Bottom of the Class
April 11, 2006 4:11 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian examines "nu snobbery" and the social acceptability among the British press and middle class of ridiculing the working class. The chav phenomenon has been discussed many times on MeFi, but if anything it has gotten more widespread, and as documented in the article, even spawned Chav Discos. Where will it all lead? Has Britain slipped completely back into class snobbery - in both directions - or did it never really go away?
posted by LondonYank (90 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't live in Britain, so I can't say for sure--but based on my knowledge of class and difference in the US, I would bet that it never really went away. May have been politely hiding for half a minute, but no, it has never really gone.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:21 AM on April 11, 2006

Where will it all lead?

It will all lead to journalists loving Metafilter for not noticing that their hastily-compiled, contradictory articles ("It is hard to cry foul at these things without sounding hopelessly po-faced" - agreed!) are based on the flimsiest of premises. British people mock each other - it's not a class issue, and it's not news.
posted by creeky at 4:27 AM on April 11, 2006

You know, some people are just worth less than others. Neds and chavs frequently display their worthlessness by being tossers in school so they can't find a job, so they live off the dole etc. etc. etc. It may be small minded but if someone is so willfully ignorant and lazy, why the fuck shouldn't they be ridiculed? Remember these are the fuckers who go around making everyone else's lives a misery. You know, the people who can spell their own name and don't believe the world owes them a living.

As far as I can tell it has less to do with class as it has to do with tribes. I see plenty of goths, nerds etc with no money who are leagues ahead when it comes to decorum.

Neds are scum.
posted by bouncebounce at 4:28 AM on April 11, 2006

I can't believe I've gotten so old and insensitive, but here goes:

Whether you call those people chavs, grits, neds, dirtballs or whay have you, they deserve to at least be mocked. You can be poor and have dignity. Or you can be poor but still pay for cable and show how feeble-minded and lacking in identity you are by co-opting (badly) the "urban" styles that are shown to you-- just like your big brother bought into tight acid-washed jeans and woman's hair as a form of grit empowerment.

And you know what? Making fun is only that. Let the chavs make fun of me for dressing the way I do or for NOT being cool enough to put flashy rims and a loud exhaust on my old Volvo station wagon.

It's not the chav's fault that he's poor. But it's his fault that we laugh at him because he could have dignity if he wanted. And he shouldn't care that we think he's funny, anyway. Unless he wants a job from someone inclined to not take him seriously. But it's still the chav's fault for dressing and talking in a manner that an HR person would associate with a huge asshole.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:30 AM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

There ought to be a new logical fallacy to add to those impressive lists: argument by Daily Mail/Little Britain. Alternatively: argument by being in the Guardian.

The Guardian could "prove" all manner of things with a chicken sandwich and a pile of spoons, but it wouldn't make them any more on the money. It's worth turning your bullshit detector up to 11 before loading the Graun's website or opening a paper copy.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:32 AM on April 11, 2006

Very interesting read, thanks.

At first I confused the name of John Harris with Johann Hari...
posted by funambulist at 4:34 AM on April 11, 2006

Chav /= working class, they are at best a subset and you could certainly make an argument that many of them come from an urban underclass rather than the working class (which leads to a different debate).
posted by biffa at 4:34 AM on April 11, 2006

If the working class in Britain were still middle class no one would be talking about this.
posted by three blind mice at 4:35 AM on April 11, 2006

Chavs can't be working class. They don't work.

In regards to class snobbery: I don't think I've heard of any country where people do not define and think higher of themselves based on their income, their house, their clothes, the company they keep etc etc. It's not a British phenomenon by any means - America has blue collar, white collar workers, the black/Latino/Mexican working classes, the black middle classes, no? I've often come across North Americans who comment on our class system, yet I see just as much a segregation of people in America and Canada as I do back here in the UK.

I think perhaps the only difference is that being ex-colonial, countries America/Canada has more of a focus on flexibility of lifestyles: people feel they can easily improve their lives. Whereas here we're more pessimistic, and thus more inclined to spit on those we feel are different, and hold an irrational pride to whichever social class we come from. The upper classes are just as mocked by the lower classes as the other way around. It's just that the Chavs don't have access to the media in the same way.

Prince William by the way, much like the rest of the upper classes, is a twat. Guess which section of society I come from.
posted by saturnine at 4:37 AM on April 11, 2006

Bouncebounce, amen to that, amen!

It has nothing to do with being of a 'lower class' (quite a bit of the chavvy element here in London make more fucking money than I do), it's a question of a group of people willingly embracing ignorance, out and out racism/bigotry/misogyny and general anti-social behaviour as virtues.

Take one late night bus from Feltham on Saturday, and try to tell me that chavs are being oppressed because of their social standing...

chav =! working class
chav = fucking moron
posted by slimepuppy at 4:39 AM on April 11, 2006

Is there a working class in Britain? There's bugger all manufacturing base, after all.

(More seriously, bouncebounce has the key word: tribes. We're no longer defined by our job (thank God), but by the stereotype we best fit)
posted by Leon at 4:41 AM on April 11, 2006

As a proletarian-turned petty-bourgeouis, I take a Marxist viewpoint on the issue of chavs. What pisses me off about them is that they have no class consciousness.
posted by jodrell at 4:42 AM on April 11, 2006

British people mock each other - it's not a class issue, and it's not news.

But only working class people can mock other working class people. It's an unwritten law.
posted by funambulist at 4:44 AM on April 11, 2006

and since when have chavs been working class?
posted by winjer at 4:45 AM on April 11, 2006

Ugh, not this again. The Guardian still seems to be experiencing a fundamental failure to understand what the term 'chav' was originally used to refer to, before the Mail and its fellow bastions of language and subtlety got their greasy fingers on it. The key elements of being a chav, as I see it and have since the word first came into relatively common use, are the senseless violence, specific mode of dress, public drunkenness, propensity to gather in large mobs in front of off-licenses, grinning idiocy and vandalism. Income has nothing to do with it. There's a whole separate set of traits that can be associated with being poor and British, and these get mocked fairly regularly in certain circles, but they're not the same as the chav archetype. It's a shame that papers like the Mail and TV shows like the execrable Little Britain apparently can't tell the difference between chavs and the poor, because it's polluted the term 'chav' and effectively stripped it of its meaning.

The thing is, articles like this one and the various rants over the last year or so by tedious hag Julie Burchill strike me as saying 'well, these negative social traits are associated with chavs, and somewhere deep-down we believe they're also exhibited disproportionately by the poor, so OMG! POOR = CHAV! SNOBBERY!!!!'. They don't know who they're defending. If they want to defend the poor against mockery, the first step should be removing their own assumption that the poor don't know any better than to be violent and abusive.

Bouncebounce, I agree with the sentiment, but it isn't things like living on the dole that make a person a chav, according to the non-polluted definition of the term - it's anti-social behaviour primarily, and a whole range of other negative traits second.
posted by terpsichoria at 4:46 AM on April 11, 2006

Leon >>> "Is there a working class in Britain? There's bugger all manufacturing base, after all."

I work for a blind company (the things that go on the windows, as opposed to... well, blind people) and we have a factory beneath the offices that manufacture the products we sell. So yes, we do have a working class. It's just not as famous as it used to be.
posted by saturnine at 4:46 AM on April 11, 2006

(I was being sarcastic, by the way)

Chav /= working class, they are at best a subset

He only seems to get there at the end, when he says there's at least 15 million people in the working class...
posted by funambulist at 4:47 AM on April 11, 2006

saturnine: as you mention the royals... but for the accident of birth, I can just see Harry yelling his head off outside the local off licence on a saturday night. So no, not class. Boorishness.

I suppose the middle classes have always detested (been jealous of?) both the upper classes and the lower classes for not giving a damn about the things the middle classes considered important (manners, politeness, education, trade, etc etc)
posted by Leon at 4:54 AM on April 11, 2006

...bouncebounce, I agree with the sentiment, but it isn't things like living on the dole that make a person a chav, according to the non-polluted definition of the term - it's anti-social behaviour primarily, and a whole range of other negative traits second.
posted by terpsichoria at 12:46 PM GMT on April 11 [!]

This is where the regional terminology causes confusion. In Scotland a ned isn't the direct equivalent of a chav, but I'd say it was a 98% match. Ned (the word itself) is actually an acronym of Non-Educated Delinquent and if you are non-educated, you end up in a series of unskilled jobs or on the dole. These fuckers wear their ignorance like a badge.
posted by bouncebounce at 4:54 AM on April 11, 2006

Speaking of regional terminology... where I grew up "chav" was always a verb. Borrow/steal/take. As in "can I chav a cigarette?". Does anyone else have that memory? (Hants/Portsmouth here)
posted by Leon at 4:59 AM on April 11, 2006

There's some doubt that ned is an acronym for non-educated delinquent (anyway, isnt it uneducated).

It's more likely the term is a shortened version of Teddy boys.
posted by the cuban at 5:05 AM on April 11, 2006

Chav does not mean you are working class, or even a subset, Chav's are just as likely to come from Middle Class families.

However, the Chav phenomenon is just the same old 'kids today' argument that's been rolling around since we said they should't die in mills or mines.
posted by Navek Rednam at 5:06 AM on April 11, 2006

I reckon there's certainly an element of mocking the 'lower classes' and blaming young people for society's ills, however loathe people will be to admit that.

There's also a Revenge of the Nerds factor to take into account, particularly online, where articulate, well-off people can safely take the piss out of the kind of yobs they had to tolerate at school and now see hanging around town.
posted by malevolent at 5:06 AM on April 11, 2006

It's not just youths ('youffs'), I've seen plenty of middle-aged chavs around...

And Navek, I like your thinking: put 'em in mills and mines to die. (/somewhat kidding)
posted by slimepuppy at 5:11 AM on April 11, 2006

Leon: You sure it wasn't "chore"? Another gypsy word same as chav.
posted by Joeforking at 5:21 AM on April 11, 2006

Good point about the regional confusion, bounce - that's probably a large part of the whole deal around the word 'chav', to be honest. Since it was picked up by the mainstream media, the word seems to have rolled up things like 'pikey', 'townie', 'ned', 'charva' and effectively taken a lot of them out of usage - the thing is, those words didn't mean exactly the same thing to the people who used them, but everyone seems to have accepted 'chav' as a synonym for whatever the local term for some variation on 'violent louts' was. So everyone's using 'chav' but meaning slightly different things by it. I'm willing to accept that in some parts of the UK it might even overtly mean poor or working-class, but it certainly doesn't - when used in the way it was originally coined - anywhere I've lived over the last few years.

On the dole issue, I definitely agree that wilful under-educatedness is a chav thing and that in some cases it leads to life on the dole, but since dole =\= chav and chav =\= dole necessarily, I wouldn't call it a defining trait.

Navek, while some people who rail against 'chavs' are definitely coming from that angle (see, this is exactly what I mean about the term being watered-down by clumsy recent use in the media until it can mean virtually anything!), the phenomenon itself is something new - there are the products of binge-drinking, co-opted American rap culture, Essex wideboyism, anti-intellectualism, misogyny and homophobia in there, in a mixture that I can't really accurately compare to anything I've seen in the last twenty years or read about in the last fifty. I think the level of casual violence and how incredibly widespread the chav thing is are both new, and ominous. It's easy to attribute criticism of any youth culture to the eternal 'kids today' moans, but it's essential to also accept that there's a possibility that a current development actually is worse than the ones that preceded it.

malevolent, again, there absolutely is an element of mocking the 'lower classes' when a lot of people use the term 'chav' derogatively, but people who use it like that are either watering down its original, specific meaning or assuming that all poor people are violent, uneducated nihilistic scum. There's crossover between the stereotypes as well, of course - for example, the burberry-bling-and-tracksuits dress style that originated with antisocial chavs has been picked up by a lot of Britain's urban and suburban poor, but that only makes them look like chavs, which is the distinction the mass media seem to be missing. It doesn't make them chavs unless they're also violent, antisocial etc.
posted by terpsichoria at 5:27 AM on April 11, 2006

Even if there were a manufacturing base left in the UK, there's fuck all chance the modern chav would work there.

This MTV generation has grown up with 50 Cent as a role model. They all want Range Rover Sports with fat wheels, but without having to put in the work. They want it on a plate.

Modern British society rewards the talentless and the ignorant. I read recently Jade Goody had just purchased a brand new Porsche Boxster. That is fucking depressing.
posted by derbs at 5:55 AM on April 11, 2006

terpsichoria, your explanation should go in the OED :-)

I remember Julie Burchill going on about chav pride (as in working class pride) and saying the queen of the chavs is... Kate Moss. So, how can it be a social class thing when you're including millionaire celebrities? Or does it work like the aristocracy, right of birth?
posted by funambulist at 6:00 AM on April 11, 2006

Nah, Julie Burchill's just an idiot. Why anyone would pay her to put words next to each other is beyond me. If she said Kate Moss was a chav, she did it for the same reason she does everything:
"What, Julie Burchill said that?"
"I don't believe it!"
"That Julie Burchill's so outrageous!"
and so on.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:06 AM on April 11, 2006

class snobbery, hell yeah. Chavs have absolutely no class - I, on the other hand, am full of it.
posted by twistedonion at 6:14 AM on April 11, 2006

There's some doubt that ned is an acronym for non-educated delinquent

Yep: it's a very good linguistic rule of thumb to mistrust acronym etymologies.
posted by raygirvan at 6:16 AM on April 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

What a terrible article.

I hate this hand-wringing by these hoity-toity middle-class wankers about class, when it's clear that if they ever bothered to, you know, actually talk to some working class people they'd find out just how stupid their opinions are.

But maybe that's the point: "Look at these awful upper class people and these ghastly working class people. Aren't us middle class people wonderful"
posted by dodgygeezer at 6:19 AM on April 11, 2006

derbs: Your link to Jane Goody has, in a small way, drained my will to live.
posted by boo_radley at 6:31 AM on April 11, 2006

terpsichoria said it well. ‘Chav’ is a cultural, not class term in the main. The Guardian does knee-jerk towards anyone whom they feel is underprivileged regardless of the behaviour and individual complicity involved in provoking the stereotyping. A trip to many UK city centres on a Saturday evening could disabuse them of this caprice. As a long time reader, I feel that this article is a further retreat into a sloppy, transparent bias towards an analysis that denies individual behavioural responsibility (which is just as dangerous as the extreme right point of view that denies societal factors).

However, if one must force an economic analysis on it, a good many of the Vicky Pollards out there are not members of the working class at all as they are completely economically inactive.

Anyone with any interest in the future of the British Welfare State should check out Labour MP Frank Field’s ‘Neighbours from Hell: The Politics of Behaviour’. There really is a substantial, highly influential minority of white people from poorer backgrounds who tend culturally and politically towards semi-barbarism and have a terrible effect on the people around them. This is an unintended consequence of the large social dislocations of the 1980s, which harmed communities and family structures, and the more means tested nature of welfare in the UK today.

When welfare was more communitarian (such as pre-1968 Council Housing) it got widespread support across the electorate. Now it is purely means tested and incentivises individuals to maximise what they take out of it, rather than put into it in case they or their fellows hit hard times.
posted by The Salaryman at 6:40 AM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have to say, whenever you hear people talking about chavs, it does seem to carry a certain weight of class snobbery. What the word 'chav' seems to me to actually refer to is the often-bad behaviour of people who claim benefits/live on council estates/insert other thing poor people do.

I hate it. People who do badly in school, get pregnant when they're teenagers or don't have jobs shouldn't be described as "scum" and mocked in the middle/upper-class dominated media. They should be fucking well helped instead.

The linked article is occasionally hyperbolic, but it makes a good point, especially when it comes to linking the whole phenomenon to the rise of 'New Labour' and political pandering to the middle class to the exclusion of anyone else.
posted by reklaw at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2006

I thought calling someone a chav was a another way of saying that person has aspirations to be tacky.

Good to see the Guardian has published even more shit about British Culture. It's like a Universal Constant.
posted by gsb at 7:04 AM on April 11, 2006

I hate it. People who do badly in school, get pregnant when they're teenagers or don't have jobs shouldn't be described as "scum" and mocked in the middle/upper-class dominated media. They should be fucking well helped instead.

The problem with this, at least as I see it, is that it is difficult to help people like this when they spit in your face when you try. It is not getting pregnant, or not having a job, it is the willfult rejection of help to get out of the gutter, and the reveling of one's ignorance and boorishness.
posted by zabuni at 7:10 AM on April 11, 2006

Last Friday, coming home from work at about 11pm there was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old who decided he would just stand on the tram tracks, preventing the tram from actually pulling up. After a three minute standoff he eventually got out of the way and then, once the tram pulled away lobbed a hefty stone through the window, showering the (packed like sardines) passengers with broken glass and hitting someone with the stone itself. That kid is the perfect example of a chav, clothes, attitude and behaviour. His knowledge that he is effectively beyond the law is the reason he did what he did and the little scrote was probably laughing his head off the next day.

I was awfully tempted to throw the fucker in a canal and test my theory as to whether the amount of gold jewellery would prevent him floating but unfortunately several witnesses prevented me from performing this scientific (and social) experiment. I am from a working class background (and so naturally hate all rich people) but I work full time for a piddly ass amount of money and struggle month-to-month to make ends meet. I could go on the dole and have my rent paid and then go out and work undeclared on the side, but somehow, my parents managed to instill some level of pride and social awareness in me.

In short; they are basically little bastards without any discipline. Bring back national service/the birch/stocks etc.

on preview reklaw - I don't care whether the kid was the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. He threw a fucking rock through the window of a crowded tram. I would happily teach him that his actions have consequences. Your comment re - young people having kids, poor grades etc. could apply to me as well as numerous others but the difference is that we try and have a positive effect on those around us, rather than deluding ourselves into thinking that we are a law unto ourselves.
posted by longbaugh at 7:12 AM on April 11, 2006

You know what I'd like to see? Some sort of gladitorial punch out between a ponce and a chav. That'd settle things pretty freakin' quicklike, mayte.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:16 AM on April 11, 2006

reklaw, I've worked in Social Services, and in my experience the people who need help and receive it are "disadvantaged". The people who are abusing their children and end up having them taken away, and the people who come right up to the social worker's face and scream abuse (and even death threats), and the people who've got the police round because they've just beaten up another family member or neighbour, are "chavs". They reject any kind of social assistance that involves any effort from them, even if said effort is merely to stop being a bastard for a while.

I know people who grew up in the sort of awful situation that The Salaryman described, and they're not violent, anti-social vandals. But they're stuck on the same streets as the violent, tribal ones, and they hate them, and they call them "chavs" along with the rest of us.

The Graun may mean "all poor people" when they say "chav", and so might the great generalised ghost of the middle class, but they're wrong. These people are a real problem who continually throw bricks at anyone who tries to present a solution.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:19 AM on April 11, 2006

Creeky nailed it.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:20 AM on April 11, 2006

You're absolutely right about helping innocent people in bad financial situations rather than ostracising and mocking them, reklaw, and I definitely agree that there's a distinct vicious streak in that direction within UK society (again, see Little Britain for an example). If we're going to separate it into classes I'd say it's the upper end of the working- and the whole of the middle class that tend to gang up on the poorer, council-housed, often benefits-claiming but non-violent end of the working class.

The decision to be a violent fuckhead lies with the individual in the end, though - yes, social factors contribute to how acceptable acting that way can appear within an individual's peer group, but unless you want to deny that people on council estates have free will, you sort of have to accept that violent, criminal behaviour is a conscious choice. By lumping the end of society that bears the brunt of all this class- and income-based mockery in with chavs, a group many people rightly associate with mindless violence and anti-social behaviour, all the Guardian is achieving is further weakening the distinction between the criminal, indefensible 'true' chav and the whole wide variety of low-income people, who may dress in a certain way or tend toward certain behaviours that bring them in for mockery from certain vicious sections of the better-off, but who don't do the violent things that define chavs and which exempt the poorer amongst them from deserving anything like the same level of sympathy or help for their financial situation.

Then again, if this was an article specifically criticising mockery of the poor, they wouldn't have been able to stick the attention-grabbing word 'chav' on there, and if there's one thing the Guardian knows it's how to drop their standards in pursuit of sensationalism.
posted by terpsichoria at 7:20 AM on April 11, 2006

Hear hear, longbaugh. reklaw I agree that everyone should have a chance but you seem to want to hand them a lifestyle on a plate without them putting anything back into society.

You seem to be missing the willfull aspect of their behaviour. Did you ever grow up on a council housing estate? I did and I was the only person in my street who stayed on at school past 16. My reward? Stones thrown at me, my family and our house; our car and garden vandalised. Repeatedly, almost daily.

So fuck neds. I've worked hard enough to deserve to look down on them and treat them like the shit they are.
posted by bouncebounce at 7:22 AM on April 11, 2006

People who do badly in school, get pregnant when they're teenagers or don't have jobs shouldn't be described as "scum"

ok, how about "spidey wee fuckers"

i don't call teenagers who don't have a job "scum", just those that don't want a job and hang around my street corners hassling every passer by.

Most of the problems these kids have is poor parenting. I've yet to find a spide who has decent parents.
posted by twistedonion at 7:25 AM on April 11, 2006

Funny, I never heard the word chav when I lived in the UK (2003-04). But I sure was aware of the anti-social behavior. Perhaps because I saw it as nothing new. Always some thugs proud to be thugs. Maybe just popularized more today.

Perhaps my view was sharper, living in Berkshire, where I saw the fallen children of middleclass families engaging in such loutish behavior. And worse, the things I didn't see but heard about. Kids robbing cellphones from other kids, kids doing the distract-and-rob on old folks in their homes, that kind of utter shit.

Class has nothing to do with these problems. That's an illusion. I met decent poor folks in the UK and loutish middle class folks. If anything, the only class issue that's real is folks dissing others for being 'posh'. The couple of real posh folks I encountered would duck their heads or avert their eyes when admitting to their pedigree.
posted by Goofyy at 7:29 AM on April 11, 2006

From derbs's link:
On October 4, 2005 Goody was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting a £16 denim jacket from an Asda supermarket in Essex.

A rundown of the things that fit the chav M.O. in the previous sentence:

16 pounds
Denim jacket

With apologies to the people of Essex.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2006

Goofyy: the term probably went national around that time, regional alternatives include townie and scally .
posted by biffa at 7:42 AM on April 11, 2006

The British slang in this thread is making it a whole new experience in reading comprehension for me.
posted by orange swan at 7:56 AM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

There are a few people letting off steam in here, which is fair enough. I have to say one thing though, which is that hate is a waste of energy. Nobody is "shit" or "scum", all you have is people trying to live their lives the best way they know how. If we want to fix the problem of anti-social behavior we'll need to look at it objectively.

Regarding the article, I'm willing to bet that Matt Lucas has a least a little bit of affection for Vicky Pollard. In general, I think the argument that there's been any recent increase in snobbery is quite weak.
posted by teleskiving at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2006

It's absolutely ridiculous to equate "chav" with working class. The complete disregard for society, other people's well-being etc is the problem (see "happy-slapping" for a key illustration of this).

Some of the biggest chavs I've ever met came from middle class households, that didn't stop them being complete arseholes!

and don't get me started on Julie Burchill. ARGH!!

twistedonion: well done for using spide, the correct terminology!
posted by knapah at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2006

I'm not British, but for the past 15 months I've been living in Nottingham, a city that seems to have acquired a national reputation for violence. I get the sense that Nottingham is actually just as safe/dangerous as any other medium-sized British city, but that's not to say that the news isn't full of incidents of drunken louts pounding someone into the pavement.

More personally, I also have acquaintances who have been dangerously harassed or even beaten up by roving packs of youths. The motives have been either racial (against non-white minorities) or else seemingly non-existent -- just to stir up trouble.

My own observation is that there are a lot of people walking around that I think would fit the "chav" profile in appearance in Nottingham, and they look absolutely miserable. They usually have screaming children in tow, and their faces look hardened -- literally -- by whatever years of hardship they've faced.

Around them I see a lot of non-chavs who don't look miserable per se, but look instead like they're soaking their miseries in cheap pints and shooters. Honestly I've never had to dodge so much puke in all my life.

So the way I see it there are a lot of people here who are miserable. Some of them are poorer and express their frustrations and anger in violence and disorder. Some of them are a bit richer and more comfortable and they wear trashy clothing and drink until they fall over. Some of them do a winning combination of both.

Either way, I really feel like there's something rotten in the state of Britain. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot I like about Britain and British folk, but ultimately Nottingham is a depressing place from the constant hum of misery and anger that pervades it.

I also think London is isolated from it in a lot of ways through being basically a separate country altogether in the political, economic and cultural sense. Hence you can't really expect the Guardian to "get it", at least not without doing some serious field research.
posted by attaboy at 8:22 AM on April 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

Nobody is "shit" or "scum", all you have is people trying to live their lives the best way they know how. If we want to fix the problem of anti-social behavior we'll need to look at it objectively.

Yeah, be sure and mail this nugget of wisdom to the firemen, paramedics and ambulance drivers who get attacked responding to fake 999 calls made by these scum. What bollocks.
posted by bouncebounce at 8:27 AM on April 11, 2006

...which is not to say there aren't chavs in London, but that I think there is something more afoot than just bad haircuts and track suits.

BTW, I picked up this book in Waterstone's recently and started leafing through it... didn't feel like getting depressed so I haven't read the whole thing but it certainly seemed like an eye-opener. And hey, it's written by a Guardian writer!
posted by attaboy at 8:40 AM on April 11, 2006

I read this entire discussion in my head with a "mockney" accent. It was hilarious. Keep up the good work you silly Brits.
posted by nightchrome at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2006

there is definately something more afoot attaboy.

To me there is a correlation in the shift in our society (for me that's Northern Ireland) from Industrial/agricultural to a service and knowledge based industry.

The working class would get jobs in the factories and in the fields. In Belfast you were either working in The Shipyard or you were out picking spuds.

These jobs are largely gone and now to get a job you need to be sociable (to work in a shop) or you need a trade.

Spides in the past would have been sent out to work from an early age (social security net to help them out and pay for sky tv) and they would be too knackered to cause any shit when they get home.
posted by twistedonion at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2006

that should be no social security net
posted by twistedonion at 8:52 AM on April 11, 2006

chav - council house and violent. Can't say that I blame council house kids for being jerks.
posted by zarah at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2006

all you have is people trying to live their lives the best way they know how

As buddhism teaches: 'Traveller on the road to peace, you're going to get your fucking head kicked in.'
posted by biffa at 10:16 AM on April 11, 2006

I've often come across North Americans who comment on our class system, yet I see just as much a segregation of people in America and Canada as I do back here in the UK.

Yeah, that really pisses me off. It's some kind of recieved wisdom that yanks feel compeled to pass on to you, like the notion that there isn't any good food in the UK (this from the country of hot pockets!). I'm wondering if this stuff is from GIs who went over to the UK during WWII and didn't liek it very much or something
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on April 11, 2006

I agree with the vast majority of the comments on here. The Guardian makes sweeping generalisations for the purposes of crowbarring some half-baked thesis into a rushed, half-arsed article to fit in with a news story.

I remember there was an article entitled "Is this the future of work?" a few years ago featuring a photograph of a bunch of wankers sitting on the beach with laptops. It was all about WiFi and how all people would soon be able to work anywhere (lets not get into the sheer fucking stupidity of laptops near sand in the first place). All those factories that could set up on the beach... Just a bunch of Nathan Barleys. Nathan Barley is written by a Guardian writer coincidentally (I wonder where he got his inspiration?).

One other thing, neds are misery-making fuckers. Anyone who has ever stood at a bus-stop while these guys arse about would quite rightly like to see them huckled by a passing copper.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2006

Nobody is "shit" or "scum", all you have is people trying to live their lives the best way they know how. If we want to fix the problem of anti-social behavior we'll need to look at it objectively.

No, sorry, there are hardcore scum who have no intention of living the best way they know how, you seem to be talking about salt-of-the-earth blue collars struggling against an unfair system. We're talking about:
- kids who dial 999 and throw breeze blocks at the answering fire service
- parents who teach their kids to call coppers "filth" and to go robbing for a living
- kids who routinely carry knives and have words like "jucking" for a punishment stabbing causing a potentially fatal bleed
- parents who have no idea where their kids are at any given moment (including during school hours) and don't care either.
- People who slash your car tyres or put dog shit through your letterbox or worse if they think you've shopped them for perpetrating welfare fraud.

They are scum. Objectively.
posted by magpie68 at 12:02 PM on April 11, 2006

'least they aren't gyppos.

/stirring the pot UKIP stylee
posted by longbaugh at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2006

Saw them gyppos on the telly. Gyppo alpha spent his days like this: Arrive site, find local benefit office and sign on, check out local gyppo friendly pubs, spend week drinking giro, spend second week tarmacing drives, get moved on, promise children some schooling in the next town, moan to camera that nobody understands travellers.... repeat.....
posted by magpie68 at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2006

"Close-set eyes he had. Big hands too. Big dirty brown shovels they were. Dirt under his nails like he didn't know what toilet paper was. Always looked at me funny he did. Never liked his sorts, been coming into the country and taking all our jobs. Don't trust 'em, always like to keep me purse next to me when one of those shady types with a big nose is about. Reminds me of the jews, oooh I didn't mind them though. My old Sidney would never have let him look at me like that. And don't get me started on them kids. Why, they'd rob you without so much as a by or leave, not like criminals in the old days. Why, when my Arthur used to cut up those prostitutes he was also wearing his cap at a jaunty angle. Ooooh, a dapper gent he was but he'd never hurt his mum or anything like that. Well, not unless she tried to short him for her tricks that week. Kids of today have got no respect with their Nintendo and portable radio-telephony device and your wireless this and your Sunny D that. Why it's a wonder I've lived as long as I have without being stolen or being happy slapped etc. etc."

- Ada Fishmonger, 98, Worthing.
posted by longbaugh at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2006

Jesus Chavving Christ, when did MetaFilter turn into a haven for Daily Mail reading cunts?

Nobody is "shit" or "scum", all you have is people trying to live their lives the best way they know how. If we want to fix the problem of anti-social behavior we'll need to look at it objectively.

Quite so.

there are the products of binge-drinking, co-opted American rap culture, Essex wideboyism, anti-intellectualism, misogyny and homophobia in there, in a mixture that I can't really accurately compare to anything I've seen in the last twenty years or read about in the last fifty.

Replace rap with rock 'n' roll, and you've got Teddy Boys and Rockers, replace rap with jazz/soul and you've got Mods, replace rap with reggae and you've got Skins, replace rap with, er, football and you've got casuals. Maybe in terms of numbers the chavs are different, but groupings of young working class people with distinctive modes of dress and a prediliction for unacceptable attitudes and behaviour really don't seem to be a new thing. (Though maybe there is a difference in scale - I'd guess that chavs are more common - no pun intended! - than the groups I mention were?)
posted by jack_mo at 1:41 PM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

However much you might protest that what you're talking about is "oh the terrible chavs who kill pigeons with spikey objects" or whatever the hell, that's not what the article or the word "chav" is about. People don't get called chavs because they're violent. They get called chavs because of the way they look and sound.

Look at these things like Little Britain's Vicky Pollard and that Catherine Tate "am I bovvered" crap. That's not mockery of the violent anti-social-behaving types -- that's mockery of poor people who dress badly and talk funny, plain and simple.

I think this kind of mockery has got a lot more prevalent recently -- you can hear it both in the media and in any group of middle/upper-class people you might care to hang out with. It's not just restricted to them, either -- if anything the scorn is even harsher from the 'upper' or skilled working class, who read the Sun or the Daily Mail and hate those "benefit-scrounging chavs". As if it's such a god-damned party to be on benefits, and the only thing that keeps us all off the dole is our superior work-ethic, cycles of deprivation be damned. What a fucking joke.

The amount of shit these people get heaped on them for taking state hand-outs, having bad grammar and wearing silly clothes is completely unjustifiable.
posted by reklaw at 1:41 PM on April 11, 2006

Look at these things like Little Britain's Vicky Pollard and that Catherine Tate "am I bovvered" crap. That's not mockery of the violent anti-social-behaving types -- that's mockery of poor people who dress badly and talk funny, plain and simple.

Hmm. The article mentions the authors come from posh backgrounds, I'd like to know how much of their audience does.
posted by funambulist at 2:27 PM on April 11, 2006

reklaw, everything you've said there has already been addressed upthread.
posted by terpsichoria at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2006

No it hasn't. The only thing I see is a load of people justifying their hate by saying that all chavs are violent.

You say that the word chav means violent. While you might think that's what it means (and all power to you if that's how you use it), the mockery of "chavs" in the mainstream is essentially mocking the behaviour of a certain set of non-violent poor people. I think that's wrong.
posted by reklaw at 2:55 PM on April 11, 2006

Okay, but that's exactly what I've been saying for the whole thread - that a major part of the definition of 'chav' when the word came into usage was 'violent', but that it's been corrupted to the extent that most uses of it today are as a synonym for 'poor'. Look at the words it evolved from - 'scally', 'pikey', 'spide', 'ned' etc - they're all used to describe antisocial, violent louts who may or may not be predominantly poor, but where the behaviour is the defining characteristic and the visible elements - the Burberry clothing etc - are secondary. As you say, it's completely unfair and unreasonable that the mainstream media and a fair section of the population tends to lump all working-class people in as chavs because some of them share the same clothing and speech, and use the negative traits originally associated with chavs to justify all sorts of hatemongering and condescension through the assumption that everyone who shares the secondary, Burberry-and-bling traits is also a violent criminal.

What I'm adding is that by bringing itself down to the same level, in failing to differentiate between the non-criminal-but-dressed-in-Burberry urban poor and the people who fit the original definition of chav, spide, ned or whatever, the Guardian is strengthening the association between 'chav' and 'poor' when it had a perfect chance to separate the cultural/behavioural term from the economic one, and therefore actively encouraging mockery and hate directed at these 'chavs'.

Looking up the thread, I really don't see much mockery or hate aimed at 'chavs' just for their style of dress, speech or whatever. There's a fair amount of justified hate for people who, regardless of their economic state or dress sense, actively choose to beat, rob and harass the rest of society, which I consider perfectly reasonable. The fact is, a great number of the petty thieves and perpetrators of senseless violence in the UK right now fit into the strict definition of 'chav', and however the term has been redefined recently, an awful lot of people use it as it was originally coined, which leads to people like yourself seeing the bile they direct at chavs as unwarranted attacks on the poor.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:36 PM on April 11, 2006

the assumption that everyone who shares the secondary, Burberry-and-bling traits is also a violent criminal.

To clarify that a bit, what I mean is that the mainstream media are - consciously or subconsciously, I don't know which - exploiting the fact that it's perceived as acceptable to deride and pour vitriol upon people who really are violent criminals to make it acceptable to deride all of the very poor and everyone on benefits because they may largely share the same styles of speech and dress.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:42 PM on April 11, 2006

Shorter rekaw: "I'm outraged at what I want to think you're saying, and no amount of pointing out that you're not saying it is acceptable to me! You are a hater because I want you to be!"
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:54 PM on April 11, 2006

Sorry to add a third comment in a row, but it's late at night and the thoughts aren't exactly lining themselves up:

I'd just add that there's a major element in the vilification of the very poor/people on benefits through their surface association with violent criminals of letting certain people justify their hatreds. I think there are a good number of folks out there who pay their taxes and would secretly love to be able to really loathe long-term benefits claimants for 'leeching their money', but are intelligent and overtly socially liberal enough to realise there could be a thousand circumstances - cycles of poverty, neglect in childhood, sheer bad luck - that would mean someone on benefits was there through no fault of their own. By making it okay to hate and mock the very poor because they're all 'chavs', the newly-redefined primary trait of whom is the clothing but under a name with which violence and antisocial behaviour are inextricably linked, the mainstream media is making it socially acceptable in relatively liberal circles to hate a whole group a lot of people really want to be allowed to hate. Hence the term's wild popularity and quick uptake, possibly.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:56 PM on April 11, 2006

Well, I agree more or less with your assessment of what the mainstream media is doing. Sorry if I've been letting what you've been saying go over my head a bit.

However, I don't think the Guardian article contributes to it. It's directly calling out people who mock "chavs" (in the more recent/broader sense) as snobs. It's not at all getting at people who speak out against anti-social violence -- it's criticising Little Britain and "chav parties", which seem to me to be valid targets.
posted by reklaw at 4:54 PM on April 11, 2006

You know, some people are just worth less than others.

I encourage you to pursue this line of thought to its logical conclusion and see where it takes you.

Not to say that I disagree entirely, of course, but because I find the output of such a line of thinking unsustainable, I find myself forced to choose between 'everyone is a unique butterfly' and 'everyone is equally worthless', neither of which seems satisfying either.

In the end, laziness inclines me towards a generalized misanthropy, with exceptions for at least some of the people I've actually met.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on April 11, 2006

stav did you just Godwin me?

I don't think that giving endless handouts to neds is sustainable either. If they won't help themselves then they aren't worth helping.
posted by bouncebounce at 9:51 PM on April 11, 2006

Either way, I really feel like there's something rotten in the state of Britain. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot I like about Britain and British folk, but ultimately Nottingham is a depressing place from the constant hum of misery and anger that pervades it.

I lived in the northern UK for two years and felt the same way. I was perceived as "posh" by most people and resented and snidely or openly attacked. It was quite bizarre as I don't come from a wealthy or privileged background at all and I come from a completely different culture so who knows what is posh there! My accent and clothing were deemed "upper crust" just because they were was different as far as I could tell, my ability to drive a car was proof I was rich etc. etc. I felt I was being asked to apologise for who I was perceived to be all the time, something I have no interest in doing. My foreign roomates encountered the same thing, one guy who grew up on a Canadian homestead without running water or power was told he was a stuck up toff by a coworker. It's like calling someone a racist, they can deny it all they want but the accusation is enough.

I found the pressure to pick the right tribe and conform to it extremely oppressive and although I had great times there and met wonderful people (and I love London) I was relieved and happy to leave in the end.
posted by fshgrl at 10:25 PM on April 11, 2006

stav did you just Godwin me?

Heh. I guess I did.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:30 PM on April 11, 2006

Rounds pegs, square holes. Square pegs, round holes. And then there are those other pegs that are neither round nor square. And no where near enough holes to go around of any shape.

Of course, if you're from a lot of square pegs, but you're getting rather roundish, you're not appreciated. And vice versa. So you join a pack of misfits and raise hell. There isn't anything else to do, is there?

What happens to the kid in council housing, who's always bringing home books! If you make it home safely, there may still be some hell to pay at home.

What happens to the kids from the good side of town that can't handle the education thing, and don't like it anyway? Be sure you're likely to be told, at home and school, what a worthless piece of crap you are.

There's only so many holes of whatever shape. Fit the damn shape for the hole that awaits you, or else.

If you're clever, you may manage some control over the 'else'. If not, you may find your only recourse is no recourse at all, just a bunch of kicking and screaming (anti-social behavior). Given enough misfits, it becomes its own fit, its own tribe.

I can't seem to put my words together very well today. Too many distractions.

posted by Goofyy at 1:48 AM on April 12, 2006

I used to live in Dagenham and worked in Barking, both areas with a high density of chavs (my definition: ignorant, aggressive spongers, fully aware of their 'rights' and entitlements but with no idea that those rights come with responsibilities and with absolutely no respect for anyone else's person or property).

All the jewellery shops in Barking have sections displaying 'baby jewellery' (i.e. jewellery for babies) and it was more important to get the baby's ears pierced for the third time than it was to spend the money on paying bills.

In the street in Dagenham where I used to live, out of approximately 15 children living there, only one stayed on at school. He became a trainee accountant and, as bouncebounce said, he was regularly beaten up, had stones thrown at him, etc.

Without exception, all the other kids either got pregnant, got their girlfriends pregnant, got in trouble with the police, took drugs, got drunk, 'earned' money by making fake accident claims against the council, milked the benefits system and had absolutely no interest whatsoever in becoming useful or responsible members of even their own small community, let alone society in general.

All their homes had Sky and widescreen TVs, they all smoked, they all wore 'designer' (probably fake) gear and tons of jewellery, they had money for drink, bingo, fags and to run their Y-Reg Ford Fiestas. None of them had any visible means of support, apart from the taxpayer.

When I lived there the local council spent a lot of money on a play park for kids - swings, etc. for little kids, an 'assault course' type of thing for older kids. It was smashed to pieces within a week. Then, when the 12-year-olds are hanging round on street corners drinking and intimidating law-abiding people, they complain there's nothing for them to do. Well there was, but you destroyed it, you morons!!

I was a family lawyer, and in the end dealing with these people wore me down. Everything was somebody else's fault, the solution to a problem was violence and vandalism, there was widespread resentment and anger towards anyone in authority. I had to have a panic button installed in my office because I was frightened of the clients.

The chav clients were totally unable to accept responsibility for their own actions and if I did my job properly and told them what they needed to do to stay out of prison (such as 'don't throw stones through your ex-girlfriend's windows' or 'don't go out drinking and leave the 9-year-old babysitting the three younger children') I was (at best) verbally abused and (at worst) assaulted.

This was not a tiny percentage of the clients, by the way, it was around 75% of them. It was the same for all the lawyers in that area.

I gave it up in the end, found another job, and moved house too. I'm lucky I was able to do that, there are lots of good people living in these areas whose lives are made a misery by this underclass of societal scum.
posted by essexjan at 2:37 AM on April 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Spides in the past would have been sent out to work from an early age (social security net to help them out and pay for sky tv) and they would be too knackered to cause any shit when they get home.

Great post, twistedonion. And the term "spide" made me laff.

And top work up there too, terpsichoria.

West Oz is starting to get chav behaviour, but I'm not sure if they've been identified as a separate group as such. Probably still lumped in with the bogans, but definitely speciating, and a worrying development for this once "large country town".
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:55 AM on April 12, 2006

12 year olds in a children's playpark? Surely you realize just how stupid that is? We're you being ironic?

Does it take some special powers to understand the difference between children and teenagers? Gee, I didn't think I was that special.

I hated seeing the teens just hanging out any place that seemed suited, to them. But it was clear there wasn't anything else for them. It's a problem, long since identified. Ignoring it, and pretending that teens are "children" doesn't make the problem go away.

I didn't make the mistake of assuming those folks were a bunch of violent little shits. They didn't look like it, nor act like it. They were just hanging where they could engage in being social, according to their group (bored suburban teens!). I think the chavs were elsewhere, probably on the high street making a nuisance (which would undoubtedly be more exciting than standing around the local conveninece-store/Ladbrokes center).

I suppose some of them were at home, happily engaged in geeky pursuits.
posted by Goofyy at 3:01 AM on April 12, 2006

Without getting into the minefield of class relations, I'd just like to add the so-called 'chav phenomenon' in all its complicated intersecting layers - the loutish antisocial/criminal behaviour kind, the gentler harmless kind (who according to purists should never be called/confused with chavs?), the defined by dress code kind, the proud to be chav, the wannabe chav, the comedy target chav, the 'derided by snobs only as a shortcut for deriding the entire working class' (as a corollary, the Julie Burchill 'mythologised only as a shortcut for mythologising the entire working class') etc. - is not limited to Britain. Infinite local variations occur but there's a growing 'eurochav' trend in particular so brace yourselves for future Guardian investigations on the matter when they discover this little- well-known fact.
posted by funambulist at 4:55 AM on April 12, 2006

John Harris also has a post linking to his article up on Comment is Free. He begins:

A question, to start with. At what point was it fashionable for Oxford undergraduates to dress up as working class people, pose for photographs and then mass together for drunken fancy dress parties?

The fact that it never even occurred to him that Oxford undergraduates might also be working class people gives a good insight into roughly how thoughtful his musings on class in modern Britain are. No stereotypes here, oh no no no.

(A friend of mine points out something similar, in a bit more detail and with far better argument, here.)

posted by flashboy at 10:07 AM on April 12, 2006

This is an amusing thread. I'm always delighted by how unapologetic Englishmen are about expounding at length on the details of their class system; it's almost as equally delightful watching Americans boggle in response.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:13 PM on April 12, 2006

I'm always delighted by how unapologetic Englishmen are about expounding at length on the details of their class system.

We've spent centuries tending the thing, like a great and tangled garden. Of course we're going to talk about it.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:26 PM on April 12, 2006

...And we're not all English.
posted by bouncebounce at 9:42 PM on April 12, 2006

ikkyu2 - the chav phenomenon is not a class thing - it's rooted in the Conservative parties actions in the early 1980's and the changes wrought on society and attitudes as a result. There is also delight (at least in my mind) when denizens of a country which positively exudes smugness in it's abuse of "white trash", "hillbillies", "hicks" and 3rd class citizens such as underpaid illegal immigrants uses it's alleged lack of class barriers to wax hypocritical on the subject of said class system.

No nation is perfect but we are at least trying to identify and address the reasons behind this surge in antisocial behaviour rather than sweep it beneath the carpet and pretend it doesn't exist unlike previous times in our past. This article and those like it form two distinct sides - those who feel "chav = poor" and therefore it's a form of class hatred and those who understand that "chav = doesn't care about the social contract". I, rather obviously, come down on the latter side of the argument whereas the Guardian writer would like to try and reframe the argument and act as a "protector" of the underdog. I personally don't think that they need protecting from the general public, quite the opposite in fact. I suppose that's just an example of me becoming more conservative as I grow older.
posted by longbaugh at 5:01 AM on April 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

longbaugh: a) I'm aware of the class system in America, which I happened not to mention. I don't see the hypocrisy in commenting on the British class system.

b) those who feel "chav = poor" and therefore it's a form of class hatred

You're confused about the construction of social class. It has almost nothing to do with money.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:36 AM on April 14, 2006

a) I know you didn't. I never actually said that you did and was referring to others earlier in the thread. I perhaps should have had the second part of that paragraph separate to really make that clear. The accusation of hypocrisy should be simple to understand. If you choose not to recognise that that's fair enough, I am sure that others would.

b) I was simply paraphrasing the argument used in the Grauniad. The confusion lies with the author of the piece and the undefined use of the word "chav". He states it means poor and therefore it represents the lower classes, whilst I say it means "irresponsible ass" and represents a fundamental change in the way people view their responsibilities within society. I don't believe that being a chav is related to being a member of a particular class or to having money/being on the dole and I would hope that was obvious from my statement. If it was not then I apologise for not making that clear initially.
posted by longbaugh at 10:14 AM on April 14, 2006

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