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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Book Review: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Owen Jones' passionate and timely debut disputes the claim that 21st Century Britain is a classless society.

Written by Sally Mumby-Croft

Owen Jones, author: CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class. Illustration by Gareth A Hopkins

CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones traces how changes in tone in the portrayl of the Working Classes has effected our concepts of class and inequality. CHAVS combines social history (the dismantling of the trade unions, the fallout from the right to buy) and current event analysis (the removal of the EMA, Student Protests, the declassification of society) to uncover the ideological roots behind relabeling the Working Class as ‘wicked’ and ‘threatening’.

Illustration by Gareth A Hopkins

CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class investigates a narrative within the media in which the word Chav is used freely to incite stereotypes about a person living in council housing and/or on benefits or simply in the ‘wrong’ part of town. The examples cited by Jones; such as “Chav = “Council Housed and Violent or the books depicting ‘crap’ towns lay bare both society’s need for a scapegoat and the rise of ‘acceptable’ class discrimination .

Jones extremely readable book also looks at how the use of emotive language (i.e: Benefit Scrounger) is frequently stifles discussion. The subsequent hysteria is a highly effective negative tactic often utilised in televised debates to ensure discussions on class and society remain narrowly channeled. In which – my understanding- the actions of a few are used to tarnish entire communities whilst drawing attention away other problems within society such as tax evasion, The MPs expense scandal or the recent NOTW hacking scandal.

Illustration by Paul Shinn

By referencing the caricatures of Little Britain, The Little Book of Chavs and holidays advertised as “Chav free” Jones demonstrates how the denial and caricaturing of class has enabled the media, the reader and the politicians to unashamedly lampoon specific communities within the UK. The public debate, aided by newspaper headlines remains fixated on the accepted mantra that those who lack accepted ideals of entrepreneurship and aspiration are idle and deserve contempt. Subsequently, by denying inequality and discrepancies in access to education and jobs, anything challenging the status quo of capatilism is pushed into the shadows.

Illustration by Jenny Robins

The Strange Case of Shannon Matthews highlights how an unfolding story can be made to fit an accepted media narrative. Jones investigated how –with a few exceptions- the media coverage concentrated on using the case to ‘prove’ their thoughts on an entire section of the British Population. Both before and after the inexcusable act of a single adult had become apparent and in complete disregard for the actions of the rest of the community. In doing so sections of political commentary and journalists were able to reaffirm their own prejudices, against anyone outside of their environment.

Illustration by Antonia Parker

In the current political culture, where votes held by ‘swing’ seats appear to be championed above all else, CHAVS asks an important question: why do we accept this vilification and obfuscation of inequality? By encouraging fear in the ‘feral underclass’ Chavs have become the bogeymen of Britain. It is the communities, rather than the fall out from years of socially excluding policies, which are continually used as the sole example of ‘Broken Britain”. A sentiment illustrated by Cameron’s slow return from holiday and subsequent condescending speech after the August Riots.

CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class is an important input reopening the debate on class and the role our political, media, education and justice structures play in the marginalisation of inequality and the conflating of Chav with Working Class.

Owen Jones, author: CHAVS: The Demonization of the Working Class. Illustration by Jenny Robins

For further thoughts on Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class and the subject of class, please follow the links below:

Rhian Jones: Is ‘Chav’ a Feminist Issue?

Lynsey Hanley: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones

Polly Toynbee: Money busts the convenient myth that social class is dead

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