By Dave Hynes
Driving up the west coast last week the car radio was struggling to get a frequency at all.
When it did, Radio 4 came on with a dull sounding programme about British youth culture. It was better than nothing though, so I listened as I drove up through Wester Ross, I’m seriously glad I did too.
One of the guests on the programme was Owen Jones, author of the 2011 bestseller ‘Chavs; The Demonization of the Working Class’. This is a brilliant book for anyone who ever asks themselves ‘What became of the Likely Lads’ for in ‘Chavs’, Jones argues persuasively that the British working class have been steadily caricatured as ‘Vicky Pollards and Jade Goodys’ facing a conspiracy of stereotypes in the media, tv, online and print. Jones charts the societal destruction of Thatcherism and the treachery of New Labour to display how the working class have gone form being the salt of the earth to the scum of it. All this vitriol is encapsulated in the word ‘chavs’- or perhaps more aptly put up here ‘neds’.
This book is a must for all you philosophy, psychology and anthropology students. Nor have class or race distinctions ever been more valid a study, particularly if we are to believe David Starkey the media friendly historian who claims “whites have become the new blacks” . Whatever that means only he knows.
As I was listening, the radio debate changed topics slightly and concentrated on Brits abroad, particularly stag and hen dos in Eastern Europe. Following a tirade of angry phone-ins lamenting how destructive Brit ‘thugs’ are, Dominic Chester began defending stag behaviour saying that the very ideals of male bonding and freedom have changed in recent generations. He should know, he has been following stag parties for the last year and has a new book ‘The Stag Without Antlers’ coming out in 2012.
The debate moved on again to a study in the differences between the British and American class systems. As we all know, to Americans social status is about money and power. To Brits it is all about birth and accent; old money or new. Donald Trump has a chutzpah that Americans widely adore but Alan Sugar is the barrow-boy ‘done good’ to the Brits.
These conversations got me thinking about recent books which ‘tackle’ these issues. There is definitely something going on in the wonderful world of non-fiction as a recent run on books all addressing the ‘crisis’ in our lives testifies. From Caitlin Moran’s Bible for the fairer sex ‘How To Be A Woman’ to SJ Watson’s ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ or even the reissuing of Dickens’ novels ( the ultimate Victorian class writer) Great ‘Expectations’ and ‘Edwin Drood’, there are more books than ever before which imbue the reader with as sense of impending doom. This is not to mention the tide of bestseller’s about the financial crisis which have hit the shelves in the last two years.
But British scare-mongering is nothing compared to the near ridiculous non-fiction market in the U.S. Bill O Reilly (a notorious far-right anchorman for CNN) has recently published the fear-spreading ‘Who’s Looking Out For You?’ Regretfully, it looks set to be the go-to guide for American idiots for the next decade. So too the prophetic nonsense of Tom Hartman’s ‘Screwed; The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class’ and Cameron Smith’s ‘Ten Distinctions Between the Middle Class and Millionaires’, which is a ridiculous handbook somewhere between the self-help genre and outright fiction.
These books of late all seem to have something in common; they agree that society (British and American) is being categorised. From chavs to millionaires; never have there been so many class and lifestyle based titles. Now with each one comes a new guide full of tidbits of advice on how to stay afloat. Make of them what you will.