FREDDIE STRACHAN on ‘the chav’.
Sitting in the comfort of the Cambridge bubble, only looking out onto the world through the BBC website and the occasional article in the student papers, I have somewhat forgotten the existence of what we middle class ‘superior society’ call the chav. However, the recent holiday has rekindled my acquaintance with what my friend likes to call this ‘breed’.
My friend is the sort of person who moans that chavs are the unemployed and unattractive underclass. In his view, (and it is a view shared by many) chavs are a breed of Jeremy Kyle, trailer-trash delinquents; a revolting peasant group that should all be rounded up and made to work, neutered or shot at dawn. They offend all of his senses: they look awful, sound dreadful, smell frightful, feel rough and if you were to somehow lick one they probably taste disgusting too.
Before you jump at my friend, for what seems to be an aggressive narrow- minded view of the world, I would like to point out that actually he is not an appalling bigot, but a rather charming, fuzzy- wuzzy Lib Dem. He is a broad minded SPS student with strong views on racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination and an avid reader of The Guardian: a CUCA bender in a blazer he is not. How can someone so meek and mild therefore have such strong views on chavs, and why is his view shared by so many?
Indeed, my friend is not alone. The Internet has a multitude of websites devoted to chav humiliation, such as chavscum.co.uk, ‘a guide to Britain’s burgeoning underclass’ and anti-chav.com (a website that interestingly has an advert for the University of Liverpool across its top) which aims to ‘fight Chavs wherever we may find them (everywhere)’. These websites are at times hilarious, but the bile hidden below the surface is plain to see.
People such as those writing the websites hate chavs because they are seen as a drain on society; a group of uncouth, thieving layabouts who are supported by the state and like nothing more than to get underage girls pregnant and to try to kill themselves on their mountain-bikes in traffic. Yet, one cannot say these things about any other minority, doing so would cause tumultuous outrage. Imagine a website called, say, ‘blackscum.com’ being allowed to exist for more than two minutes.
But, is there really any difference between the chavs and disaffected groups of yesteryear? Certainly the chavs are less violent, and less anarchical, yet like older subcultures they have their own culture, fashion, dance, art (well, graffiti) and music (if you can call Blazin’ Squad music). Yet, unlike punks or hippies, the chavs have no political agenda, they are not a ‘movement’ bent on rebellion, and unlike the other aforementioned groups, their label has been stuck from the outside, rather than by themselves.
However, chavs are the one group we are all allowed to release our fury and our anxieties upon, because they are the opposite of everything that society pretends to be: they are unhealthy, politically incorrect, materialistic, drunk, sometimes high, and, worst of all, eating a cheeky KFC. Frightful. They seemingly have no redeeming features and it is, therefore, acceptable for us all to hate them without worrying. They do not deserve our sympathy.
Yet, the chav bashing, which we all guiltlessly indulge in, perhaps says more about us than it does about them. It is a perverted form of self-flattery: we despise them because we it makes us feel good about ourselves, because by doing so we can see that we are not them. They are a distant other whom we can loathe from afar, and compare ourselves to without caring about what their problems or aspirations are.
A historically knowledgeable chav-basher may point out that Victorian England also had a fear of the plague of the great unwashed, and that this fear has not abated since. However, the Victorians were fearful for better reasons; uprisings and riots were more of a reality, and made their fears more real. Modern chavs are really quite harmless. They are not a threat to our lives, our government, or our civilization: in fact, nothing that we hold to be important. They are a silent minority, interested only in peddling their fake Burberry (a company incidentally founded in Basingstoke, not Belgravia) goods and finding their next high. They are, quite simply, an easy target.
So, sneer at a chav if you must, but bear in mind that it really is not their fault. My friend, however, maintains that mocking them makes him happy, since they are quite foul.