Prompted by a holiday read of Owen Jones book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class the author has produced a good book, yet I feel misses some key points around communication, branding and memes – hence the question.
Given the emotional significance of talking about class in Britain– even in 2011 – so, I must declare my own position; I come from a working class background – East End of London, lived-in-a-shoe-box-in-middle-of-road and all that.
Yet, subsequently university educated, home owner, professional career, and nowadays choose wine ahead of light ‘n bitter – so display many of the trappings of now being middle class
I had earlier been contemplating writing a blog about ‘Chav dogs’ with the prospect of a new dangerous dogs act in the UK (or as it should be known as the ‘Dangerous Dog Owners Act’).
I had felt some trepidation about using the term ‘Chavs’: it seems to be in the same category as ‘the Welsh’ in being fair game in a number of media circles to politically correctly use in a derogatory way, yet should this be the case?
I was also impressed with Owen Jones TV performances in commenting on the recent English big city riots.
Having read the book, and being more informed and knowing about ‘Chavs’ – I am now reconsidering my earlier concerns over writing a blog piece about ‘Chav dogs; I feel we actually need to go much further, and consider a rebrand of what we call ‘the working class’.
Jones book is timely.
He rightly highlights how there has been a political disenfranchisement of the ‘working class’ with the move of New Labour to the centre. (I was surprised he did not use the example of the Labour general election photocall where Ministers were heckled by some nearby dustmen – illustrating the gulf between the party and its core natural support.)
The book also highlights the rise of unbridled individualism and the myth (or partial myth in my view) of a meritocratic society: as a result, being ‘working class’ is no longer ‘cool’.
I grew up in the post war era where to be working class was considered cool: four lads from Liverpool embodied the idea of regional accents, upward social mobility, and where to be posh was to be ridiculed.
My own experience bathed in this halo: I remember one university interviewer being in awe about my old school being on theEast India Dock Road. And I once inadvertently prompted a girlfriend to call me a ‘pleb’ as I then hadn’t heard of ‘Laura Ashley’.
The middle classes have now subtly seized back cultural control, whether it is the widespread use of Estuary English in everyday speech to even the modern equivalents of the ‘Fab fours’ being more likely to have been public school educated.
Yet, what Jones fails to recognise is that ‘Chavs’ is a social subset of ‘the working class’ – albeit a very visible one – and that it is a brand, and a meme.
In order to respond to the social issues of ‘Chavs’ we need to explore the issue through using the concept of brands. And in order to tackle the meme of ‘Chav’ (how the word and its attendant images is able to replicate itself and spread) information alone is insufficient: we need to create counter-balancing memes?
Let me elucidate.
A brand is an identity which creates a sense of belonging among followers, and equally possible repulsion to non-followers: it is a gel which can hold a group together made up with a sticky consistency from materials such as the self image you want to promote about yourself, your behaviours – and even your appearance.
So, if you want to optimise your self esteem, it can be better being a first class member of your sub group, than a second class one of the mainstream group. The bling, shellsuit, Burberry are all forms of two finger gestures of enjoying Chav Club Membership.
But the challenge we face is Chavs, in brand identity terms, it is such a good coherent brand, it is able to replicate extra-ordinarily well, and as result over-shines other groups in the same social strata – or category: hence the question do we need to create a brand of ‘The UnChav’?
In order to get recognition that Chavs ≠ the sum of the working class, do we need to talk of ‘The UnChav’ majority among the working class?
In developing the ‘UnChav’ brand we also then need to examine its brand values – which I seriously think would be a very fruitful exercise in generating valuable insights, to provide ammunition and tools to create an alternative Brand Story for those wanting to challenge and change our world, and how our society should function. (Such as the current Wall Street occupation.)
The term ‘Chavs’ is also a meme – a self-replicating form of communication that powers word of mouth; whatever people like Gareth Jones do to analyze the situation and urge for a re-appraisal of views, unless they create alternative memes to assist their communication, their messages and taskforce will fall flat.
The working class majority in our country that still exists, still suffers inequality in access to education and opportunities, and now suffers the further ignominy of being overlooked as one of its sub-groups – ‘The Chav’ – which has thus far, stolen the spotlight for attention.
For my part, by having ‘The UnChav’ brand in place, I can at least now write about an aspect of one sub group’s behaviour without damning the entire working class.
And while I may now frequent Laura Ashley I recognise there’s a significant group out there being overlooked: I know because I was one of ‘em.
Unless our society starts recognising the existence of ‘The UnChavs’ –the working class is not so much, as Jones argues, demonized, but rather under-represented n brand terms, and will continue to remain marginalized.
Using communication tools of ‘brands’ and ‘memes’ is not just a marketing whim, a coffee time discussion among the chattering classes, but these weapons can play a significant role in helping to achieve social justice.