Blog post

Chavs across the Atlantic

Chris Webb26 July 2011

Few North American readers will be familiar with the derogatory term chavs, as described by Owen Jones in his latest book, but they are no doubt well versed in the collective consciousness of the subtitle 'The Demonization of the Working Class.' The idea of "welfare queens" being an almost universal pejorative across the neoliberal universe. Pulitzer Prize winning writer Connie Schultz describes the term as the rough equivalent of North America's "trailer trash" in a review of Chavs in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Jones, she writes,

is at his strongest when he reports on real events, such as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's methodical dissembling of her country's manufacturing base. He also deftly dissects how British media increasingly promote a disregard for the real lives of the underprivileged.

While Jones is a "convincing champion for the underprivileged," he is criticized for romanticizing the working class and willingly explaining away their bad behavior. This curious observation from across the Atlantic is focused on the anti-immigrant and racist views of some members of the working class, which Jones describes "as almost entirely circumstantial." Schultz, on the other hand, argues that decent jobs and housing "will not eradicate blood-curdling bigotry." Schultz is unclear as to how such a change in working class thought will come about, but it seems unlikely that the proverbial cart of tolerance will be put before the horse of higher wages, stable jobs, health insurance, and immigration reform in particular.

This raises the question of whether the working class is demonized to a greater degree, or perhaps in different ways, in the US compared to the UK. Is "trailer trash" a suitable North American synonym for Chavs?

Visit the Cleveland Plain Dealer to read the full review. 

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