Thursday 22 October 2015

Class is Dead, Long Live Class II

Intellectual, suburban, blue-collar

The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them great and lowly
And ordered their estate

This verse has been “quietly dropped” over the past few decades, an Anglican attests.

If class has disappeared, why is the “Overheard in Waitrose” Facebook page so popular? Why did people buy The Middle-Class Handbook?

Perhaps it means: people who think they are top drawer no longer talk down to those they think are their inferiors. No more “my man” and “sir” and “madam”. No more routine rudeness, or routine kowtowing. The middle classes have to be much more polite. Elders used to be routinely rude, sarcastic and abusive to very young people – perhaps they fawned on those they felt were “above” them, or might spend lots of money in their shop, whereas teenagers would just cause trouble.

But although 50 years ago society was more class-ridden, nobody talked about people being “middle class” or “lower middle-class”. It was all expressed in code: suburban, local, little man round the corner, is he quite a gent?

Middle-middle-class Weybridges say they like to say they have lost many freedoms since the 50s. But surely what they've really lost is power and influence. There weren't all these Ofsteds back then. They no longer have the unchallenged power to reorganise people’s lives, like the postwar town planners. Fifty years ago it was just assumed that “we” had to dispose of “them” in a neat and orderly fashion. But this attitude co-existed with the mantra that you “don’t interfere, you’ll only make things worse”. You don’t challenge anyone about their drinking, report child abuse or domestic abuse, interfere with local customs, intervene in bullying, bickering or children’s quarrels. It still lingers.

Tourists are supposed to visit for our history, art and culture but actually come for the shopping. See the Lonely Hearts who claim to like theatre, concerts, fine dining and walks in the country. It's all code for "not a chav".

Here's a popular middle-class trope: you lose your cat and put posters up around your home. You then post on Facebook that you’ve been overwhelmed by your neighbours’ response and “there IS still kindness in the world!”. Sometimes you say the experience has “restored your faith in human nature”. Had you really lost it – not your cat, your faith?

In the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards is the upper middle class intellectual, Sue and Johnny Storm are ordinary suburban Americans, and Ben Grimm (the Thing) is blue-collar – gruff, aggressive and crude. And by far the most likeable.

Somebody called Sam and Dave Cameron “chinless wonders”, meaning “vapid posh people”. Aristocrats were supposed to be inbred, so that features like a receding chin and an overbite became common. “Chinless wonder” was coined on the pattern of fairground attractions like the “armless wonder”. The Camerons may have aristocratic connections (to royalty, in his case), but choose your epithet carefully. They both have quite determined chins.

An odd characteristic of the upper classes is lack of interest in things they don’t know about. I once worked with two rather posh women. Another colleague said to them one day: “When X was talking about that film, you didn’t know what he was talking about, did you?” They admitted it. She went on: “So why didn’t you ask?”

A friend noted that as people get older they go out less, so when they do they are surprised and rather upset to see so many “other people” milling about. But where would they be without them? My parents avoided other humans on holiday because they’d be the wrong kind (“We can’t go to Sennen Cove because there’ll be people with transistor radios”). They mellowed.

There was an outbreak of bitching after it was revealed that the Milibands had two kitchens (a kitchenette upstairs that they used, and one in the basement that they hardly ever visited). Times journalist Sarah Vine (Mrs Michael Gove) wrote that the Milibands’ kitchen looked like a housing estate in Minsk. He’s a SOCIALIST, you see. There must be something Stalinist about his kitchen.

Someone on Twitter even made a quip about “as long as one of their two toilets has a bidet”. Bidets, a class marker? Hey, guys, it’s 2015! Bidets were a brief fad of the 70s. It’s like using “OK, yah” to denigrate posh people. (A fad of the 80s, though nobody ever really said it. In the 60s posh people used to say “yah” for “yes”, but if you’ve said “OK” there’s no need to say “yah” as well.) And if you want to look like a man of the people, just accuse people of going to “dinner parties”. Especially “champagne socialist” Owen Jones.

More here.

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