Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Politics of Bling

Over at BitchLab a few weeks ago, I learned for the first time about chavs. It's a descripitive, apparently, that middle class English folks use derisively to describe the working class.

Here's how Wikipedia describes chavs:

The term "chav" refers to a subcultural stereotype of people fixated on fashions such as flashy "bling" jewellery (Generally fake gold), and genuine (rarely seen on chavs) or knock-off (more likely to be seen) fake designer clothing with the beige Burberry pattern (most famously the baseball cap which has since been discontinued by the company), and such brands as Lonsdale, Berghaus, Burberry, Von Dutch, Louis Vuitton, Stone Island, Kappa, Adidas, Nike, and best-known Sergio Tacchini.

I bring this up because the term and its meaning very much reminds me of the criticism that for many years has been heaped on U.S. rap artists for the way they dress and how they brag about ownership of high-end brands and items in their songs. They're often accused by major media writers of being incredibly shallow and adding to the struggles of their people, who are disproportionately poor or working class.

Without getting too deep on what a joke it is to blame even an iota of the woes of the underclass on pop songs--lol, as if not buying Jordans and brand name clothing is going to propel a person from one class to the next (see this article in Parade magazine for details on a more reality-based look at the struggles of all but the very rich in this country), I loved the response that one chav had for all her middle-class detractors in this article featured last year in The Times. Granted, it's an old-ish article, but the theme is age-old and it's a very enjoyable take down. Here are some excerpts:

The [Daily] Mail gripes about [chavs'] sex drive, their money and their laziness (go figure) but is particularly obsessed with what it sees as the sky-high chav birthrate, mostly to unwed teenage mothers. However, as in so many things, the Mail seems somewhat confused on this issue, as when it’s not worrying about young working-class women having too many children, it’s worrying about young middle-class women having too few.

And this paragraph here definitely reminds me of the same criticism I've seen made in the United States repeatedly about people spending all their money on $200 sneakers. I mean, how dare the poor make their own decision on how to spend their hard-earned money!

Whenever I stand up for chavs there will always be some joker who will bend over backwards to reassure me that not ALL the working class are wasters. No, ther are the good proles who slave away ruining their health for a pittance--and then there are the bad proles; the chavs, who work no harder than they have to, and like to spend what money they have on nice things for themselves and their children--in fact, who are human and, to their detractors at least, unashamed of that. And here’s the rub--and the accompanying hypocrisy, which will make sense to anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together. The very things that chavs stand accused of-- aspiration, love of material goods, lack of communal values--are the very things that have not just been fetishised by institutions such as the main political parties and the Daily Mail for the past 30 years, but forced on the British people as surely as the Industrial Revolution was.

And finally, the money paragraph and a word to the wise who look down their noses at folks who aren't wearing the latest and greatest, hot streetwear brand or who chuckle and point at folks they perceive as ghetto or trailer trash.

During the making of the documentary, my brilliant friend Michael Collins, author of The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class, recalls how in the 19th century middle-class do-gooders berated the costermongers for spending “too much” money on nice clothes for their children. Nothing changes, except that now the clothes come from Von Dutch. The working class still spend shamelessly — as they rightly should, for which class has worked harder for its money? Perhaps it is their “betters” who should be more shame-faced in their weird, status-needy spending, be it on five types of extortionately priced organic lettuce in a poxy salad, a king’s ransom on a fortnight’s living death in a mausoleum in Tuscany or blowing £200 a throw on having some vicious bint pelt you with hot stones, as many middle-class, media-mad women are apt to do.

In the end, it's all about perspective. And just because your people may have a bigger bully pulpit to scream from doesn't mean they're better humans or that their opinion matters more or are wiser. Most memebers of the middle or upper class very often are there simply because they are members of the lucky sperm club. They'd be just as fucked as the poor people in New Orleans had they been born into similar circumstances.

And anyway, if you ask me, the formula hasn't changed. Still, the most beautiful and heartfelt ideas come from those who have struggled the most, and all the money in the world can't buy you that perspective.

1 comment:

Butterfly Jones said...

Tell 'em about the chavs Lois. We love 'em! They almost sent Burberry under because they were wearing so much of the check that the fashion people started dissing it wholesale.