As do many of my most inner tormenting and philosophical thoughts, the other day I read a tweet (I’ll put a link in the bottom) that angered me, but more crucially, made me think.
Written by @jwelch1993, it highlighted the hypocrisy in those who at a younger age ridiculed or ostracised people who proudly (and quite rightly so!) expressed their working class culture, whilst now taking pictures of council estates and wearing tracksuits in an attempt to be ‘artsy’. This working class culture may come in the way people speak, the way they dress, and in the way people act generally. I fit into this category, and have found myself suppressing my true self, or acting differently, in order to avoid such ridicule. I am thankful I am now comfortable with myself, but for too many working class kids, and probably adults too, this is still a source of insecurity. Nevertheless, I digress.
What was it that angered me so much about the concept of people doing this? Was it because I felt a personal and highly emotive attachment to this issue? Was it because I know that this phenomenon is just way too common? I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to express it somehow- and here we are.
Though it may be common knowledge to many, I fear it will not be common knowledge to all, so let us establish why council estates exist. Council estates were built for those, like my Grandad, who found themselves needing a home after the war and needed a helping hand. Their predominant purpose of course now, years after the war, has remained consistent, and they still seek to provide a foundation for those that need help most. Years of nasty stereotyping in popular media may have led you to believe that they are some sort of hotbed for laziness, but this is simply untrue, and is ignorant of the hardships many working class people (both on and off council estates) go through. In this sense, this process of warping the view of the working class has reinforced traditional views of the ”other”; in this context the wealthy middle class and the working class “other”.
Of course, this process of otherness (read Foucault for more, if you have a few days and about a gallon of Lucozade energy) normally has negative repercussions. In our current dilemma, it is a ridiculing of people who act or speak differently, wear different clothes, or have generally different cultural attributes and norms. I feel that it is actually this process of otherness that leads to the phenomenon laid out in the beginning of this piece. Those who have never had to experience the trials and tribulations of working class life, and the social issues that often follow with it, but wish to understand it, may seek to absorb symbols of what they seek as the pinnacle of working class culture and life. In clothing, this is often tracksuits or certain brands, in music this is often that of works with Black working class roots such as much of grime music, and in the popular imagination it is the council estate; imposing, grey and mysterious.
Now, my issue does not lie with the actual use and appreciation of these symbols and materials, but it is the lack of understanding that goes along with it. Taking pictures of council estates without aiming to understand why they exist and who lives there, genuine people with real and sometimes quite dire struggles, reduces the council estate to a novelty in the popular consciousness. It not only trivialises the lives of working class people both on and off estates, but also treats the council estate much like an exhibition behind class- view from outside but do not go inside! This only creates division, and makes working class people feel further alienated from generally middle class dominated institutions such as university and government.
I suppose the main conclusion I have drawn is that understanding is key. Picturing a council estate, or taking on any symbol of working class culture (both material and non-material) without paying homage to its purpose or context, is insensitive to working class people, and only trivialises symbols that are intrinsically linked to a culture born, sadly, out of struggle and often ridicule. If you wish to take on such parts of working class culture, have an element of respect for the reason that these symbols exist, and the struggles that many working class people have had as a result of expressing them (essentially just expressing who they are!)
And a point that needs no intellectual or philosophical backing; calling people chavs and ridiculing their culture whilst simultaneously appropriating it is a really quite malicious thing to do, it is the hallmark of what I would call a “Class A Prick”.
By Lawrence Pople