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?
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.
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.