Sunday 10 May 2009

Does anyone want to be middle class?

Last week during a flight back from Belfast to London, I was reading a free copy of the Daily Mail, and I came across an article by Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine. The feature was entitled ‘The New Endangered Species’ and was one of a number of essays appearing in the paper on the subject of Britishness.

The title was in reference to the opinion that being middle-class today in Britain is something that is seen as being unfashionable and slightly embarrassing for people to admit to. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I started reading, as I thought ‘He does have a point here’.

The previous week, there were many reports in the press on the actress Kate Winslet, who claimed that her background was never middle-class, and that she came from an impoverished working class background. The argument presented by Dylan Jones was that it was time that people started appreciating and valuing traditional middle-class attitudes and aspirations instead of constantly being embarrassed about them. I thought about my own background and upbringing and also my current status within the social classes, and I had to admit I’ve been as guilty as anyone of denying parts of my middle-class status.

Looking back my own upbringing I'd say it was working class, I grew up in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham, full of what I would call aspirational working class people. Many of my parents generation worked in skilled manufacturing trades like the car industry, or they were tool-makers, builders, plumbers, electricians etc. Not many people had formal academic qualifications.

Like myself many of my school friends went on to do A-Levels and go to university, usually being the first in our families to do so. As graduates we’re now working in what you might call more traditional middle-class working environments, and I have to admit there have been times when I’ve felt slightly conflicted by it all.

A few years ago I was in the office at work, and a conversation started amongst a group of temp workers. A few of them began discussing learning Latin at school. Although I thought I went to a decent school, the idea of learning Latin was unheard of. It soon transpired that everyone in the office had been to private school which explained why they’d all been taught Latin. The exceptions were myself and my mate sitting next to me.

I remember sitting at my desk listening to this conversation and shaking my head, thinking to myself; ‘When did my life become so middle-class that I now work in an office surrounded by people who all went to private school?'. There have been other occasions like this and sometimes it hasn't bothered me, but on this occasion was I wasn't happy about it at all!

This is one of the reasons why I liked this article because Dylan Jones really does have a point here. So many people don't want to admit to being middle-class. Why is this? And why is it so uncool to admit to being so? I except that today in terms of my education and career that I am now middle-class, but to be honest, depending on the question, the mood that I’m in, and the time of day, I might call myself middle-class, and then I might call myself working-class.

I just seem to chop and change, I drift between identifying with both classes. I do meet other people though who are completely conflicted by the whole idea of what class they are. My work colleague who I sit next to is a classic example. Despite the fact that he has a First Class degree from a Red Brick University, is currently studying for a Law conversion degree and works in a legal background, he refuses to except that any aspect of his life and social status is now middle-class.

I’ve told him he’s conflicted, which he’s taken this onboard but still refuses to except that he is anything but truly working-class. His attitude amuses me, but he’s not the only other person who I’ve met who thinks like this.

I suppose that being in the Daily Mail, this was a great piece to write as so many of the Mail’s readership is typically middle-class and Dylan Jones was championing their aspirations and attitudes which is fair enough. But then I thought that although you can argue that people don’t want to identify with being middle-class, being working-class is hardly that much better. Personally I think traditional working-class culture has been dumbed downed and ridiculed also. These days to be working-class you are seen to be a ‘Chav’ or part of an uneducated, unsophisticated underclass.

It seems that in this country we hate everyone, regardless of what class they belong to. Class politics in this country is so complicated and complex. It must be totally confusing for anyone born outside this country to get their heads around it all. Class in Britain is so much more than how much you earn and the job you do, it’s also tied in with your upbringing, attitudes, beliefs, life style choices, your accent, fashion sense, and political views. I could probably go on as the list is endless.

Maybe we just need to learn how to start appreciating and valuing everyone a bit more in this country regardless of their background, so that we can move away from these class prejudices, but somehow I think that this is a long way off. Politicians have previously spoken about how we now live in a ‘Classless’ society, but I think we’re a million miles away from this. If this was really the case there wouldn't be a need for articles such as the one in last week’s Mail.

*Click on the title heading to read Dylan Jones’ full article in the Daily Mail

1 comment:

  1. So why does he have a point exactly Rodders?

    Middle class values for example are generally used to refer to the typical (or perhaps soon to be untypical) British attributes of decency, fairness, politeness and such.

    Can I take it you don't hold with this kind of thing?