Chavs, the demonization of the working class (Owen Jones, 2011)

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Chavs, the demonization of the working class, by Owen Jones (2011).

Score: Informative and well-written.

Jordi Évole is one of the most influential journalists and documentary makers in Spain right now, and a few weeks ago he devoted one of his weekly shows to exploring how the working class felt about its own class status. He interviewed Owen Jones in it, and after reading Jones’ book I find it pretty obvious that Évole was inspired by this book to write his own show where he asks himself if the same conclusions, or similar ones, can be applied to Spain and Spanish people.

Owen Jones explains he was inspired to write about the demonization of the working class when he witnessed the telling of a classist joke against chavs in an otherwise tolerant and progressive environment where racist or homophobic jokes would have been frowned upon. Jones dedicates the first chapter to providing examples of what have come to be known as chavs being ridiculed, scorned and ostracised unlike any other social group. His thesis is that they have become acceptable targets by a series of political reasons.

The second chapter describes in great length the dismantlement of the secondary sector during Thatcherism, when well-paid manual jobs were relocated to other countries and the void was filled with not enough jobs of not enough quality in the tertiary sector. The following chapters describe how both the Tories and the new Laborists insisted in the delusion that classes no longer exist and everyone is welcome in an ever extending middle class. Those who are unable to climb up the social ladder are explained as lacking the personal qualities required and therefore blamed for their own poverty.

Jones uses many sources, data and objective facts to debunk the myth that the working class is a parasite of the middle class through benefit fraud, and that the only reason they keep being poor is because they don’t try hard enough to succeed. Jones argues that the game is actually rigged against those who are born to the lower classes, who have it much more difficult to overcome poverty, regardless of talent.

The book made me think a lot about class and classism, how it still exists and how trying to convince us that it is an obsolete concept actually goes against us, as working class. The moment they convince you that everyone has equal access to the middle class, you’ve lost (if you’re not middle or upper class already).

Jones has a clear thesis and defends it with everything he has. To people who are not used to complete arguments about anything, he might sound opinionated and one-sided. If you consider you have a formed opinion about a certain topic and you have got it from a single source, the problem is yours, not the author’s. Go out and read a book about why Thatcherism was so great and form your own opinion.

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