Chavs and a Booker winner

>> Friday, July 13, 2012

TITLE: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
AUTHOR: Owen Jones

It took me a while to read this, as it enraged me so much I kept having to put it down. It wasn't anger at the author, but sharing his own anger at the situations he was describing. Many people reading even the title of this will say (as some of my friends have) "But a chav the way I use it isn't about being working class, there are plenty of middle class chavs!". To that, all I can say is: read this book. You'll never use the word again.

I can't say it better than Jones himself:

'It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society. What if you have wealth and success because it has been handed to you on a plate? What if people are poorer than you because the odds are stacked against them? To accept this would trigger a crisis of self-confidence amongst the well-off few. And if you were to accept it, then surely you would have to accept that the government's duty is do something about it - namely, by curtailing your own privilages. But, if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom. Chav-hate justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it is actually a fair reflection of peoples worth.'

TITLE: The Sense of an Ending
AUTHOR: Julian Barnes

Tony Webster is in his 60s and contented in his life. But a letter from a lawyer opens a can of worms, as it sparks a reexamination of an incident from his youth, and makes Tony discover that memory might be more treacherous than he once thought.

I hate reviewing books like this one, because since I grade books here purely for my enjoyment of them, it's going to make me look like an illiterate idiot. Eh, well, here goes. Yes, it's technically a brilliant book, and it explores some really fascinating ideas and themes. Unfortunately, however, it does all that in a way that left me cold and didn't excite me. And I'm not talking just about emotional excitement; it didn't excite me intellectually, either. If the book had been any longer than the 150 pages it was, I might have struggled to pick it up every time I put it down.



Anonymous,  13 July 2012 at 13:12  

test test test I'm giving this one :D more try. test test test

Anonymous,  13 July 2012 at 13:35  

Oh, it works now! Yay.

This book earns a C from me, primarily because Owens has failed to recognise, let alone acknowledge, social politics *within* the working class and the underclass. Where does he think 'chav' originated? The working class towards the underclass, many of them were their own relatives and neighbours. It was tightly bound to their idea of ethics and principles.

Owens has, for some reason, failed to realise that. No idea why. Probably because he might feel it's better to look at a bigger picture, e.g. how the elite had hijacked it to use as a tool of oppression, but that's still too simplistic. And unfair to the working class because by ignoring that, he's minimising their role in shaping England's social class.

(Also, too many times, he seems pretty patronising and condescending towards and about the very people he's supposed to champion.)

He's also failed to take a look at the Victorian era of the working class, the underclass, the rise of the middle class, Victorian literature (e.g. portrayals of all classes in fiction through magazine serials and penny dreadfuls), and the rise and establishment of the yellow journalism. He doesn't look at how these came to influence this country's future decades.

And I really disliked what he has to say about British racism including the birth of BNP and such. If I remember rightly, he implies it's not their fault that they became members of the BNP, e.g. they felt powerless over the Empire's decision, which they felt was made without their say-so, to ferry foreigners into this country, so they became BNP members as a fuck-you to the government. While it does make sense on paper, it doesn't reflect the reality nor history. And to be honest, he really doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about where British racism is concerned. So much that at times he seems to be an apologist for working-class racists, and I felt he really was.

Ah, I'd better shut up. All that's pretty much the tip of my iceberg of an opinion about that book. :D I do feel that this book is a significant contribution to the social class field, but I feel it shouldn't be seen more than a middle-class young political activist's opinion, which it is. To be honest, it'd be far better off if it was just an analysis of the British media and entertainment. He's made many good and definitely valid points in that area. But everything else, especially social history? I felt it's rather under-researched and simplistic.


Rosario 14 July 2012 at 08:01  

Maili: Thanks for this, I don't know much about the areas you thought weren't good enough (except for the sections on racism, which I, too, thought were unsatisfactory), so I take your points. To me, though, his analysis of how the current use of the term is a symptom of the way policies that hurt the working class are being sold to them was insightful enough that it compensated for that. I was also struck by his sections on social mobility, and the emphasis on success meaning moving out of the working class and into a middle class job, rather than lower-skilled jobs actually paying enough for people to live.

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