Thursday, 28 June 2007

Don’t mention the class war

More from Watching the English...

Class denial rules
We are clearly as class-conscious as we have ever been, but many of us are increasingly embarrassed by our class-consciousness, and do our best to deny or disguise it. The middle classes are particularly uncomfortable about class, and well-meaning upper-middles are the most squeamish of all. They will go to great lengths to avoid calling anyone ‘working class’—resorting to polite euphemisms such as ‘low-income groups’, ‘less privileged’, ‘ordinary people’, ‘less educated’, ‘the man in the street’, ‘tabloid readers’, ‘council estate’ (or sometimes, among themselves, less polite euphemisms such as ‘Tracey and Kevin’, ‘Essex Man’ and ‘Mondeo Man’.)

These over-tactful upper-middles may even try to avoid using the word ‘class’ at all, carefully talking about someone’s ‘background’ instead—which always makes me imagine the person emerging from either a Lowry street scene or a Gainsborough or Reynolds country-manor portrait, depending on the ‘class’ to which ‘background’ is intended to refer. (This is always obvious from the context: ‘Well, with that sort of background, you have to make allowances…’ is Lowry; ‘We prefer Saskia and Fiona to mix with girls from the same background…’ is Gainsborough/Reynolds.)

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