18 February 2012

all culture, no class

Melvyn Bragg in the New Statesman, 20 Feb 2012:
While class has been a most useful social marker in these islands for centuries, it is now, I suspect, well on its way to losing its authority to culture. People today are more comfortable identifying themselves by their cultural choices than by their class. They are likely to say 'I'm a Radio 4 person' or that they like grime, or jazz, or film, or opera. The class barricades have been stormed by the forces of a broad culture, which is made up of clusters of individuals who have decided for themselves what they will be in society.

I am fascinated by that 'most useful'.

And yes, nothing screams post-political classlessness than someone self-describing as a 'Radio 4 person.'

Or as 'an opera person'.

And hey, according to Melvyn, 'it was the Beatles who nailed it. No longer could anyone condescend to working-class culture.'

And Dizzee Rascal just goes to prove it, so there! Just so long as you forgot that time he was condescended to on an olympian scale by Paxman on Newsnight. That was just some weird outlier. What book about chavs? I can't hear you! So yeah, culture and class completely and successfully decoupled. Good old Britain. Onward and upward!


Greyhoos said...

For what it might be worth, I've been running into Stateside variations of this same argument lately -- the return of the "pop culture as great equalizer" thesis. Very American, it is; and it's been a favored conservative trope on these shores for ages. Maybe Bragg's been reading over the shoulders of fellow passengers during transatlantic flights(?).

Zone Styx Travelcard said...

Quite possibly. I may have been a little harsh on Mel B, there's no doubt that there is a broader popular culture now, and one which doesn't police its borders so aggressively, gatekeeping to keep out the extreme ends of the class strata. There's also the point - which @bat020 (on twitter) raised re my fragment on fashion in Retromania, that people dress themselves (literally and culturally) 'aspirationally', obscuring socio-economic status. But those socio-economic facts remain in place and continue to condition all of the above. But yeah, agree about America, consumerism as imported from post-war US is key, and the wishful thinking that class begins and ends with your current account balance is of a piece with the fiction of America as classless.