Sunday, July 23, 2006

Middle Class Snobbery

(Press Association)
Okay, this is going to be something of a wee rant, because it's an issue that has been playing in the back of my mind for a while now.
Put basically, has the UK, as a cultural nation, changed with regards to social classes and some of the accompanying snobbery!
I used to think we have changed, that we were more of a meritocracy, and in many cases that is true. Two of our postwar Prime Ministers' did not go to University, let alone Oxford, and came from lower middle class backgrounds and worked to get to where they ended up. (Some would point out that Churchill also failed to go to University, but he was the grandson of a Duke and went to Sandhurst and, as admiring of him as I am, he got to where he was on social background as well as ability).
But recently I have been wondering about how we perceive our social enviroment.
It all started for me when I had a chat about a potential job at the House of Lords some five years ago. It was before I joined the Labour Party and it would have meant working for a crossbench peer. The chap was so plummy voiced I felt like doffing an imaginary cap, even though he was friendly and considerate. And there was me thinking I could deal with anyone and everyone!
A very recent personal experience was when someone came to the newspaper kiosk where I work and asked for a Daily Telegraph. I explained we had sold out, to which her opening response was "I would not dream of coming here...", something I found slightly offensive and I hope I misunderstood.
But it was the TV Series Little Britain that really did make me wonder about social snobbery. The character Vicky Pollard was one we all laughed at (well some of us anyway), but I remember my Mum taking a dislike to the Pollard sketches, saying that she was being made fun of because she was from a council estate and inarticulate, and therefore thick and irresponsible. On the national media scale, Johann Hari made similar comments. Now admittedly Hari can be emotive in presenting his arguments, but both he and my Mum did make me think! For example there are the criticisms of chav clothing, which is unfair when some cannot afford anything else, and indeed criticism of the lack of social awareness, such as smoking when pregnant or not eating proper food, when many are simply not aware, or indeed in the case of junk food, were not taught to cook properly, or indeed are able to afford anything healthy to eat. This is not to exonerate all aspects of chav culture, nor the fact that chav culture transcends class, but it is simply trying to weed out the unfair from the fair in attacks on chav culture.
Then there are the attacks on people who are self made, who go on holiday to the Costa Del Sol in Spain, instead of the more sophisticated parts of the World. Who are loud, lacking in subtlety, and are emotive in their arguments. Well I come across many across the social divide who are like that!
Well I leave it to you what to make of this, these are just some thoughts and I hope I am wrong. I am not being completely critical of the middle classes (I come from that background myself, although my grandparents came from working class backgrounds and proud of it), but I simply wonder whether the goalposts have simply changed as opposed to a real meritocracy taking place!

4 comments:

Louise said...

There is middle class snobbery and some middle class people do patronise people of a lower class. I remember a nice Tory Lady saying "well done you" to all my achievements. I'm sure she didn't mean to patronise...

There is also working class reverse snobbery against middle class people - the chinless wonders, the image of the gay public school boy etc.

I think its just an aspect of British life - class war is alive and well and flourishing as bitchy comments rather than the people's revolution.

Paul Burgin said...

I wish I could disagree, but the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction

Skuds said...

Back in the 80s the right-on left-wing used to argue that Irish jokes, which at the time were almost as popular as anti-Irish discrimination, might appear to be harmless but actually had the effect of de-humanising the Irish.

As the population were used to laughing at Irish jokes, so they only viewed them as objects of fun, not to be taken seriously.

I can see the merit of the argument, even if it was sometimes overstated.

Now we are seeing the same thing with 'chavs'. It may be a subconscious effect but I think the prevalence of such jokes leads to a feeling that they don't count in some way.

Not great if this is deep in the back of the mind when one is formulating social policy!

The same happens with gypsies/travellers on a more conscious level with abuse more than jokes.

Does society, or the more comfortable part of it, always have to have someone to look down on? Its a depressing thought that we can't feel good about ourselves unless we feel superior to someone else.

Paul Burgin said...

I think it's a culture more prevalent among some of the self made in society, or from those insecure about their position. If they sneer at someone, then no one looks at them! Plus I think people in general like to look down on some groups of people in order to feel better about themselves