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Monday, February 28, 2005

The Chav

Most of my non-British readers are probably unaware of the word 'chav'. The chav is basically the new word to describe young members of the white underclass, and has become the center-point of a raging media controversy.

The concept of 'the chav' is not a new one, although it seems to have become the hot descriptive word. For instance, when I lived in Scotland the terms used for a young guy in a tracksuit with a baseball hat, an attitude, and copious amounts of jewelry included 'neds', 'bams', 'jakeys', and 'schemies' (from 'housing schemes', which is what the Scots call their housing projects). In other regions of the UK there are other terms, including 'scally' in northwestern England, 'charver' in northeastern England, 'spides' in Northern Ireland, and a whole plethora of terms in London and the South-East that I remember from when I was at school, including 'rudes', 'kevs' (as so many of them seem to be named Kev), 'townies', and 'pikeys'. Pikey was originally a term of abuse for gypsies, but has over time become a general insult for poor, rough whites. 'Chav' as far as I can tell, started out as one of the regional variations, originating in Chatham, Kent. Yet it, alone of all the terms, has somehow hit the zeitgeist, perhaps as a result of the huge success of websites like 'Chav Scum' and 'Chav Spotting'.

Recently there was a program on Sky One hosted by Julie Burchill that has attracted a lot of commentary. I haven't seen it, but apparently Burchill spent most of the show excoriating the middle classes for their snobbery and celebrating the chav as an embodiment of working-class resistance to the Establishment. So, in response, the conservative British bloggers Laban Tall and Blimpish have said that the issue with chavs, why they should not be celebrated, is that criticisms are not snobbery, but based on deeper contentions. As Blimpish said:

"What Burchill and her Chav Chic chums seemed to entirely be missing in their analysis is the notion of respectability. Yes, this country has always had a working class and it has always had its rougher side. On the whole though, certainly from mid Victorian times, the English working classes did not pride themselves on living to that rough side. Historically, the English working classes were possessed of a hardy moral puritanism, after all - morals were something that they tended to look down on the middle classes for.

Here is where they miss the importance of the sixties (first) and then the Thatcher episode: not that it was a betrayal of the working class, but the end of it. The sixties ruined working class respectability, and the eighties allowed many of the respectable working classes (including my former council house-dwelling family) to become lower middle class, as most did. If Julie Burchill were twenty years younger, her salt-of-the-earth trades unionist Dad would doubtless have been one of these people, and we would be saved with the chip on her shoulder. The problem with this is that the remaining working class were robbed of their culture of respectability and many of their natural leaders - they were left condemned to anarchy. Thus, Chavdom."

Now, as I said before, I haven't seen the show to which they are making reference, but I don't really believe this argument. Not because I disagree with the content of this critique, but because I don't think that this is what people are talking about when they make fun of chavs. From my time living in Britain, when people made fun of chavs/neds/scallies/whatever it would almost invariably be about how they were dressed and how they spoke, as well as things like what kind of food they ate, what they drank, what names they gave their children, their hairstles, their home decorating tastes, and the growing of terrible-looking bum-fluff moustaches to accompany the riot man-made fibers they clothe themselves in. This are not serious or important issues. Most criticism of chavs, in my experience, has nothing to do with serious-minded critiques of the annihilation of the traditional British working class and everything to do with sneering at the oiks.

|| RPH || 12:35 AM || |