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Friday, 13 April 2012
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class analyses the way the white working classes have been demonised and ridiculed in popular culture. The working class are portrayed as “Vickie Pollard” comedy creations or benefit scroungers in popular media.

This book argues that the working class have been left behind as many members have pulled away into the aspirational Middle Classes. Meanwhile a cultural and economic elite has formed at the top of society as incomes and social situations have diverged. The result is rather like a two nation Britain that Benjamin Disraeli might have recognised. Wilson argues that the gap between rich and poor has widened and the cultural weight of the poor has fallen. Economic changes such as the shift from mass production to a more service oriented economy have eroded trade unionism which was a key factor in working class identity. The book is quite weak on economics and features more on the media representation. He makes much of how Working Classes are often portrayed as criminal or uncultured.

 I think the book fails to consider the way in which working class people have chosen to adopt different identities and bought into the Thatcherite idea of individualism and consumerism. I am not sure it is ever going to be possible to turn the clock back to a 1970s world with a strong collective trade union. I am not sure that many people really want to work in a coal mine or steel mill. New Labour only started to win elections when they realised that almost all Working Class people either perceived themselves as Middle Class or aspired to be Middle Class.

Many people argue that more needs to be done to make our society more meritocratic. This book at least makes a case for those who cannot or do not want to become Middle Class. However I think the idea of a Working Class is probably fading away as idenity becomes more complex.

The author writes good prose and I hope to see what else he produces. I think it would be interesting to see him analyse race, gender or sexuality in a similiar way.