Sunday, 8 March 2009

Yes, but no, but YES : A display of class contempt

There is at least one English word you cannot translate in another language. It is "Chav".

A German friend recently asked me about it and I felt a bit depressed. For whatever you say to explain, at the end, "Chav" is simply how the nice and neat middle-class nicely and neatly despise the working-class. By laughing, of course. Indeed, it is only humor!
Poor, tasteless, uneducated and ridiculous - that's how the average bourgeois perceives the "Chav". Middle-class people actually distinguish themselves from the others by sharing a common intelligence of the social spectrum - which implies a common object of mockery and rejection.

But the irony of this class contempt is that what they mock is actually not so far from what they are.

Read this article in the Guardian entitled "Balm for the soul" (27/02/09). The writer Linda Grant is explaining in a truly touching - but disturbing - way how her very old mother used to enjoy shopping when she was too old and too sick to appreciate any other pleasure. At that point, you have to admit - as apparently "Chavs" and some Guardian writers do - that shopping is all about pleasure.

The Guardian's writer shopping references are Macy's and Selfridges. Those of "Chavs", Adidas and Burberry. Different attributes but same substance!

What is actually criticized as being the "Chav style" is simply a caricature of the middle-class, that reveals the true face of the latter: greed, ostentation and bad taste. All wrapped in a fake moderation. But the middle-class apparently does not like to be caricatured: its sense of humor is not unlimited. You are allowed to laugh at Vicky Pollard only - and, by extension, at any working-class offspring who is not hugging the walls, consumed by the shame of being poor.

Even if I have no special interest in the economy of big brands counterfeiting, can't help delighting of Burberry's embarrassment. "Burberry admits chav effect checked sales over Christmas": that was what you could read in the Telegraph in 2005, apparently very preoccupied by l'image de marque de la marque. Hopefully, as the Daily Mail put it, everything is now back to normal and "Burberry's shaken off its chav image to become the fashionistas' favourite once more". That was a close shave!

Even though, it sounds really stupid to be proud of being a Chav. But Julie Burchill is, according to what she wrote in the Times.
She simply neglected one detail: that she is actually NOT a Chav... Hello girl, your articles are published in the Times! That's why she could afford the luxury of being proud, no one would actually discriminate her as a Chav.

This notion of "Chav pride" is particularly pernicious because it keeps the real so-called "Chavs" away from political emancipation and consciousness. A minimum of dignity is required at that point - especially if you truly feel a part of the working-class because of your family background, personal history, political choices, etc.

And that sense of dignity first implies to deconstruct and undermine the "Chav" category which is nothing more than a display of class contempt disguised in harmless jokes.