Review – ‘Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class’

I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to read this book; it addresses perhaps one of the most polemical and prevalent issues in our contemporary society: the middle-class’s change in attitude towards the working class. Since ‘chav’ first entered into our vocabulary (officially) with its inclusion in the 2005 Collins Dictionary – ‘a young working-class person who dresses in casual sport clothing’ – its meaning has developed significantly and become increasingly pejorative. ‘Above all,’ as Jones states, ‘the term chav now encompasses any negative traits associated with working-class people – violence, laziness, teenage pregnancies, racism, drunkenness, and the rest.’ 

A BBC T.V. documentary (‘British Style Genius’) stated in 2008 that chav culture is ‘an evolution of previous working-class youth subcultures associated with particular commercial clothing styles, such as mods, skinheads and casuals.’ Jones, however, argues that political, not social, issues relating mostly to Margaret Thatcher’s dogged destruction of the trade unions during her tenure as Prime Minister is the most significant factor in the emergence of chav culture: “Margaret Thatcher’s assumption to power…marked the beginning of an all-out assault on the pillars of working-class Britain,” Jones states. “Its institutions like trade unions and council housing were dismantled; its industries, from manufacturing to mining, were trashed…and its values, like solidarity and collective aspiration, were swept away in favour of rugged individualism.’

 The term ‘chav’, then, may derive from the wreckage of working-class communities in the latter stages of the previous century. Having been described as ‘the salt of the earth’ throughout the years preceding Thatcher’s incumbency, the working-class seems to have been elbowed aside by the Conservative Party; its members accordingly changed from being an integral part of society to becoming its outsiders. Being working-class thus became something almost to be ashamed of, which allowed the middle-classes to sneer or laugh at them and enforce a social divide. As Jones states about the middle-class’s often snobbish attitude towards the lower-class: ‘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.’

 In terms of a concept, the ‘chav’ quite possibly embodies the most crucial political issues that affected the lower-classes over the last forty years. Nowadays, the snobbery and ridicule surrounding the representation (or, depending on your point of view, misrepresentation) of the working-class has arguably reached farcical levels – remember Matt Lucas’s portrayal of Vicky Pollard in ‘Little Britain’? This book is truly remarkable through the way in which it explains each cause in the downfall (or, as Jones says, ‘the demonization’) of the working-class. Regardless of whether I agree with his views or not, I have attempted to summarise briefly the crux of Jones’s argument to give you an idea of what to expect in ‘Chavs’. If you don’t read it, trust me, you’re missing out. 

Jones, Owen. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. London: Verso, 2011. Print.

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