Book Review: Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones

To describe author and activist Owen Jones as a “Bennite” would be something of an understatement. While never having lived through the tumultous  Wilson or Callaghan Labour governments of the 1960′s and 1970′s, (neither did I, though), Jones is very clear at who is at fault for the ills that have befallen the working class in Great Britain.

Thatcher.

The vitriol Jones reserves for Thatcher and her cabinet ministers, and even journalists in Tory papers is unevenly matched against the lamenting school-teacher tone regarding his left-wing friends in the Labour Party.

To understand the premise of Jones’ work, one must first understand what the focal point Jones is entering the discussion. Namely, the disenfranchisement of historically working class men and women in Great Britain who, starting in the end of the Thather era, began to be derisively titled “Chavs” by middle and upper class society. “Chavs”, as both the author and a cursory glance at wikipedia both reveal is a person obsessed with the illusion of station;  as Wikipedia states: “…a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behaviour and wears real or imitation designer clothes.”

To be a “chav” then, is to be a the fringes of acceptable society, even within the working class.

Jones leans heavily on his background within British left-wing society to argue that the corruption of the virtuous working class was due in large part to consumerism, Thatcherism, and an unwillingness of Labour leadership to stand up to the rising tide of austerity:

There was a time when working-class people had been patronized, rather than openly despised. Disraeli had called working-class people ‘angels in marble’. ‘Salt of the earth’ was another phrase once associated with them. Today, they are more likely than not to be called chavs. From salt of the earth to scum of the earth. This is the legacy of Thatcherism—the demonization of everything associated with the working class

Jones likely spent hundreds of hours collecting quotes and contrasting perspectives, from  Geoffrey Howe, Lady Thatcher’s first chancellor of the exchequer, to Neil Kinnock, the man who led Labour through some of its most bruising times in recent history.

From the information provided, Kinnock appears resigned that the Left forfeited the fights of the 1980′s rather than create any kind of meaningful change. when asked if the Tories were the ‘real’ class-warriors in British politics, Kinnock shakes his head and bemoans, “ ‘No, because they’ve never had to engage in a class war,’ he said. ‘Largely because we signed the peace treaty without realizing that they hadn’t.’”

Jones concludes that largely as a result of the sustained electoral beatings that Labour suffered from 1979-1992, the survivors of this shipwrecked party latched onto any idea that would keep them from becoming consigned to history, (a very real worry given the declining state of the Liberal party through this time period, which managed to stave off its own place on the ash heap only by creating an odd marriage of convenience with disaffected social democrats to create the modern “Lib-Dem” party), a fact Jones notes with characteristic bluntness:

Because of this desperation and demoralization, Blair and his followers were able to impose the Thatcherite settlement on the Labour Party. Part an parcel of this settlement was the idea that everyone should aspire to be middle class. Little wonder that. when asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thather answered without hesitation: ‘Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”

Jones writes lovingly and longingly for a working class establishment that no longer exists in modern Britain, but does not advocate burning down Apple stores to return to this Eden. Instead, his goal is surprisingly reasonable given the disparaging remarks and high standard he holds the Left to in his book.  the result is not a game-changing, epoch-defining solution. Instead, Jones advocates that the Left do what it has always done: advocate and implement good-paying, skilled jobs that provide a decent and dignified income to the working-class.

Admittedly after reading about 260 pages of commentary on how the Left had failed the working class, and the Tories were hell-bent on their destruction, I was a little dejected that the solution Jones advocates is so unsurprising and reasoned. Instead of a Zizek retort, we’re left with a policy proposal.

Chav’s does many things well; chief among them is the crystallization of working-class discontent for the last 30 years. Jones writes with exacting skill and twists the knife into the the Conservative Party with a certain amount of vigour. However, it becomes tiring to read line after line about the moral indecency with which the Tories have governed. After 100 pages or so, I found myself wishing Jones would just wrap it up and get to the point.

Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. Verso 2011 298 pages. Purchased copy

 

 

A few of my favourite things right now:

 1.) this New Order song/performance:

2.) These new Brooks’ trainers I am looking to buy
I am a firm fan of Brooks’ running shoes after being sidelined by a moderate case of Plantar Fascitus two months ago.

3.) Pulse by Adidas eau de toilette
I have been looking for a light smelling cologne to wear after the gym or during a stressful day, and this is easily a better choice than some of the more expensive items I have seen Sephora.

4.) Genius Scan for iphone
I travel a lot for work and consequently have to scan a lot of reciepts. This app lets you do that without having to hold on to all of them until you get back to the office.

5.) Capital in the Twentiy-First Century by Thomas Piketty
This new book has been blowing up on Amazon and has been getting a really good review by the people whose opinion I think matters. I am debating ordering it in print as well just to mark it all up and be able to share.

6.) up&up Facial Moisurizing with SPF 15
Until this miracle in a bottle, my facial complexion hovers betweeen either dried out cracked or greasy shine. I apply about a half squeeze after washing my face and then shaving and havent had a breakout in weeks.

7.) Gillette Regular Shaving Cream
Having spent a fair amount of money on different types of soaps/lotions/gels, the original is still the best, in my humble opinion.

8.) Chavs: Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
 Although this came out a while ago, I have just now gotten around to reading this great thinkpiece by Jones. My disagreements with Jones are manifold, but his writing pulls no punches and is a tour de force for the Labour movement.

9.) This interview with Chris Martin about Coldplay’s new album and breaking up with Gwyneth
 Up to now, Martin has been notoriously cagey about his relationship with Paltrow, which of course is his right, but he has been remarkably candid lately.

10.) This new Coldplay single, of course

The Paltrow-Martin Split

 

I’ve been on a deep dive of coldplay material from the last 15 years recently (see previous blog post).

I think part of it was the recent news of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s choice to divorce. It wasn’t that I was surprised, because honestly I think people had been calling time on that relationship for the better part of a decade.  Emily Yoshida, writing for Grantland wrote an awesome piece on why the Pro and anti-Gwyneth crowd might be perplexed to say the least at her lifestyle. She also makes a great observation that if anything this seems to have created a fissure in the gleaming façade that was Paltrow’s image. Yoshida is refreshingly up front about the idiosyncrasy of spending time and words examining Paltrow.

Yoshida:

While it’s probably a waste of energy to personally mourn the life tragedies of celebrities we’ve never met and probably never will, so is exalting in them, and the overall sentiment of most of the reactions I’ve seen have been “Hah! That’s what she gets for thinking she could have a perfect life!” If you actually believed Paltrow’s life was perfect, that’s kind of on you for taking every blog post and flowery Vogue profile literally (and not reading the tabloids!)

Admittedly, I subscribe to goop and agree with what Graydon Carter wrote in Vanity Fair when he chose not run the magazine’s piece on Paltrow: there isn’t a lot there that you don’t find in other comparable women’s magazines at the grocer. Instead, it strikes me that immense amount of privilege that Paltrow approaches her life comes across totally different to even upper middle class persons. But I also agree with Yoshida, that I never get the feeling that she is consciously making a case for how her life was *better* than yours or mine. Simply that there is a scale to her life that is far grander than the one most people live in.

While I was on this rehash of old Coldplay records, article and interviews I stumbled upon the realization that while Coldplay had been my all-consuming pop culture obsession when I was a teen and early 20’s person, I had taken a sojourn in different directions away from their music. It was such a fun experience revisiting all these songs and stories behind the music and reminding myself why I fell in love with their music initially.

It would be kind of crass to try and read the tea leaves of albums liner notes looking for strains and triumphs in Martin and Paltrow’s marriage. At the heart of it, I really don’t want to believe all the awful things that have been said about Martin, and I don’t think Gwyneth earns the amount of vitriol that is thrown at her.

What’s continually amazing to me about the whole affair is the fact that neither person has really slung a lot of mud publically and has spent a lot of money shooting down rumors and innuendo. And whichever one of them decided that that was how it should end deserves lot of credit.

As Yoshida mentioned earlier, it’s probably a waste of energy to bemoan the end of a relationship between two people I will likely never meet, and whose problems are wildly different than mine. But at the end of the day they are still two people, who were once in love and aren’t anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to remark on the unfortunate nature of that.

 

Ranking the unofficial Coldplay Biographies

So back when I was probably 17-18 I started buying unauthorized biographies of the British band Coldplay.

Yes I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds. But as a young(er) man, I was fascinated by the four band mates from differing parts of the UK.

Absent interviewing them myself, I really wanted to try and understand where the songs came from, what the background of the music was etc etc.

Each of the three authors below approached their subjects from a different angle, and their own bias’ and prejudices shine through.

3.)        Coldplay: Look at the Stars by Gary Spivack

            This is the weakest of the three biographies. Written around the time of the A Rush of Blood to the Head tour, Spivack claims his thesis is to discover, “what has made Coldplay the world’s most vital, urgent, and pivotal rock band in this new century”. If only Spivack had answered his own question. Instead, readers are treated to an un-engaging narrative that is only saved by the number of colourful and rare photos of the band backstage and in the studio that real fans would adore.

2.)        Coldplay: Nobody Said It was Easy by Martin Roach

            A much better written, if manic, book is Martin Roach’s 2003 work that mainly deals with how he views Coldplay redefined the British musical landscape. At a time when bands like Radiohead had shunned fame and listeners were being tortured to Linkin Park, Coldplay’s emergence was an unexpected revelation. If the band were a gospel, Roach views them as the proverbial Matthew; more concerned about lineage and expectations of fulfilling the ‘law’ of British rock and roll than the subjects themselves. To Roach, it was more important about what Coldplay represented than what they actually were. Likely the most intellectual of the three, Roach’s wandering narrative about the state of popular music is a good read in general, but falls short of delivering any insight into the band that had not been published to death anywhere else.

1.)    Coldplay: Look at the Stars by Phil O’Brien

I love this book. Filled with little asides that provide great background into the history of songs on both Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, O’Brien gets to the heart about what makes Coldplay such an interesting band to follow. My personal favourite detail is how the band decided the brilliant track ‘Warning Sign’ should go on the album.

            During their creative brainstorming sessions the other band members declared their enthusiasm for recording ‘Warning Sign’. Chris didn’t approve of the way this song had turned out. As far as Chris was concerned, it was old news, inspired by his breakup with Lily Sobhani. The others argued against him and ultimately prevailed. (p. 104)

Little stories littered throughout a book that focuses more on text than any exclusive behind-the-scene photos, O’Brien found a way to come to terms with a group that from the start valued its musical integrity over everything else, and won out in the end.

 

Where I’ve been, where I’m going.

 

At risk of sounding uber-Minnesotan, this winter has crushed my soul in a broken little toy.  It seems like the feeling of non-artificial warmth on skin will never return and we have somehow awoken in a dystopia Minnesota of yore where everyone is angry and sad always.

That said, I did do some fun/interesting-to-me things in the past couple of months.

Here we go:

  1. I passed the 6 month mark at my new-ish job. I am currently a junior consumer compliance examiner for community banks. It feels as both that I have been here a lifetime and that I learn 100 new things every day.
  2. I got under the 200 lbs. mark in my weight management goal! In the doctor’s office (where the scale is legitimate and doesn’t lie to me like I tell myself mine is doing on an almost weekly  basis), that I came down to 198 from  243 9 months ago. I still have a ways to go, but running has helped, and generally not eating garbage constantly might have played a small part.
  3. I visited Montana! I went a mini-exam in western Montana a couple weeks ago. Standing in front of Mesa’s that have existed for millennia and the complete absence of anybody around was exhilarating and terrifying.
  4. I have about 5 books going right now. I have a goal to go to my dad’s house before he sells it and collect all the books I inherited/collected before he throws them away or decides they’re his.
  5. Special shout out to “An Appetite for Power” by John Ramsden, which is an absolutely brilliant recounting of the Tory party’s quest for ultimate domination from 1848 to 1996. Highly recommended.
  6.  Spending time with my family. It sounds incredibly kitsch, but the sadness of all the recent loss in my family has really firmed up my family’s sense of community. My sister and I are on better relations now than at any point since I was born. My mother’s strength at going through what she has and still continuing on with such grace is a sight to behold.

 

Whats new with you, internet?