Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Toynbee on 'chavs'

The English speaking world can be divided into two categories - those who think that Polly Toynbee is more Hit than Miss, and those who entertain the opposite opinion. I'm probably in the former camp.

Pugnacious Polly set out to make the demarcation even clearer with this forthright piece, considering the subtext behind Britain's current sneering label de jour, 'chav':
That word slips out. This time it was used by a Lib Dem peer on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Baroness Hussein-Ece tweeted: "Help. Trapped in a queue in chav land. Woman behind me explaining latest EastEnders plot to mate while eating largest bun I've ever seen." When challenged, she said she hadn't meant chav in any derogatory way. Of course not. But take a look at the venomous class-hate site ChavTowns to see what lies beneath.

She would presumably never say nigger or Paki, but chav is acceptable class abuse by people asserting superiority over those they despise. Poisonous class bile is so ordinary that our future king and his brother played at dressing up and talking funny at a chav party mocking their lower class subjects.

Wrapped inside this little word is the quintessence of Britain's great social fracture. Over the last 30 years the public monstering of a huge slice of the population by luckier, better-paid people has become commonplace. This is language from the Edwardian era of unbridled snobbery. When safely reproduced in Downton Abbey, as the lady sneering at the scullery maid or the landowner bullying his workers, we are encouraged to look back smugly as if these shocking class differences were long gone. The form and style may have changed – but the reality of extreme inequality and self-confident class contempt is back. (1)
This has provoked some furious comment, but I think she's got a point.

Chav is a term used by the lumpen-middle class desperate to distinguish themselves from the scum beneath, a category that allows the better groomed part of the hoi-polloi to comfort themselves with the thought that - while they might really be a bit shit, at least they aren't irredeemably sh*t. Wills might marry a bluestocking, so there''s hope for the aspirational middle class, but he wouldn't touch a Chav would he. Not in public, anyway.

Most of the comment misses the essential point of the piece. 'Chav' is just the starting point for her argument, which is really about contempt for the the working class in general, and our mysterious tendency to excuse the far greater rorting and cheating at the other end of the social spectrum.

ere's a massive sneer implicit in branding people chavs. Look at the example Toynbee gives of the Liberal Democrat peer, complaining about someone eating a bun - a BIG BUN! - and talking about television - TELEVISION - in public. Imagine! Eating and talking about something that interests you in public. Thank God none of us have ever done that, we might be branded chavs by some supercilious Liberal Democrat faux aristocrat!

It's the assumptions in the judgment that make it a bit like racism. If you think someone must be a worthless thick beneficiary scrounger with no work effick simply because they wear stupid faux jewelry from Elizabeth Duke, then you're really being a bit of a judgmental twat, really, aren't you?

Calling someone a chav akin to calling someone 'white trash' a few generations ago. It's a nasty, judgmental and small minded way of defining people, which reveals more about the person using it than anything else. Fuckingg Hell, eat a bun in public, get called a chav by a LIB DEM PEER.

I can't say Miss High And Mighty, txting her petty revulsion to the world, comes off more likable than the bun muncher. And isn't txting spite and contempt rather common?
1 - "Chav: the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain," by Polly Toynbee. Published in the Guardian, 31st of May, 2011. (

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