The ‘chav’ battle – some closing words.

Chav night @ Revenge.

In my view, some of you fell on the wrong side of the chav debate this last week. Some of you ‘liked’ supporting or mocking comments. Some of you even chipped in your own away from my feed.

Some of you seemed unable to grasp why such a fuss had been made over a seemingly benign themed night. Some of you said that we all need to relax, that political correctness is reaching levels of the absurd. Some of you were able to totally reject the voices of working class people, and reams of research on the nature of classist stereotyping, to say a few of us were just over sensitive and imagining things. Some of you very easily, too easily assumed, we were all talking from the same place – that our objection was some ridiculous middle class stunt, or that we were after a quick fifteen minutes of fame.

Some of you got very angry at us and attacked us. Some of you tried to shame us, to tell us we were in the wrong and that for even entertaining a debate on social justice, we deserved to be ostracized – we didn’t belong in your group, you all just wanted to carry on having fun.

I understand some of this came from loyalty and allegiances – I get that Revenge is very important for some people: for some people it’s their work, for others it’s their sense of community and fun. I understand that no maliciousness was meant by the club promoters, and that they didn’t foresee the potential social and political consequences of the event. I also understand that the topic was ‘heavy’ and that the drudgery of debate and learning can be a right mood killer.

I understand some of this came from the fact we come from different backgrounds, that we’ve had different experiences and most definitely that we’ve had a different education. I even understand that perhaps those trying to make a point didn’t make that point in the most accessible way, and continue to fall over our own language and delivery in trying to make the case.

But nevertheless I feel sorry that obvious truths haven’t made it easier for us to have a more productive discussion. The truth that we live in a classist and highly unequal society. The truth that there are people in our society who live in poverty: that lack access to the basic resources (material, social and cultural) and opportunities that just seem self evident to most of us. The truth that the dominating political narrative at the moment is that somehow, to be poor is a failure of the imagination or of character – that if people would just sort their shit out and take some responsibility, they can progress and succeed to. The truth that, to justify this narrative, an idea of poor people is needed – that poor people are somehow deserving: that they are lazy, stupid, ignorant, violent and reckless for no other reason that they just are. The truth that it’s very easy for us to accept that nothing can be done to help people like this, and even if it could – why would we want to anyway? The truth that, the chav stereotype, alongside specific styles and tastes, is seen to very much embody these characteristics in the popular consciousness. And the ultimate truth that, the stereotype of the chav is seen (and in many cases made) to relate, consciously or not, as a fitting description for every poor person, in every poor community across the land.

I feel very sorry, that we’ve been unable to turn around and just recognize these simple truths – and as a community embattled by negative, inappropriate and ill-fitting stereotypes ourselves – to have been able to find another way to channel our fun and expression, and to not play with stereotypes that are even tangentially linked to the oppression of other social groups: indeed, in this case, a social group that many of us call our own.

So even if you don’t agree, I hope at least, you can give a quiet inner nod to the reasons that the issue was raised.

And even if you’re not that bovverred either way – I understand that too, but please: Let people have their say.


Chav night at Revenge – ‘tongue in cheek’ or recruitment to class war?

Brighton’s biggest ‘gay and lesbian’ club is hosting a ‘chav night’ on the 22nd January. The advertisement floated on my facebook feed a week before the event, complete with Burberry background and a picture of the renowned and grotesque character of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain. The accompanying tag lines read ‘how chav will you go’ and ‘all chav’s welcomed at FOMO’, with another post promising proper ‘chav anthems’ all night. Sounds a right treat, innit?

'Tongue in Cheek' or class war?
‘Tongue in Cheek’ or class war?

My initial response was one of discomfort – I’ve come across enough to understand that playing with or appropriating this particular stereotype (or any for that matter) amounts to more than harmless fun. In that spirit, I challenged the post on facebook. Revenge responded that they recommend I google ‘tongue-in-cheek’. I didn’t.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well it’s simple really, the term and caricature of ‘chav’ is used in society to humiliate and deride poor people. It is rolled out on every media platform in the country as a way of legitimating the vast inequality at the heart of our system, by suggesting the poor are deserving of their situation, content in it and resistant to rescue.

The ‘chav’ embodies all the qualities seen as the antithesis to the values held up by our society – to play the game requires a certain frame of mind, and in this respect, the chav is found wanting. They are deliberately work shy and feckless, perpetuate a cycle of crime and disorder in their communities and exercise ‘chronic welfare dependance’ as a lifestyle choice. They are violent, illiterate, homophobic, racist, drug abusing criminals, boasting attire that screams of an ‘aesthetic impoverishment’, with Sports Direct as their collective wardrobe and over-sized hoop earrings as the signature piece of the mouthy chavette. The male variety, hands down trackies and grasping a fist-full of cock, leer on street corners with a can of ‘wife beater’ in hand – ultimately, they are the nemesis of the middle class sensibility of Britain. In short, rabid, tasteless, scum.

One concerned community member comments: So nice to see that after decades of fighting for equality and the right to not be derided the gay community are using their new position in society to mock the social group it's currently vogue to denigrate.
One concerned community member comments:
So nice to see that after decades of fighting for equality and the right to not be derided the gay community are using their new position in society to mock the social group it’s currently vogue to denigrate.

Superficially, the chav stereotype provokes an easy laugh. However, it is saturated with meaning and intention: the perceived characteristics of a small, underprivileged group are imposed on the working classes as a whole. Vicky Pollard’s ‘no but yeah but no but’ is a scream because it chimes with our anxieties around under-educated, angry and impoverished female youth. But it serves more than a comedic purpose: it generates a sense of shame, disgust and contempt for poor people in general, legitimating their social status and obscuring the structural and political reasons generative of a ‘chav underclass’ in the UK.

Am I being to sensitive? No. To have fun at playing chav aligns us with the agenda of the ruling classes and in the current political climate, that’s no joke.

Ultimately, the structural and political backdrop to the fate of poor people is stark: The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, with 8.1 million people too poor to participate fully in society. Nearly 1 million people relied on food handouts last year in order to survive. Meanwhile, the top 0.1% of the country enjoy an average take home of around 1.1million and corporations are unaccountable for tax to the tune of billions. This disparity is actively perpetuated by a political class who draw on popular conceptions of the chav as lazy, cheating, skyvers to legitimate the decimation of the public sector and welfare spending in favour of enriching their fat cat friends. The elite hand wringing at the mainstream success of poverty porn like C4’s ‘benefits street’ was cringeworthy, and a case in point.

The gay community should be particularly sensitive to the power of the stereotype and their effects: we’re denied simple liberties on shaky premise the world over – apparently we’re all drug addicted, promiscuous, disease-ridden, superficial, child abusing, sport-phobic, commitment-shy, deviants too……. remember?

So before you get all dragged up in your ‘chav finest’ tomorrow, think on eh? And maybe ask that the promoters do too?

I like my dancing without the poor bashing, thanks.