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Not about the Middle Classes at all - chucklesome nonetheless
on 3 December 2010
This part-comic, part social-commentary, part deconstruction of market segments, 'not actual size' book is subtitled 'an illustrated field guide to the behaviour and tastes of Britain's new middle-class tribes'. Herein lies the reality: this book is not about the middle-classes at all, but, rather, about the aspirational group of people who would like to be middle-class, and perhaps imagine they are. This irony is not lost on the writers. Whether, as a reader, you get this, is rather up to you: if you believe that Victoria Beckham really is 'posh', but Jordan is nonetheless middle-class, then you might find yourself accurately described in the book, but you won't get the ironic subtext.
Whether this book describes you, or your friends, or people you secretly enjoy laughing at (which is why I give this book just 4 stars -- it is ultimately a merciless and uncompassionate book which, ever so condescendingly, manages to sneer at everything it describes), or is just about a different world which you've noticed in passing but never really encountered, it does contain numerous gems of vocabulary which will enhance anyone's conversation. Wikillectuals are people who bone up on Wikipedia to appear knowledgable on topics they know otherwise nothing about. Poorgeois is what the otherwise bourgeois (and possibly gorgeous) buy now that the boom is over and bust has set in. Free-Whelans are a sub-tribe of the Hornby set who look up to Harriet Harman and never quite recovered from being sixties radicals.
Ultimately, this book has a rather serious and slightly sour purpose. Through all of its stereotypes and characterisations -- the Damn-Wrights, The Can-Dos, the Jack Pack, and my favourite White Vain Man, among others -- it serves to point out how the aspirations of the Blair years have been dashed, and those who believed (rightly or wrongly, for you to judge, though the book is fairly clear about where it stands) that they had become Middle-Class by dint of being 'Not Working Class' are now in differing ways facing up to or denying the reality of less money and doing-their-best as an alternative to having ideals. This sourness pervades what might otherwise have been a genial laugh-at-ourselves. In fact, it is exactly the laugh-at-ourselves which is missing from this book. Of all the tribes described, the authors and their ilk are studiously missing. We might call them 'The Too-Clever by Halfs', or, following on from the book's own subversive punning, the 'Two Clever by Halfords'. University graduates who were already middle-class before they became students and are now able to disdainfully look down on all the others... these are missing from this collection.
Perhaps the sourness would have been sweetened if only the authors had also managed to write themselves in.
Then we would all be laughing.