6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-argued counter-riposte to the glib opinions which are used to justify the rich ignoring the needs of the poor.
Society needs to nourish people at every level if it's fabric is to remain healthy. Political parties which represent the interests of the rich often look for reasons to keep more of the wealth they garner from the efficient workings of society as a whole, whilst at the same time resenting paying taxes to keep that same society balanced and healthy. To justify this they...
Published 4 months ago by Gerald Hillman
570 of 640 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity
I've read some remarkable reviews of this book in the press, most of which comment on how acutely it makes its argument, the forensic detail with which Jones writes, and the wonderful style he employs. Unfortunately, I didn't see much of any of these, and ultimately found this book frustrating. Not because I disagreed with the overall argument - far from it - but rather...
Published on 8 Aug 2011 by Christopher Pittard
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570 of 640 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity,
First, the good points, of which there are some. Jones starts promisingly with some astute points about Dewsbury and how it differs from the media representation during the Shannon Matthews case. An early chapter on 1980s contexts for modern class politics is passionate and useful, if something of a primer for those who have never heard of the miners' strike. The real value of the book lies in its critique of the concept of meritocracy, in a passage that will challenge the thinking of many. Jones also effectively deploys some useful statistics and makes some valuable observations about the effects of the misperception of the median salary (£21,000, since you ask, although a better editor would have meant that we didn't have to be told this at least four times).
These points aside, however, the rest of the book is seriously undermined by three major problems:
Firstly, there's the way in which the book presents the working class themselves. Jones is right to challenge the conservative assumption that the working class remain so through choice, a lack of ambition, aptitude, and so on. The problem, however, is that Jones goes too far in the other direction, to the extent that the working class seem to be little more than passive economic victims. The tone is a little too deterministic (which is emphatically not, as the right would argue, the same as Marxist) and occasionally patronising. Related to this is the fact that the book treats the working class as a homogenous body, despite Jones' disclaimer that this stance is to be avoided. Jones has little to say on the fact that many of these chav-bashing attitudes are themselves rooted in certain kinds of working class cultures, a plurality that gets lost in the book's structure of the middle class sneering at the working class. There's also a tinge of romanticizing the working class here, which Jones explicitly says at the beginning he wants to avoid; sorry, you didn't, and especially not when trying to argue that Jade Goody's "poppadom" comments on Celebrity Big Brother might have been "racially tinged." You reckon?
Secondly, the book lacks any theoretical sophistication. Yes, I know it's aimed at a general readership, but that doesn't mean it can't be informed by more sophisticated arguments (Richard Sennett, for instance, writes beautifully and accessibly on similar concepts - see, for instance, his *The Hidden Injuries of Class* or *The Craftsman*), and for a book published by Verso it's a real disappointment in this respect. Jones talks about 'cultural capital,' but Pierre Bourdieu (a crucial source for how taste reinforces social division - which is what this book is supposed to be about) isn't even mentioned in the endnotes. Even Marx and Engels only get a fleeting mention. The book's main sources are (far too) numerous newspaper articles and the stylings of Polly Toynbee and Johann Hari; the former is at least a respected journalist, but this pedigree means that the book feels more like a string of newspaper opinion pieces than a deeply thought-out analysis. Take, for instance, Jones' solution to these problems, which really boils down to a sense of community (indeed, when he visits Ashington, he writes "There's a real sense of community in the air." Really? What does that smell like?). Community is the panacea here, but this seems simplistic, and Jones says nothing on how communities are also defined by exclusion (again, Richard Sennett and Benedict Anderson would have been really useful here). What's really surprising, however, is that Jones makes no reference at all to those who have written before him, making the very same points. I can just about accept that Richard Hoggart's *The Uses of Literacy* isn't at the forefront of working class studies nowadays, but it's really surprising that Michael Collins' *The Likes of Us*, which brought class back to the forefront, doesn't seem to exist in the world of this book.
Thirdly, Jones is really out of his depth when discussing culture, and unfortunately this takes up a hefty portion of the book. The real problem here is that he enthusiastically points out examples that support his thesis, while completely ignoring the many more that challenge it. For instance, he notes that songs such as the Kaiser Chiefs' "I predict a riot" demonizes the tracksuit wearing underclass, and from this concludes that modern popular culture follows suit; yet he seems utterly unaware that for every Chiefs album, there are many more that celebrate working class culture (the Streets, for instance). Likewise, while I hesitate to mount any kind of defence of *Little Britain*, Jones' criticism that Vicky Pollard presents a "grotesque caricature" misses the point that *all* of *Little Britain* is a grotesque caricature, including of the middle and upper class (had Pollard been missing, of course, this would have been invoked as evidence of removing the working class from culture altogether, although this is a far more sinister charge). But on this point, most striking is Jones' rewriting of wider cultural history. He makes the utterly inaccurate claim that the working class only appear in Victorian fiction as cartoonish figures, either ignoring or being ignorant of late Victorian naturalist fiction (Morrison, Gissing, Harkness, etc) and even very late Dickens; likewise, in a book supposedly about twentieth (and 21st) century cultural depictions of the working class, to have no mention whatsoever of Robert Tressell's *The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists* is absolutely shocking (but then again, this wouldn't square with Jones' argument that accurate depictions of the working class only came about in the 1960s).
I really wanted to agree with this book; indeed, in many respects I do, but in spite of it rather than because of it. I would recommend it as a beginner's text on these issues, but it doesn't really say anything more than what you'll have already read in the Guardian or Independent (oh come on, you're looking at this book - you're not a Daily Mailer, are you?).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-argued counter-riposte to the glib opinions which are used to justify the rich ignoring the needs of the poor.,
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Kindle Edition)Society needs to nourish people at every level if it's fabric is to remain healthy. Political parties which represent the interests of the rich often look for reasons to keep more of the wealth they garner from the efficient workings of society as a whole, whilst at the same time resenting paying taxes to keep that same society balanced and healthy. To justify this they demonise the poor using populist resentments against the bad behaviour of a minority. Things like benefit fraud and antisocial behaviour are magnified out of all proportion to give the impression this is a general malaise. Because middle class and working class communities are so compartmentalised and ignorant of each other's real life experience the right wing media have a field day demonising the poor and creating arguments to justify reductions in provision for the poorest. This narrow, short-termist thinking has the same results as the asset-stripping behaviour of the rich had on British industry in the late 20th century - Britain falling behind by not reinvesting and creating a society with real robust depth. Instead the glib and superficial 'get rich quick' merchants got their hands on the levers of financial power, and used it to milk society for their own short term gain - e.g. the banks in the recent selfish bonus-driven scandals which will cost western society not millions, not billions, but trillions in lost economic potential through the way their selfishness has derailed responsible investment. The captains of the financial industry who steered this investment onto the rocks mostly got to keep their fat-cat pensions, holiday homes and the like. At the same time someone taking a couple bottles of drinking water from a store smashed in the recent urban riots got a prison sentence and a criminal record - illustrating how the rich are lenient to each other and harshly repressive towards the 'lower orders'. The book takes a broad overview, giving plenty of examples in how this bias is endemic in our press and media and how its influence has an insidious and poisonous effect on society as a whole through the way it distorts public policies of investment - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the social fabric, on which the rich also ultimately depend, steadily deteriorates. The Tories and New Labour were equally complicit in creating the conditions for this continuing deterioration of the social fabric. Currently there is no organised political movement of substance to halt this decline. There's plenty of protest against irresponsible capitalism and the subsequent austerity programmes that afflict the poorest the worst, but no coherent political movement has evolved to wrest power from those who have sleepwalked us into this economic catastrophe. The book argues that without a genuine respect for the honest toils of the most lowly-paid workers who are fundamental to efficient working of every single part of our industry and commerce, and the creation of social conditions which afford them a decent quality of life, then we as a society will ultimately be poorer and fall behind those societies who do make proper provision.
293 of 357 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Class War,
The idea of 'chavs' is, these days, so pervasive that as I read the first few chapters, I had my doubts. The book seemed merely an apologia for a post-industrial lumpenproletariat, a group of alienated misfits beyond the reach of the rest of society. But Jones' analysis is far wider, deeper and more powerful than that and deserves as wide an audience as possible.
The book starts with a shocking comparison between the media coverage of Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCann. The point is forcefully made that the coverage clearly showed a deep-rooted class prejudice - and ignorance. The McCann's come from the same class as the majority of journalists, leader writers and 'opinion formers'. The same journalists have virtually no experience of the world of Shannon Matthews. Jones makes the point in a quote from Kevin Maguire of the Mirror:
'Increasingly, the lives of journalists have become divorced from those of the rest of us. 'I can't think of a national newspaper editor with school-age kids who has them in a state school,' [Maguire] reflects. 'On top of that, most journalists at those levels are given private medical insurance. So you're kind of taken out of everyday life.' (P27)
'More than anything, it is this ignorance of working-class life that explains how Karen Matthews became a template for people living in working-class communities. 'Perhaps it's because we're all middle class that we tut at the tragic transition of aspirational working class to feckless, feral underclass, and sneer at the brainless blobs of lard who spend their days on leatherette sofas in front of plasma TVs, chewing the deep-fried cud over Jeremy Kyle,' speculated commentator Christina Patterson. 'We've got a word for them too: "Chavs''' (P27)
So how did this come about? How has the whole working class come to be seen as a 'feckless, feral underclass'? Jones continues with a look at 'Class Warriors'. He suggests that:
'Thatcherism fought the most aggressive class war in British history...Thatcher wanted to end the class war - but on the terms of the upper crust of British society. 'Old fashioned Tories say there isn't any class war,' declared Tory newspaper editor Peregrine Worsthorne. 'New Tories make no bones about it: we are class warriors and we expect to be victorious.' (P48)
This class war was waged as an attack on collectivism - the promotion of an aggressive individualism that sees success or failure as a purely personal matter. Everyone should naturally aspire to be middle class. This is not simply the adoption of a neoliberal free market economic philosophy but also an essentially neoconservative cultural approach - defining whole working class communities as 'chavs'. And it worked, thoroughly and conclusively:
'Even before the advent of New Labour, Thatcherism had ensured that the working class would be bereft of political champions. 'The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party, but two,' as [Geoffrey] Howe was later to put it.' (P71)
This reminded me very much of Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class. Hardly a left-wing firebrand, Oborne details the formation of a metropolitan elite. Oborne suggests:
'The Media Class and the Political Class share identical assumptions about life and politics. They are affluent, progressive, middle- and upper-middle class. This triumphant metropolitan elite has completely lost its links with a wider civil society.' (The Triumph of the Political Class, P259)
In case there was any doubt left, Jones states:
'New Labour, through programmes like its welfare reform, has propagated the chav caricature by spreading the idea that people are poor because they lack moral fibre. Surveys show that attitudes towards poverty are currently harder than they were under Thatcher. If people observe that even Labour holds the less fortunate to be personally responsible for their fate, why should they think any different? No wonder the image of communities teeming with feckless chavs has become so ingrained in recent years.' (P94)
Jones details how even supposedly liberal opinion can come to regard the working class as 'chavs'. By emphasising that the working class is predominantly white working class, liberal opinion can ignore the economic underpinnings of class in favour of, as Jones puts it, 'racialization':
'It's one of the ways people have made their snobbery socially acceptable,' says journalist Johann Hari: 'by acting as though they are defending immigrants from the "ignorant" white working class." (P116)
Although, in the past, television representations of working class life might have included Alf Garnett, they also included shows like The Likely Lads and The Rag Trade. Nowadays working class representations seem limited to Vicky Pollard, Wayne and Waynetta, Shameless or even Eden Lake ('[i]t may not come as a surprise that the Daily Mail treated Eden Lake as though it was some kind of drama-documentary, quavering that it was 'all too real' and urging every politician to watch it.' P131)
The representations of the working class have changed as the economic conditions have changed. With the deindustrialization of large swathes of the country, the 'flexibilization' of the work force, the increasing numbers of low-paid, low-skill and part-time jobs, the labour market has become an 'hourglass' economy:
'highly paid jobs at one end, and swelling numbers of low-paid, unskilled jobs at the other. The middle-level occupations, on the other hand, are shrinking.' (P152)
This has significantly weakened the opportunities for collective action. When staff turnover is high, union power is limited. The attacks on the remaining bastions of union activity continue. The latest targets are public sector workers who are currently being portrayed as over-paid, pampered and secure, which is so far from the truth it is almost laughable. Given the 'hourglass economy', commentators who point to a lack of working class aspiration are rather missing the point.
Even after all this, the class war continues. Turning on the radio this morning, I heard that Vince Cable is threatening further anti-union legislation. In the same news bulletin, it was announced that '[over the last 30 years] wages grew by over 100% for judges, barristers and solicitors, while they fell by 5% for forklift truck drivers and 3% for packers and bottlers.' (BBC 'TUC: Wage stagnation over decades as income gap widens').
After all that, it is very difficult to not agree with Owen Jones when he says:
'...as a government of millionaires led by an Old Etonian prepares to further demolish the living standards of millions of working class people, the time has rarely been so ripe for a new wave of class politics.' (P257)
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Was Wayne & Waynetta Wot Dun It.,
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)This book is about one of the biggest cons foistered onto the British public - the belief that we are all middle-class now.
The collapse of the unions and manufacturing and the consequent move of New Labour away from its traditional values was the beginning.
The sale of council houses, the use of easy credit to boost our standard of living and vicious media attacks on working-class people set up our current unhappy, consumerist and aspirational society.
Arguments are persuasively put forward as to how few of us wish to be seen as working-class now (and have borrowed a good deal of money to present ourselves as something we are not).
We wouldn't dream of being racist or sexist but we feel free to look down on poorer people as if they were sub-human.
Yet, there are many millions of quietly dignified Britains, ambivalent about politics, who arise each morning (and work through the night)to keep the country ticking over. These are the people who are unseen by politicians and media types except to be looked down on as uneducated, fake-tanned, bling and nike wearing CHAVS.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time for the exploited to rise up.,
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)I've been wanting to read this for a while, and have finally got round to it. It's an interesting book and very timely in the effort that Jones is making to rescue the depiction of the poor from the clutches of the right wing. Having read this back to back with The Shock Doctrine (a far more disturbing and wide-ranging book) I feel suitably angry and want to do something about it, but frustrated at the lack of a viable strategy for tackling those heartless bastards who run the world.
The author is an angry young man, and that means that the book frequently has a strident edge and is inclined to bang home the same statistics and arguments again and again. His target audience is quite clearly the lay socialist and he lets us have it with both barrels. That's no bad thing, but it tends to position his argument in the same tradition of easy claims and blinkered ideology that he so frequently criticises on the other side. No sensible reader would disagree that the mass media and their political lickspittle always argue from the specific to the general in their attacks on the working class. The likes of Shannon Matthews, as Jones points out very effectively, are always presented as typical of a wider demographic. Yet Jones plays the same game when he talks of the rich and powerful, and even the 'middle class', as if they were homogenous. It's a self-defeating rhetorical strategy and disappointingly obvious.
Part of the problem of the book is that Jones buys into the class labels he writes about too easily. Even in the preface he provides two opinion polls one of which gives a result of over half the population self-classifying as working class, while the second poll has 71 percent identifying themselves as middle class. Jones is right to point out the differences of emphasis in the questions asked but seems to overlook the significance of the results - that the elision of notional class boundaries means that it is outdated to talk in terms of the middle class and the working class. It is worse than outdated, it is actually counterproductive to the kind of renewal of class struggle that Jones is arguing for. I bet if there was a third poll that asked people if they identified themselves as being a member of the 'exploiting class' or the 'exploited class' we would have a much clearer, and more effective, result. The rest of the book bears this out and I'm afraid I cannot believe that using old labels, which are in anyway neutered by the deluge of right wing propaganda, is the way forward.
The struggle of the exploited can only progress by sidestepping the debate framed by the rich and powerful and by offering a new framework of identity, agenda and strategy for implementation of the struggle. In any asymetric conflict the weak must avoid playing to the strengths of the strong. Therefore traditional notions of class have to be set aside. Upper, middle, working and under-class are terms that have been semantically colonised by the right. They have been shaken up, mixed up and rendered virtually meaningless and useless as tools to galvanise opinion. So why not rally behind a much simpler formulation? Such as the exploiting class and the exploited class. What median, or middle class, person would not identify with the notion that they were being exploited while the rich were getting away with murder? It would clarify the struggle beautifully and ensure that a far wider demographic would rally behind efforts to rebalance society.
Incidentally, it would also provide a mechanism for avoiding the trap that Jones frequently sets for himself in apologising for anti-social and immoral behaviour within the working class. It's all very well to say that youth gangs provide a sense of community in areas where social structures have been torn down as a consequence of Thatcher's war on the workers, but if that new community makes life a misery for others then it is surely a manifestation of the same instinct to exploit that wealthier exploiters share? Equally, those who do engage in outright benefit fraud are exploiting others. Only by accepting this can the left get round the conflation of working class, deserving poor, feral underclass and idle poor that allows the right to lump them all in together.
The book's outstanding section dismantles the term 'chav' very effectively and lays out the hypocrisy in the media's coverage of the McCann and Matthews cases. More disturbing is the litany of attacks on the working class in television programmes, factual as well as fiction, and newspaper articles all authored by middle class individuals whose sense of disgust at the downtrodden can only come across as the most vile prejudice against a whole class on the basis of twisted representations of a handful of examples. I know it is fashionable to regard our politicians as corrupt scum, but I dare say as a class there is a vastly higher proportion of them who are fiddling their expenses than there are members of the working class claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. One fact suffices to nail this aspect of Jones's book: welfare fraud costs the nation one billion pounds a year. Tax evasion on the other hand costs the UK seventy billion a year. That's just evasion, not avoidance of the kind that Jimmy Carr practised so effectively.
Where Jones is frequently on weaker ground is in his use of unqualified 'facts' and one-sided readings of certain matters. Take his assertion that 'over half of the top hundred journalists were educated at private school'. I had no idea there was a list of the top hundred. Based on what I wonder? It's just lazy to throw that kind of information around. Or later on when he castigates the 'privileged' for being able to 'top up their children's education by hiring private tutors.' I confess that I have had to do just this for my sons - the reason being that the maths classes at their local comprehensive were so inadequate that I had no choice but to pay a tutor to fill the gap left by the school. This is not a case of topping up, but of remedying a deficit. Yeah, I feel really privileged that I have had to shell out for my sons' education on top of the taxes I already pay for state education...
It's a shame that this kind of thinking creeps into Jones's analysis from time to time because it tends to spoil the essential truth and rightness of his argument that there is a desperate need to change the direction that the UK is heading. If the right continues to be unchecked then we will live in an increasingly segregated society where tens of millions of fellow human beings will have to endure lives of penury and misery through no fault of their own. There is a limit to what will people will endure, as we have witnessed in the middle east. Who knows? Before too much longer, Cameron and his millionaire cabinet cronies might well provoke a working class spring in Britain. Whether that is a good thing is anyone's guess.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overstated and muddled,
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)On very many occasions this book really made me want to rant - at it and about it -, and that's good, a book like this should stir emotions whether in support or opposition, or in my case a bit of both. I can't fault the broad theme: that the poor in this country have been, and continue to be, increasingly marginalized and demeaned since the 1980s is indisputable; that this process was kicked into motion by the Thatcher regime is likewise indisputable; but I do take issue with some of the detail of the arguments put by the author.
To my mind this book has three really strong stand out chapters: Chapter 2 - Class Warriors, Chapter 3 - Politicians vs Chavs, and Chapter 6 - A Rigged society. These three deal with the portrayal of the poor by the media, the betrayal of the poor by the left wing politicians and the myth of meritocracy respectively. I was astounded to read some of the comments from the media regarding the poor particularly those in social housing - not astounded by the negativity (that's almost to be expected from the likes of the Daily Mail) but the vindictiveness, even outright viciousness of them took me aback. I honestly believe that if these "journalists" had any honour at all they would resign and spend the remainder of their sorry lives hanging their heads in shame.
And that's not the worst of it; that positon goes to the politicians, in particular those of the alleged left whose very existence depends upon the poor. Some of the comments from the "new Labour" politicians smacks of an almost palpable contempt; of all the chapters this is the one that left me most dismayed. Finally the chapter on meritocracy: I was surprised to hear that the word was coined by Michael Young in a very pejorative sense as a system that ought to be avoided; it has only since become something of a goal to be achieved. In reality the notion of a meritocracy can be easily seen to be flawed in the absence of the same life chances - it's much easier to "gain merit" if you're half way there at birth.
Unfortunately, despite my overall agreement, I do have a number of issues with this book. There is a degree of overstatement, not least the notion of the word "Chavs" itself, the author tries to imply that the poor in general are considered in this vein but I simply don't see this, people know what they mean by "Chav" and it is a very distinct group of characteristics and not taken as a synonym for poor people living in council housing. The author cites Wayne Rooney and David Beckham as examples of "working class" people regarded as Chavs: now whilst I think Rooney may well fit the bill, Beckham is universally lauded in the press as a role model of behaviour, ambition and fatherhood so this attempt by the author falls completely flat.
Thacher: wow I thought I hated Thatcher. Owen Jones probably despises Thatcher and her cronies rather too much to form a reasoned argument. He makes much of the tragedy of the dismantling of union powers by the Thatcher regime and I wholeheartedly agree; however, he is somewhat remiss in not pointing out that it was the unions who rolled out the red carpet, opened the door to number 10 and greeted Thatcher in with a pot of tea and a plate of fig rolls, through their undemocratic and outrageous behaviour during the 70s and into the early 80s.
Thatcher gets the blame for quite a lot in this book and I'm not opposed to that but a lot of the authors arguments depend on the liberal application of hindsight and a rather speculative belief that we would still have a strong manufacturing and heavy-industry component in this country without Thatcher - hmm! well maybe, but. There is also a very strong-thread of sexism through this book - I'm sure the author doesn't intend it but we hear a lot about good quality "working-class" jobs for men, men's working clubs and so forth - well in that case we could easily solve the current employment problems by say, banning women from work, however, this is the 21st Century and I think we've moved beyond that sort of thing haven't we? Anyway, I'm sure that wasn't the authors intention but a little care over this sort of thing would be good.
Now for what really distresses me about this book: there is an underlying thread of patronization here which again I'm sure the author didn't intend but in a way is all the worse for that. The "working-class" is done unto, put-upon, oppressed and entirely subject to the will of the "middle-classes" with no possibility of them taking responsibility for their own lives. This representation of the "working classes" as the deltas and epsilons of some Huxleyan nightmare is utterly ridiculous, patronizing and insulting. What annoyed me most was his comparison of himself and his school friend, the author left school for university, his friend didn't, the only possible reason, according to the author, is that he was middle-class and his friend wasn't. Or perhaps the author was more intelligent, or flourished earlier, or had more and better books in his house, or was read to by his parents, or had a tradition and automatic assumption that university was the next step, or maybe all of these and more. The important thing is that NONE of these is exclusively "middle-class" and a more obvious example of the authors patronizing attitude is not necessary.
Finally, this notion of "Class": I'm one of those people who get very short-thift in this book in that I don't quite believe "Class" exists. Certainly there are people who have a much easier walk through life than others, but to my mind, and personal observation, this lies on a continuum, there is no dividing line and there is no possibility of defining a dividing line, what's more this book about class division can't even describe what class is, so where does that leave anyone? The only strict definition given in the book is the Marxist notion of one who sells his labour to another - well that's pretty much everyone - so "We're all working-class now"? sounds good to me. The author tries to add a qualifier to that Marxist interpretation - day-to-day autonomy of the worker - but that's equally unconvincing. As far as I can tell the concept of "Class" is kept alive by those to whom it's useful i.e. social commentators, the very people who you would expect to want to break down any such barriers, it has no other reality.
There is actually quite a lot more I could say about this book but well, I'm not writing a book am I.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There's a good argument here somewhere - but it's not made consistently,
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)I like Owen Jones. His articles for the Indy are always good value and he talks a lot of sense on Twitter and elsewhere, providing a rare socialist voice from and for the young. Perhaps my hopes for this book were too high as a result, but ultimately I found it a little disappointing. While the premise is a good one - the way many politicians demonise the working classes to distract attention from policies that do them harm - the book is let down by Jones' occasional habit of not concluding his own arguments. For example, he rightly says that football has moved away from its working-class roots, but after acknowledging the problems with hooliganism in the 80s, he then moves onto something else. So what point was he making? On another occasion, he holds up the Jade Goody - Big Brother incident as an example of how the media portrays the working classes, while quickly dismissing her racist behaviour on the programme, which would surely have attracted greater criticism from the likes of Jones, had it come from anyone else. Presumably Jones' aim in writing this book was to win new converts to his way of thinking, rather than just preaching to the converted, but these sorts of inconsitent arguments are likely to mean he fails to do so.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A sparrow is a bird, but not all birds are sparrows,
32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
Like Pittard, I agree with Jones on some points and I regard myself as on the left. I also happen to know a bit about some of the subjects that Jones writes about. This makes it easier to spot the over-simplifications, gaps, lack of evidence and various other problems. I have annotated such problems on most of the pages of my copy (yes, it took a long time). The book reads as though written by someone who has spent too much time hanging around on the left, hearing the same old platitudes in meetings and bars. The over-reliance on newspaper clippings is a tell-tale sign of this. It turns the book into a 269-page Guardian-style rant (and we all know how tiresome those can be). Much of his 'evidence' consists of interviews with the great and good of politics (and some working-class people), splicing up the transcripts for whatever quote suits the point he is making. He does gives some other genuine and useful evidence but it is rare.
What most irked me was the unfailingly deterministic and patronising view of the working-class that Jones exhibits. It's common amongst many middle-class people so one shouldn't be too harsh on him I suppose, given his background. When you are on the outside looking in, you tend to over-emphasise the externals. However, it is a fundamental flaw to strip working-class people of their moral autonomy by blaming almost everything that happens to them on social conditions and the perfidious Tories (oh, and those sell-outs in the Labour Party of course). Coming from a working-class background, it doesn't surprise me that so many of them vote Tory. Mistaken it may be, but one can see that it's a relief from being treated like sheep by too many socialists. Tory individualism is deeply flawed in many ways, but at least it takes seriously the concept that we are, in fact, something more than members of a class. It is because of a sense of their own moral autonomy that the most vehement criticisms you will ever hear of fecklessness come not from the Daily Mail but from working-class people themselves. There is far more to that age-old phenomenon than media manipulation. This is also why Jones' claim that criticism of 'chavs' is disguised criticism of the working-class is so fundamentally misguided. He could do with reading more history. While he's at it he might care to look up Karl Marx's disgraceful view of the 'lumpenproletariat'. Now there's another middle-class intellectual who liked his categories.
It's a shame. There are interesting things to be said about the subject. I sympathise with some of the book's aims. It is also true that the working class in general has largely disappeared from the political and cultural landscape except as a series of caricatures. Unfortunately, Jones just provides another example of the left-wing versions of those caricatures. Never has it been more apparent that working class people need to get used to speaking for themselves again rather than leaving it to others. I'll exhibit my own personal prejudice here and say that the first step on that road is for more of them to do what I have done and get rid of their television sets. That's 28 hours a week (on average) of middle-class-controlled pap removed in one fell swoop. More time for reading (and criticising) books like this.
31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge a book by its cover,
To give a concrete case, the book discusses the Shannon disappearance and the Madeline abduction in Portugal and argues the greater amount of money spent on the latter demonstrates in part that the media did not care much about the working class Shannon case (in which the child was subsequently found alive), going on to paint Dewsbury where the Shannon family live in a negative (Chav) light.
This was the book's opening real-life examination of the Chav stereotype harming a community, ie Dewsbury. It highlighted the organisational expertise of the Maddeline family and the lengths to which they went to find the child, mentioning campaign posters as far away as Dundee, as I remember. The Shannon case was resolved when they found the child in a relative's place, which is mentioned in the book. The Maddeline case has never been resolved. Now to my mind, this does not represent a particularly strong argument against the media purportedly labeling a certain community as chavs: Shannon case - solved = good (but still, look at how everyone is prejudice towards the family that conspired to have the girl kidnapped for money); Maddy case: unsolved = bad (but they still had a lot of resources because they were an attractive middle-class family with celebrity support and friends and loads of money was spent on a somewhat hopeless cause).
I think this is actually quite an irresponsible argument to make, especially in the opening pages of a book and as I suggested, the cover, I feel, misled me into reading something that was very familiar re Thatcherism, New Labour etc.
Before I get comments for being middle class and privately educated, actually I am neither. Chavs just wasn't what I expected - which brings me to the old adage 'Don't judge a book by it's cover'!.
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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones (Paperback - 1 May 2012)