Friday, June 26, 2009

'Chavs' don't mean working class

The continuous equation between 'chavs' and 'working class' is a crass insult to the latter.

This online piece called A Brief History of the Chav opened my eyes to the extent of today's biggest misconception: the equation between 'chavs' and working classes.

The word 'chav' made its first appearance around 2003, unifying a variety of regional expressions such as 'kevs' from the West Midlands, 'scallies' from the North West, Scotland's 'neds' as well as many others. As websites on the subject sprung up and books were being published, it appeared that the initial criteria to define the term 'chav' were more a question of attitude rather than class.

'Chav' was essentially a naff anti-social individual associated with feral yobbery and pack mentality, as well as 'lad culture' and the extreme fetishism of material goods (fast cars, expensive sound systems or jewellery).

Things started to change when right-wing tabloids homed in on the subject. 'Chavs' became synonymous with dysfunctional council estate dwellers and the term was widely deployed when reporting stories about underclass citizens breaking the law or cheating the system. By trying to push a specific political agenda, tabloids routinely sneer at chavs, intended as benefit scroungers and "the feral underclasses". Ironic really, if you consider how extremely popular certain red tops are amongst 'chavs' across the country. The Sun in particular, with its brand of proto-cheeky macho yobbery, epitomises the concept that "chav is always the other, never myself". And so a benefit fraudster is referred to as a 'chav', but a tax dodger isn't.

However, the mistake is perpetrated by left-wing commentators such as John Harris and Johann Hari, as well as the Fabian Society. When articles like "Stop using the word 'chav': it's deeply offensive", or "Who are you to laugh at chavs", condemn "class hatred" and snobbish attitude towards 'chavs', they automatically accept the equation 'chavs'/lower classes.

Well-meaning though it may be, the progressive approach backfires as a mildly patronising one. A lot of working class people have nothing to do with 'chavvy' lifestyles. Many, for instance, wouldn't be able to afford stupidly expensive sports cars and they would certainly not piss their wages on souped up engines. Most of them are hard-working and law-abiding people.

Instead, the term 'Chavs' crosscuts all classes and ethnic groups. The word lends itself better for someone like brawl-loving spoilt aristobrat Prince Harry or a loaded, Porsche-crashing alpha male, than it does with many working class kids.

Like the feral family portrayed in the recent film Eden Lake, their four-bedroom two-storey terrace complete with nicely trimmed backgarden is hardly ''deprived" material. What makes them "chavs" isn't so much their social status, but their inability to use their brain power constructively along with a vicious "not-my-son" mentality of packs and ringleaders.

'Chavs' should remain what it always was: a class-blind term to describe the human products of Britain's cultural decline. The rise of mindless consumerism, the cult of flashy mobile phones and 'wicked' bi-turbo 'motors', the fetishisation of arrogance and aggression, the obsession with in-yer-face celebrity bullies, the fascination with coming across as thicker than you actually are and wha*eva: all of the above may have more to do with the "chav phenomenon" than someone's reliance on a council flat.


Chris Baldwin said...

"Instead, the term 'Chavs' crosscuts all classes and ethnic groups. The word lends itself better for someone like brawl-loving spoilt aristobrat Prince Harry or a loaded, Porsche-crashing alpha male, than it does with many working class kids."

Yeah sure, but that's not how most people use it. I'd have no problem if it was just applied to drunken thugs and petty criminals and the like, but to a lot of better off people it is just a disparaging term for working class people. Young woman wearing big earings? Must be a chav! Now, I'm not telling people not to talk like this, since I don't think it'll have any effect, but to me, "chav" is associated with an ugly snobbery in a way "scally" never was. So I prefer the old terms if I'm going to use them at all.

david brough said...

You're totally right, chavs are Thatcher's children.

They don't give a fuck about anyone but themselves, all that matters is getting theirs and fuck the law, morality or any kind of obligations to others.

How the fuck does this differ from what City banker scum and MP filth engage in, apart from the fact that the latter are paid my money to do it, and cause harm on a wider scale?

There is a reason why crime, welfare dependancy and all the things right-wing vermin claim to object to all took off in the 80s. Until we undo Thatcherism, we will continue to have these problems.

Anita said...

Spot-on David.
Those on right-wing always go on tediously about family breakdown and stuff under Labour, but if you look at the figures, the Thatcher years were actually pretty bad. Divorce rate and stuff went right up during those 'lovely' years.

Chris, I'm not quite sure which point you're trying to make. The article was saying exactly that: that the word chav needs to stop being a disparaging term for working class people.

Chris Baldwin said...

Anita, yes it does, but I don't think that's going to happen, so I prefer to avoid it myself. There are, after all, plenty of less charged terms for what Claude is talking about - "wanker" for instance.

Tom Wisbeck said...

Chavs are basically scumbag.
It's simply that at last someone came up with a little moniker for thuggish idiots. But let's not forget that those always existed. Remember ultraviolence? Or 60's gangs? Were the chavs or today, or perhaps not?

the patriot said...

david brough,
so you're saying it's all Maggie's fault, right? How damn predictable.
So you get a lowlife breeding like a rabbit cuz the state's handing out benefits on a tray and it's Maggie's fault.
Brough's line of thinking explains why the left are being wiped out. Keep it coming, david.

Will said...

The use of the word chav or chaver was in wide circulation in the North East of England (Newcastle mainly) earlier than you say in your post. Geordie usage of the term Chav/chaver was in common usage from the late 80s/early 90s.

As for your analysis, They (chavs) are lumpens. They are not working class. They are classless. For Marx and Engels the term 'lumpenproletariat' was opposed to 'Proletariat' and not 'the working class'. The term 'working class' is not a historical subject it is a synchronic subject (i.e. something studied at a particular period, without considering the past or future) whereas the terms proletariat and lumpenproletariat are diachronic subjects (i.e. studied through their historical development). If we view Chavs as being lumpens then they are not part of the working class and should be seen as an outgrowth from specific capitalist forms of development. Our modern world delivers us our own lumpen forms.

Lumpens don't need to be poor by the way (which you hint at in your post). Criminals are lumpen. Some criminals are quite well off financially I believe.

BTW -- fuck that nazi cunT leaving a comment above.

Snuff it out. Kill it.

claude said...

I pretty much agree with Will above. Absolutely right. Like I said in the article, there is very little related to class when you look at chavs.

As for what "the patriot" wrote, well, a very deep analysis, what can I say...Patriot put down that copy of the Daily Mail and look around.

You'll find plenty of spoilt rich kids committing heinous crimes and acting extremely anti-social.

Selma said...

Isnt Chav an acronym for council housed and violent? Just a thought since, if it is it cant really cut across classes. Of course this doesnt mean that the meaning of the term hasnt changed since it was first introduced, I suppose. Hmmm. Good article, Claude. Good to challenge these stereotypes.

david brough said...

Why is it then, "Patriot", that when I was growing up in the 60s no one was on benefits, apart from pensioners and people who were disabled? (And if you try coming out with some fucking shite about how they're faking, I just hope you suffer some of the horrendous injuries that better men than you met with in their work).

Because there was an industrial base and full employment which was unwound by a conscious decision to follow right-wing libertarian policies, which have now failed in every single regard.

Despite the fact that this system collapsed totally in 2008, it is still slavishly followed by Brown, who is the heir to Thatcher in this and every other regard.

The housing crisis, mass unemployment, welfare dependency- why do you think it is that those things were almost unheard of before Thatcher but are common now?

Benefit rates were exactly the same, if not more generous, when I was young but it would never have entered anyone's head to claim them. We didn't resort to crime because we could make a good living in honest jobs.

But no longer, thanks to fuckwits like you deciding that wrecking a way of life to suit your libertarian ideology was something worth doing.

claude said...

David, I applaude your reply.

WD said...

Googling and found this web site…I agree wholeheartedly with Will - who is spot-on; the history of ‘charver’ has existed well before the media got its claws into it. Originally meaning child, I saw it being used by teenage musos using it to draw a line between them and ‘trendies’ in the late 90s before it somehow mutated into a term to describe groups of males who wore pastel Ben Sherman shirts -again the Indie kids weren’t happy that the mainstream had adopted their style. As you know, the tabloids took it to new heights to label the sport and Burberry label fans and those who were yobbish, which to an extent was very much the case in the North East.

Some people believe chav refers to lower class people wearing fake labels, while others consider it to be a reference to anti-social behaviour. However, the problem with describing a chav as being anti-social is that some people (and I have witnessed this) believe reserved people to be anti-social, not understanding that ‘uncommunicative’ and anti-social is very different to being quiet and/or keeping to yourself. I think here, the actual mouthy chavs couldn’t understand why people weren‘t behaving like they, themselves were, otherwise it was a jealousy situation or an inferiority complex. So… Is a label like ‘chav’ acceptable, when it can be misunderstood or abused?

What I see now, is a term which is used on a daily basis as a slur. In fact I see the very people who embody ‘chav-hood calling people it as they walk past them in public places: anti-social behaviour surely? Without a doubt, it is now being confused with ‘being working class’ and the dictionary entry is worrisome. I say confused, but there are those who embrace such a derogatory smear at their disposal - the insecure social climbers and the ones who never got to where they wanted to be. Now everyone from a council estate is a chav, regardless of their behaviour, education or role in society.