the reason we're still trying the same thing is because there simply isn't any other option?"

There's always the vigilante option. I spent 5-th through 8th grade in a working class Tel Aviv neighborhood. The locals were pretty quick to apply the Rod of Loving Kindness to anyone acting antisocial.
posted by ocschwar at 10:50 AM on June 3, 2011


Also 2nding "Estates". Hanley talks about the wall in the mind of people living on estates. The problem is, even if they get to university, it is difficult as they went to the wrong school, act wrong and so on. So the wall is not entirely of their own making, it is more of a socioeconomic construct.
posted by marienbad at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2011


Reading through my comments in the previous thread (as terpsichoria, before I sat down to a hardcore guessing session and reclaimed my rightful sub-10k status), I don't think there's a great deal I could add without repeating myself.

I will say that my sweetly naive five-years-ago self was worried that the term 'chav' was becoming corrupted and made nonspecific by its use to describe poor people in general by idiots in the media. The cultural phenomena I was on about then still exist and comprehending the distinction between them clearly is probably more important under our Tory-with-trimmings government than before, but the good ship 'chav' has so long since sailed, there isn't even smoke on the horizon.

Chav means poverty-stricken tracksuited council-estate dweller regardless of behaviour or outlook now. Millions of uses on Facebook and comments sections and in newspapers by people who associated it with appearances rather than actions have seen to that. It's no great loss, in a way: if the word had more obvious connotations of violence it might have been better understood. It wasn't a great word for the purpose. Nonetheless, if we're to talk about the senselessly criminal, violent, often murderous subgroup who primarily make the lives of the aforementioned poor a living hell and whose behaviour is generally only really reported on when it spills over to the middle classes, we either need a new word or to define our terms carefully each and every time.
posted by emmtee at 11:10 AM on June 3, 2011


", we either need a new word or to define our terms carefully each and every time."

"Scrote" still serves, no? In America the term is "dirtbag."

But apart from epithets, if people want to understand the chav phenomenon, Theodore Dalrymple is a good source.

posted by ocschwar at 11:21 AM on June 3, 2011


It's interesting to me, that since this is ostensibly about "class" (or as the naysayers keep insisting, definitely not about class) that people feel free to say some mean, vicious things about another group. This is explained as "disapproving of their choices"

I don't know - its clearly a cultural thing that Americans (myself included) can't really appreciate. The British issue of Class is very different then in the US, and you can't think about the whole issue w/o really understanding that.


But you know, here in the US this issue is transposed into "race." And the same apologists try to say its about certain people's behaviors and choices. Why are we so unwilling to interrogate our own assumptions and prejudices? Why is it so much more easy for some folks to lay the blame entirely on the choices that "those people" make. Any cursory examination of the history, and sociological conditions that various groups who can be lumped under "poor and disenfranchised" (this includes race and class) should be enough to illustrate for people that there are a lot of things going on here. Way more than just "those people" making poor choices. You've really got to step away from these feelings of exceptionalism and the idea that middle class respectability is some sort of inherent virtue, rather than a learned trait.
posted by anansi at 11:34 AM on June 3, 2011




Anansi - I really don't think you understand the chav phenomenon well, and the fact that some of the most vociferous critics of them in this thread are working class themselves (it appears) points to how this is sorta different from issues we have in the US, and sorta why I said a lot of it is wrapped up in class issues in Britain.

In the US everyone likes to pretend they are middle class, it is sort of our defining charactersitic. Hell the republican party essentially exists these days on the backs of people who think they are "middle class" even though they aren't remotely. Britain is decidedly not like that. And as a result there are people who resent upward class mobility in ways that as an American its hard to grasp.
posted by JPD at 11:55 AM on June 3, 2011


JPD, some of the most vociferous critics of "urban" culture here is the US are black, check out Bill Cosby's rant against "ghetto culture." This does not discount the fact that these people are engaging in exceptionalism and buying into the "bootstrapping" myth.

Yes, in the US everyone likes to pretend that they are middle class--in fact we tend to pretend that class doesn't exist here. That's why I said that these issues are transposed onto race in the US.

People looking down upon groups that display behaviors that lie outside of the parameters of "middle-class respectability" are pretty much doing the same thing, no matter where they are. They ascribe the behaviors to poor choices, deficient morality, poor work ethic, and self-defeating cultural norms. All of this is done without acknowledging the systematic factors that greatly influence and reward the "underclass's" behavior.
posted by anansi at 12:04 PM on June 3, 2011


"in", "in the US".

Christ, I can't type . . .
posted by anansi at 12:08 PM on June 3, 2011


some of the most vociferous critics of "urban" culture here is the US are black,

Sure, but my impression from a far for both groups is that the prevalence of "tall poppy syndrome" is much much greater WRT to the working classes in Britain then it is WRT to "Urban" culture in the US.

I'm not saying the whole "chav" concept is purely benign, I'm just saying its hard for American's to grasp where the resentment comes from.
posted by JPD at 12:10 PM on June 3, 2011


Sure, but my impression from a far for both groups is that the prevalence of "tall poppy syndrome" is much much greater WRT to the working classes in Britain then it is WRT to "Urban" culture in the US.

Understood. My impression from within one group (which I belong to, study and teach about) is that it is not greater. The "politics of respectability" WRT black America go deep historically and culturally. Likewise, the demonization of the "negative aspects" of black culture has a rich historical legacy in the US and goes back to the 17th century. In this case and in the case of the lower class (or chavs) in the UK the critics always want to place the onus on the "choices" that the underclass makes. There is almost never any acknowledgment that there are features of society, systemic elements that reinforce these "choices" and reward the negative behaviors.
posted by anansi at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2011


I don't know, I think you are making a mistake trying to fit the US' race paradigm onto class in the UK. Its a different thing, both are pernicious, but different.
posted by JPD at 12:24 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


King of Chavs gets ASBO
posted by Carol Anne at 12:26 PM on June 3, 2011


I think that you misunderstand me. I'm not fitting a race paradigm on the UK class system. I'm saying that critics of the underclass (whether that underclass is racial, religious, class-based, etc) quite often overlook systemic cultural issues that reward and reinforce behaviors that are seen by the majority as negative, disruptive, hostile, etc. Instead, these critics claim that the people who exhibit these traits are making "poor choices;" that they participate in a culture that is self-defeating. This overwhelming victim-blaming does nothing to change the situation and only goes toward inflating the sense of self-aggrandizement that those who made "good choices" exhibit.


This is applicable whether you are talking about racialized "ghetto culture" in the US or class-based "chav culture" in the UK.
posted by anansi at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is applicable whether you are talking about racialized "ghetto culture" in the US or class-based "chav culture" in the UK.

Nobody is blaming the chavs for "poor choices". Some people are just mentioning that Britain has an underclass, and most of them dislike the chavs as well. Trying to apply American race dynamics to a discussion of British class dynamics doesn't work. Most people here will gladly agree with you that chav-ism is a result of failed social policy.

Also, in it's original sense the moniker "chav" was similar to "bro" over here. The apparent conflation between "chav" and the entire underclass by the british media—as well as their willingness to use the term like a club to beat said underclass—is pretty shameful. I hadn't realized how much the connotation had changed since I was last there; I'm sorry if I offended anybody up thread.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me it is synonymous with the Chris Rock stand up but about niggers vs black people.
Do you think when AA Gill or Prince Harry uses the word nigger they are making the distinction?
posted by fullerine at 12:46 PM on June 3, 2011


You are still mapping your own experiences onto something that isn't like that. Chavs/Townies/Neds - whatever you want to call them, one of their defining characteristics is their malevolence towards their socio-economic peers attempting to move up the ladder. Its not really about the middle class laughing at their Burberry plaids. Or at least it wasn't originally. At least to my understanding nearly all of the pejorative terms using in a racial context in the US were originated by whites. That isn't the case here, its not the middle class that created the concept. Hell I bet a search would show you that the newspaper using the word chav the most is going to be "The Sun"

This isn't to say that comments like this "There is almost never any acknowledgment that there are features of society, systemic elements that reinforce these "choices" and reward the negative behaviors." aren't generally true.

And in the sense of middle class columnists from the Daily Mirror talking about "Chavs" or a Parlimentarian using the term, then yes, its much more similar to what you are talking about.
posted by JPD at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2011


It'd be really great if we could stop using that word to score rhetorical points. American racism has very little bearing on this issue.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody is blaming the chavs for "poor choices".

exhibit "A"

I am so fucking tired of the whole ned/chav thing being portrayed as being about class. In reality it has nothing to do with that.

I spent my first 21 years living in a council estate in Glasgow. Rough as fuck and very working class but by no means was everyone living there a ned.

The neds were easy to spot - they were the ones smashing your windows because you stayed on at school longer than you needed to; they were the ones pouring paint stripper over your car because you had the audacity to go and get a job and pay your own way. They were the ones who formed a gauntlet in the lane between the scheme and the shops; the ones who would throw crass, sexual insults and, sometimes, even dog faeces at elderly women as they brought their shopping home. They were the ones who, through constant harassment, caused my father's health to fail until he died. After he died, it wasn't long before my mother gave up and died, too.

You know, the ones with the same background as me but who chose to do fuck all about it and live off the dole.



Trying to apply American race dynamics to a discussion of British class dynamics doesn't work

Seriously, are you reading what I have written?

I'm not fitting a race paradigm on the UK class system. I'm saying that critics of the underclass (whether that underclass is racial, religious, class-based, etc) quite often overlook systemic cultural issues that reward and reinforce behaviors that are seen by the majority as negative, disruptive, hostile, etc. Instead, these critics claim that the people who exhibit these traits are making "poor choices;" that they participate in a culture that is self-defeating. This overwhelming victim-blaming does nothing to change the situation and only goes toward inflating the sense of self-aggrandizement that those who made "good choices" exhibit.


My point, once again, is that critics of the underclass quite often fail to acknowledge that the behaviors of the underclass are quite strongly linked to systemic societal issues. Instead these critics like to claim that the non-normative behaviors are the result of "bad culture" or "poor choices." Nowhere in any of my posts have I equated the UK class issues with US race issues. What I have in fact said is that the critics of both, quite often rely upon the same sorts of apologetics. Arguing that these critics resort to similar tactics is not the same as equating the two "cultures."
posted by anansi at 12:50 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


one of their defining characteristics is their malevolence towards their socio-economic peers attempting to move up the ladder.

You mean like the African American analogy of "crabs in a barrel?"

It appears that some folks can't see the forest for the trees. I recognize that we like to think that our experiences are "special" and "unique." That's not generally true.

In fact, the more that you give details about this issue, the more eerily similar it seems to Race issues in the US.

Tune in to any "Urban" radio station in a major metropolitan area here and you will hear Steve Harvey and Tavis Smiley admonishing young black men to "pull their pants up" Hell, that old guy on American Idol scored a hit a couple of years ago with his song, Pants on the Ground. That was in group criticism.
posted by anansi at 12:57 PM on June 3, 2011


I'll venture out and say that "chav" is more than just a stereotype. It is important to note that similar labels exist elsewhere in Europe. The Spanish equivalent of a chav is called a "choni" or "poligonero" (the latter because their natural habitat are the megaparties held in industrial estates, called "polígonos" in Spain). In Spain as in Britain and elsewhere, there are people who actually identify quite proudly with this subculture, even though they're looked down by about everybody else.
posted by Skeptic at 1:02 PM on June 3, 2011


The defining characteristic of "urban" culture in the US is NOT about keeping their peers down. Come on now.

Yes, in-group criticism exists, but this is purely in-group criticism. Or at least it was. Historically the middle classes had a different set of terms to put down the social climber sort.
posted by JPD at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The defining characteristic of "urban" culture in the US is NOT about keeping their peers down.

And you have come to this conclusion through what knowledge?

Anecdotally, there is the propensity for labeling academically-minded black kids as "acting white."

Speaking "normative" English is "talking white."

Black people who move from black neighborhoods are "selling out."

Black men who do not exhibit "thug/ghetto" traits are "oreos." e.g Carlton.

The crabs in a barrel analogy has been used for a long time. Basically, the sentiment is, no matter how hard you try, some "ghetto" black person is going to try to "pull you down with them."

If you want to look at academic studies of the phenomenon then I'll point you here:

http://www.springerlink.com/content/k1576rj3p2x51q6t/

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/%28SICI%291520-6688%28199721%2916:2%3C256::AID-PAM4%3E3.0.CO;2-H/abstract
posted by anansi at 1:29 PM on June 3, 2011


Anyway, I've got to bow out of this debate. Time to hit the pool and do my laps. This gut's not gonna work itself off . . .
posted by anansi at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2011


Black people who move from black neighborhoods are "selling out."

That's the one element in that resentment I have to sympathize with. Our culture has this firmly engrained notion that moving up requires moving out, and that those who don't move out deserve contempt. That should not be. It helps legitimize a lot of malign neglect against poorer neighborhoods in the country.
posted by ocschwar at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2011


I always thought the word referred to those folk decked in ostentatiously-branded clothing who strode the high streets feeling that the world owed them a favour, shoving before them pramfuls of screaming offspring while likewise screaming into a shiny mobile phone, aggressively ignorant of those around them. Muzzled dogs might be in tow.

I guess the definition has shifted. But it never meant Working Class. Heck, it was such a specific look that gay clubs started holding "chav nights" where a tracksuit would gain you a lowered entry fee and the attention of those looking for a "bit of rough".
Radio 4 Thinking Allowed (Real Audio, alas)
posted by 4eyes at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2011


This is class war, look at stuff on the tv: little britain mocks the poor, that posh one by Fellows about the country house is all about class (he was even in the Times recently saying "things were better then" because "everyone knew what they should do" i.e. their place. Upstairs Downstairs is back.

No. Little Britain mocked many kinds of national stereotype. And yes, Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs were about class. So what? If you really think these programmes were denigrating the poor in favour of the rich you weren't paying attention.
posted by Summer at 2:43 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


so a chav is like a mod then?
posted by seanyboy at 4:54 PM on June 3, 2011


Meanwhile, in Melbourne...
posted by acb at 5:35 PM on June 3, 2011


Summer: "Little Britain mocked many kinds of national stereotype."

Well, Little Britain has been criticized for mostly mocking the easy targets with no power to fight back, like chavs, homosexuals, handicapped people, etc. Even so, I'm willing to forgive them since they actually manage to be funny (though repetitive). But if you compare them to something like Monty Python's Flying Circus, which they've mentioned as an influence, it's pretty obvious MPFC goes after the people in power and of the uppe classes a lot more.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:39 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


USians on Mefi sure love to equate events in other countries to their own, by and large. It's understandable I guess (if annoying and presumptuous) but I've rarely seen put as rudely as in this thread.

It appears that some folks can't see the forest for the trees. I recognize that we like to think that our experiences are "special" and "unique." That's not generally true.

In fact, the more that you give details about this issue, the more eerily similar it seems to Race issues in the US.


That's great and all, but doesn't the actual testimony of the people, you know, actually living in the UK count a little more than your 'seems eerily similar'? You're out of line here IMHO.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull: I am amused to discover that James Delingpole's RP accent makes him sound almost exactly like Rik from The Young Ones.


Boy, what an odious twerp.
posted by oxford blue at 9:28 PM on June 3, 2011


Boy, what an odious twerp.

He's also a climate change denialist. Watch this video that GeckoDundee linked to in which Delingpole is, indeed, pwned (at around 4 minutes).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:43 PM on June 3, 2011


Oh the classic "I don't accept your analogy," said with a time gaining stutter, followed by the well thought out and not at all prissy "I do slightly resent…" Finally, an almnus Oxford can be really proud of.
posted by oxford blue at 11:01 PM on June 3, 2011


Well, Little Britain has been criticized for mostly mocking the easy targets with no power to fight back, like chavs, homosexuals, handicapped people, etc

It went after lots of people. Think how many characters there were in Little Britain. WI members, over-cosseted upper class sons, Scottish hotel owners, racist academic administrators. There wasn't some kind of 'low hanging fruit' policy at work.

And are we saying that some sections of society can be mocked and some can't? To make the criticism work, you'd have to argue that the programme was denigrating the idea of homosexuality or disability, which clearly isn't true.
posted by Summer at 11:34 PM on June 3, 2011


But if you compare them to something like Monty Python's Flying Circus, which they've mentioned as an influence, it's pretty obvious MPFC goes after the people in power and of the uppe classes a lot more.

Very different era. Comedy, and the BBC, in the 1960s was much more upper-class/Oxbridge dominated. Since then we've had alternative comedy's rise, meaning kids who didn't go through Footlights were getting their own BBC shows, and people who have had more experience of the working class than the public school-Oxbridge Pythons (having been around a lot of old boy type people, dressing up as women is seen as the most hil-ar-ious thing ever) and so use them as tropes.

A better comparison would be with The Fast Show from ten years or so before LB. The working class characters there are fairly sympathetic - Ralph the gardener, the schoolgirl, the guy who thinks everything is 'brilliant'
posted by mippy at 12:27 AM on June 4, 2011


Or think of the Harry Enfield show. Wayne and Waynetta Slob.
posted by Summer at 1:45 AM on June 4, 2011


Little Britain and blackface is probably a more obvious "thanks for bringing that back into the comedy mainstream, guys!" than Little Britain and class...

Alternative comedy was never quite as working-class as the accents suggested - a lot of it was university-educated comedians reacting against working-class club comedians rather than rebelling against the Oxbridge establishment. The two main engines, at least for the stuff that got on TV, were Cambridge (Fry, Laurie, Thompson, Slattery - all Footlights) and Manchester (Mayall, Edmondson, Lise Mayer, Ben Elton), with French and Saunders coming from the Central School of Speech and Drama. Looking slightly earlier, Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith were Oxford, Mel Smith and John Lloyd Cambridge.

The whole "yeah but no but" schtick is men who went to good schools with degrees from a good university inviting a mass audience to laugh at people largely poorer and with fewer prospects than they have. That's hardly a revolutionary idea in British comedy, though.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:41 AM on June 4, 2011


Oops - Mel Smith was at Oxford, not both Oxford and Cambridge - he met Lloyd when OUDS and Footlights shared a venue.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:51 AM on June 4, 2011


So are we now saying that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them? Please let me have a list so I'll know when not to laugh.
posted by Summer at 4:29 AM on June 4, 2011


Cite, please?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:12 AM on June 4, 2011


You can't ask for a cite when you've just tendered your own hypothesis
... university-educated comedians reacting against working-class club comedians ... men who went to good schools with degrees from a good university inviting a mass audience to laugh at people largely poorer and with fewer prospects than they have.
without a shred of evidence to back it up.
posted by Ritchie at 6:51 AM on June 4, 2011


A) that isn't a hypothesis. It is two distinct statements.
B) those statements are both supported
C) none of this is relevant to whether there is any statement made to the effect that "some sections of society are exempt from having the piss taken out of them", which I certainly did not say and cannot see said anywhere else in thread.
D) please feel free to cite rather than to invent rules from the Big Book of Arguing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:06 AM on June 4, 2011


'Chav' =/= 'oik'

Mostly because 'oik' has the connotation of a person who is from the lower classes who aspires to be higher class than s/he is.

A chav has no such aspirations.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:58 AM on June 4, 2011


Fine then, it's two distinct hypotheses. Your supporting evidence is the same for both: summarizing the educational backgrounds of some comedians. But you fail to show how this is relevant. So basically these hypotheses get filed in the drawer marked 'Someone's Opinion'.

Now, if you'd left it at that, I wouldn't have cared. People make lazy generalizations and free associations all the time, and they're welcome to do so. But you then had the moxie to get all snotty when someone snarked. Why should somebody else have to justify what they say if you don't?
posted by Ritchie at 4:10 PM on June 4, 2011


Hypotheis: A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.

So, to recap. You don't know what a hypothesis is, or indeed what two hypotheses are. You have failed once again accurately to describe what happened over a fairly small amount of text. Essentially, you don't know how to read or write. That's very sad.

But you care. Oh, you care. You care so much that you leap in to white knight when I ask somebody to explain where they have got the idea that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them. Because you think I am being "snotty". And you punish me by running in, tripping over your trousers as they slip to your ankles, and falling on your face.

Well, I guess that shows us something about comedy, at least. Comedy equals tragedy plus pratfall.

So, Ritchie's slapstick approach to basic English aside, I am quite non-snotty and sincere in my question. I don't think anyone has suggested that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them. I know I didn't. So I am asking for a cite, so I can see where that perception came from.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2011


Just to help you out in future, Ritchie:

Statement one: Alternative comedy was never quite as working-class as the accents suggested

Support: Noting that many of the leading lights of alternative comedy, in particular televized alternative comedy including The Young Ones, French and Saunders, Thompson and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, met at university or drama school, and that the immediate parents of alternative comedy - Richard Curtis and the Blackadder team, and John Lloyd and the Not the Nine o'Clock News team - were largely university-educated, and indeed largely met at Oxford or Cambridge, or through shared Oxford-Cambridge activities.

Statement two: The whole "yeah but no but" schtick is men who went to good schools with degrees from a good university inviting a mass audience to laugh at people largely poorer and with fewer prospects than they have

Support: Honestly, I don't know what to tell you. Naturally, you know that Walliams and Lucas both attended Bristol University (a very good university), having attended selective schools. Is your argument that Little Britain did not have a mass audience, or that 'Vicki Pollards' living on council estates are not poorer and do not have fewer prospects than the millionaire celebrities and TV stars Walliams and Lucas? Feel free to take your time answering. Don't rush.

And all this because of a totally imagined snotty tone. What a shame.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know how you get from 'comedians who went to university' to 'reacting against the working class'. How do you know what they were reacting against? Did they say so? Is it a generally-accepted premise that people who go to certain universities are automatically against the poorer classes? I'm very stupid, as you've correctly noted, so I must be missing something obvious.
posted by Ritchie at 1:27 AM on June 5, 2011


I didn't note that you were very stupid. I did note that you appeared not to be able to read. You have demonstrated this again, by ignoring what I actually wrote, by claiming that I said you were stupid and by putting in quote marks something I did not say. I never said:
'reacting against the working class'
You are either deliberately telling lies about what I said, or you are sincerely unable to hold words in your mind. What I said, and I'm amazed I have to repeat it, is:
Alternative comedy was never quite as working-class as the accents suggested - a lot of it was university-educated comedians reacting against working-class club comedians rather than rebelling against the Oxbridge establishment.
Now, do you understand or have any knowledge of the working men's clubs of 1970s Britain? Do you know who Bernard Manning is? Are you familiar with the TV show The Comedians? Much of the impetus of British alternative comedy came from a reaction against the gag-based television comedy of the 70s, which often relied on racial or sexual stereotypes. London's Comedy Store was specifically an alternative to that kind of live comedy experience. From the Comedy Store's website:
In the new more politically-aware environment of the early eighties, comics with racist, sexist and outdated jokes were often gonged or booed off quickly, making room for performers of the new "alternative" genre, whose material was considered fresher and more innovative. These performers were to become the first alternative comedians; Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmonson, Alexei Sayle, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith Allen, Peter Richardson, Nigel Planer and Arnold Brown all graced The Comedy Store stage in the early days.
That's a grand narrative, of course, and it's more complicated than that - there was more going on with those club comedians than a man in a blue tuxedo telling racist jokes - but certainly the atmosphere of the Comedy Store, which became the model for many other alternative comedy clubs and nights in urban centres across the country, was very different from the atmosphere in the working men's clubs where comics like Manning, Roy Walker, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen learned their trade.

So, that's the first part. The second part is the statement that, of this new wave of alternative comedy, many of the the people who got TV shows in the early 80s tended to be people with university degrees or drama school educations. There are no doubt all sorts of reasons for this - good contacts, knowing how to write a proposal, three years to practise writing and performing at university. However, it's a factual assertion that would need actual factual refutation. You could start with Keith Allen, if you wanted to, or look at the difference between commissioning at the BBC and ITV compared with the new Channel 4.

I doubt you will try to do that. I doubt that because I don't think you are very interested in the history of British comedy.

Rather, you are interested in bullying people on the Internet. For whatever reason, you decided to try to bully me. When I stood up to you, in the manner of bullies everywhere you started blubbering, blustering and telling people that I started it, lying about what happened and complaining about how mean I was to you. Which is super weird, because everything that happened is right up there on the page. You're not in the teacher's office.

You are now trying, intentionally or through simple habit, to wear me down by picking fictitious nits, and you will probably succeed. It takes longer to respond to deceit and ignorance than it does to display them. All I can do is make it clear that this is what you are doing, while also attempting to add something of value to the conversation for people who are not Internet bullies.

And the funny thing is that the request for a cite that you used to convince yourself that this was a good opportunity for a bit of Internet bullying was not "snotty" at all. It was brief, because I was writing it on my phone in the line for an ATM. But it was a perfectly sincere request for a cite on where Summer was getting the idea that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them. I certainly hadn't said that, or intended to communicate it, and it doesn't seem to be supported by what's actually happening in TV comedy.

I think there is a conversation to be had about how Little Britain deals with ethnic and cultural minority characters. It's a really interesting program, for a lot of reasons, and occupies an interesting position in comedy - it's very much in the tradition both of Goons-Goodies-Reeves and Mortimer absurdism and Benny Hill-Dick Emery-Three of a Kind sketch, character and catchphrase humor - much as Monty Python's Flying Circus connected these traditions, in fact. But you are probably not very interesting in this conversation, because you are on the available evidence interested primarily in bullying people on the Internet, and have very limited interest in the actual topic.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:19 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems less like the university-educated comics reacted against club comedians than that they just competed with them for an audience. Whereas your initial comment made it sound like they targeted the club comics because they were lower-class, your explanation makes it sound more like an example of a New Guard vs Old Guard conflict, which crop up in every industry and have only occasional intersections with class boundaries.

I am really and truly beginning to suspect that you're right that I can't comprehend the written word. Because you've just written a mini-essay summarizing how Group X came from one background and Group Y came from another, and I'm at a loss to figure out how it's relevant. Are you implying that because their backgrounds could be used as indicators they belonged to different classes, therefore class was the primary motivator for antagonism? What am I missing?
posted by Ritchie at 5:56 AM on June 5, 2011


So are we now saying that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them? Please let me have a list so I'll know when not to laugh.
It's political correctness gone maaaaaad.
posted by fullerine at 6:30 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, running order squabble fest, imagine I'm hanging on to your arm wailing, "No Darren, he's not worth it!"
posted by fullerine at 6:35 AM on June 5, 2011


Whereas your initial comment made it sound like they targeted the club comics because they were lower-class

No, it didn't. Again, I'm amazed I'm having to copy and paste what I actually wrote again. Are you a goldfish?
Alternative comedy was never quite as working-class as the accents suggested - a lot of it was university-educated comedians reacting against working-class club comedians rather than rebelling against the Oxbridge establishment.
Alternative comedy in the clubs was an aesthetic and stylistic reaction to the style and the topics of working-men's club comedy. So, you got character comedy instead of one-liners, drainpipe jeans and T-shirts instead of flared trousers and dinner suits, political and absurdist themes rather than jokes about mothers-in-law and immigrants. When TV started harvesting some of these alternative comics, their TV shows - such as The Young Ones and Girls on Top - often mirrored and parodied the structures of traditional middle-class comedies such as The Good Life. In both cases, this was a reaction against a dominant culture.

Your claim that I ever said, suggested or implied (to anyone with basic reading skills who was actually following the discussion) that alternative comedy was "against the working classes" is a lie, which you deployed when your initial attempt to bully me failed and you needed a new angle. I was responding to Mippy. Again, if you were interested in the discussion rather than an Internet bully looking for a target, you would have read what Mippy wrote here:
Very different era. Comedy, and the BBC, in the 1960s was much more upper-class/Oxbridge dominated. Since then we've had alternative comedy's rise, meaning kids who didn't go through Footlights were getting their own BBC shows, and people who have had more experience of the working class than the public school-Oxbridge Pythons (having been around a lot of old boy type people, dressing up as women is seen as the most hil-ar-ious thing ever) and so use them as tropes.
I was simply noting in response to this that the rise of alternative comedy was not solely, or primarily, a working-class phenomenon, and that in fact much early alternative comedy was produced by products either of Oxbridge drama/footlights, drama or art school or well-established universities, and that this section of the alternative comedy community tended to provide most of the initial crossover into TV series. I was also noting that alternative comedy was not initially a reaction against Monty Python, but rather a reaction against much of the prevailing comedy at the time, both on TV and in clubs.

Because you've just written a mini-essay summarizing how Group X came from one background and Group Y came from another

No, I haven't. But I can't be bothered to go through this again for the benefit of an Internet bully trying to cover himself. As ever, a lie can go twice around the world while the truth is still lacing up its LeBrons.

What am I missing?

Any interest in the discussion, and therefore any recall of the initial statement by Mippy which provided context and to which I was responding in the first place - which you were not interested in because your intention was to try to bully someone on the Internet.

But Fullerine is right. If you were able to follow this or prepared to act in good faith, you would have by now. That was never your goal. This isn't a good use of my time, and I'm sure there are softer targets than I for you to try to bully on the Internet.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:35 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


So are we now saying that some sections of society are now exempt from having the piss taken out of them? Please let me have a list so I'll know when not to laugh.

Cite?


I'm v hungover so apologies if I make no sense. I was actually asking a question. Is it NEVER OK for a privately-educated comedian to use 'working class' (scare quoted because of a lack of a definition) characters in his/her comedy? Isn't the content and tone of the actual comedy itself more important than the bare facts of someone's upbringing?

The article suggests the Vicky Pollard character is an attack on the feckless working class. It never felt like that to me. It felt like an over-the-top portrayal of a certain kind of mouthy, ignorant teen; a portrayal that sat with lots of other broad, over the top characterisations from the whole spectrum of society. The whole point of Little Britain was to reflect British society from top to bottom. That was why it was called Little Britain. It wasn't called 'Feckless Yobs'.

If you say that someone can't tackle a character from a certain section of society at all if they are deemed to be richer/have more opportunities, that sounds a bit to me like the old noblesse oblige attitude of 'we must help the poor, not mock them'. That kind of 'them and us' patronising attitude we can do without.
posted by Summer at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2011


Hi, Summer! Sorry for the massive derail while you were away. Not my intention! To answer your question:
I was actually asking a question. Is it NEVER OK for a privately-educated comedian to use 'working class' (scare quoted because of a lack of a definition) characters in his/her comedy? Isn't the content and tone of the actual comedy itself more important than the bare facts of someone's upbringing?
No, I think that's clearly not the case. To be more precise: I'm not sure what "never OK" means, but I'd say it is evident that by no sensible application of the term could it be said to be the case.. There's certainly no law prohibiting it, and Walliams and Lucas haven't found that doing so has damaged their careers. So, no. I don't think that's the case in any absolute sense, and I don't think anybody has suggested that any such prohibition should be placed on comedians.

I haven't read Owen Jones' book, but if it's being accurately summarized (and it's worth noting that there is at least one error in the article, I think - David Walliams didn't go to public school, although he did go to a selective school), it seems that Owen Jones doesn't like the way Vicky Pollard is presented, and sees it as bashing the working class. That's his opinion, and clearly it differs from yours. However, there's no suggestion in the article that even Owen Jones thinks it is NEVER OK for a privately-educated comedian to use 'working class' (scare quoted because of a lack of a definition) characters in his/her comedy .
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:18 AM on June 5, 2011


Your own quote rosf:

The whole "yeah but no but" schtick is men who went to good schools with degrees from a good university inviting a mass audience to laugh at people largely poorer and with fewer prospects than they have.

Is there any way they could have tackled a 'chav' character without you thinking the above?

I think part of the reason Lucas and Walliams weren't condemned for Vicky Pollard is because our society isn't so stratified any more that they seem totally removed from people like her. Lucas manages to pull off the George Dawes character pretty well after all. And that's a good thing. Do we really want comedy for/about the middle class and comedy for/about the working class like it used to be?

From the article:

That view has been reinforced by "grotesque" sketches about chavs written by public school educated comedians like David Walliams and Matt Lucas, Jones says.

Point 1: everything in Little Britain is 'grotesque'. That's the style of the thing. There are far grotesquer things in it than Vicky Pollard. Who would you rather be: Vicky or the bloke that still breast feeds from his mother?

Point 2: There's a really strong implication here that 'chavs', or the working class, should be out of bounds to Lucas and Walliams because they're public school educated. I don't want to go back to a time where we still think like that. Class war is getting out of control as it is and this sort of thing only makes it worse.
posted by Summer at 8:59 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for Owen Jones, or for the gloss put on his work by that reporter, Summer - although I think that your reading of the quote is pretty uncharitable, especially because the context in which Jones uses "grotesque" is not made clear - and I don't think:

There's a really strong implication here that 'chavs', or the working class, should be out of bounds to Lucas and Walliams because they're public school educated. I don't want to go back to a time where we still think like that. Class war is getting out of control as it is and this sort of thing only makes it worse.

makes a lot of sense. There's never been a time when the upper echelons of society have ever been prevented from writing about the working classes, to my knowledge, and you'd probably need cites. There is writing about the working classes that seems to our modern sensibilities embarrassingly tin-eared, but that's a very different matter. Also, Walliams didn't go to public school, AFAIK, as I already mentioned.

Also:

I think part of the reason Lucas and Walliams weren't condemned for Vicky Pollard is because our society isn't so stratified any more that they seem totally removed from people like her.

Doesn't really make much sense either. First up, they were condemned for Vicky Pollard - just not universally condemned. Owen Jones is condemning them for Vicky Pollard right now, and people condemned them at the time. However, I talk a bit more about the case of Pollard below.

As to your question to me:

Is there any way they could have tackled a 'chav' character without you thinking the above?

That's an interesting question. If you're asking whether Walliams and Lucas specifically would be capable of tackling etc - whether they are good enough as comic writers to do that - then I don't know. My general read on Little Britain is that it was funny as a radio show, and got progressively less funny and meaner-spirited on TV as they ran out of good ideas. If the question is whether it's possible in general, then yes, clearly. Rose Tyler is a good example, and Kelly from Misfits another.

Of course, these are characters in comedy dramas, not comic characters, so that's a bit different. Looking at Little Britain in particular, it's an interesting program, for a number of reasons. A lot of its sketches are sort of metacomedy on Daily Mail perceptions of elements of British society. So, for example:

Dafydd, the only gay in the village, can be read as a comic response to the Little Englander perception that gay people have equal rights now and can integrate perfectly well into society, but that some militant homosexuals continue to (you guessed it!) shove their homosexuality down people's throats.

Vicky Pollard can be read as a comic response to the tabloid representation of "chavs" as almost a separate species, speaking an incomprehensible argot, having babies to get council houses, endlessly frustrating and resisting attempts (represented by Walliams as a doctor, social worker, job centre worker et hoc genus omne) to find them work, limit their reproductive excesses and so on.

Lou and Andy can be read as a comic response to the tabloid paranoia that many people claiming disability benefit are canny benefit cheats, playing up their symptoms and utterly bamboozling ineffective, do-gooding social workers.

And so on. There's a lot of metacomedy about other stereotypes cherished by other groups - for example the WI being full of reactionary, racist old women, or the corridors of Westminster being populated by squabbling, effete adolescents, or customer service staff being mindless jobsworths who will defy common sense if their computer says no, or Tory MPs being unable to go to the shops without getting caught with a prostitute. Pretty broad comedy, but see the Dick Emery note below. It's in a tradition.

One problem with this kind of metacomedy - which is also a strength, in another light - is that it's a way to please a very wide audience - the people who approach it on multiple levels and the people who just look at it and see their own attitudes reflected and confirmed. A transatlantic example of this is Chris Rock's metacomedy about attitudes to "deserving" and "undeserving" black people - which he now regrets ever doing, because it was taken by a lot of white people as a permission slip to N-bomb their workplaces and social events. And the Chris Rock example also highlights another issue, that the impact of this kind of uncritical response to metacomedy is disproportionate when it deals with groups who are already disadvantaged or in a minority.

None of that is anywhere near saying that it's NEVER OK for a privately-educated comedian to use 'working class' characters in his/her comedy, and even further from that actually being the case. It just is what it is. Transpeople get "but I'm a lady" shouted at them in the street. Teenaged girls get described on sight as "a bunch of Vicky Pollards". I'd be very surprised if no Asian schoolgirl in Britain had ever found herself being called "Ting Tong Macadangdang" during a teasing session.

Although very different in form, Little Britain is spiritually a little like That 70s Show - a program which both laughed at the 70s - big hair, the Osmonds, flared trousers - and was extremely nostalgic for the strong bonds of family and the uncomplicated pre-Internet world of the 70s. Little Britain is in many ways a love letter to the comedy of Dick Emery, and I think sometimes its homage is less clever and knowing than it thinks it is.

What it probably is OK for people to do is to have different opinions about how successful Little Britain's comedic project is, or to find it more or less funny. If what you want is for nobody to be allowed to dislike it, or to dislike the character of Vicky Pollard, or to think that the portrayal of Vicky Pollard has a knock-on effect on how people think and talk about young poor women on council estates, then that probably can't be guaranteed.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Summer, I think your dog in this fight just shit on the carpet.
posted by fullerine at 9:49 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


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