Chavs

Being an oldie, I’m often left far behind when it comes to contemporary popular culture. That’s a great disadvantage, I’ve found, when it comes to my weekly Pub Quiz, though luckily I have team-mates who seem to follow the pop music scene and soap operas more diligently than I. (I’m there for the History questions. Sometimes Kajsa comes along in case a question comes up on Sweden or feminism.)

It was a shock to me therefore when, TV channel-surfing one afternoon, I came across the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’ for the first time. I’m afraid I was hooked, and have to admit that I have occasionally tuned into it deliberately since. (Afterwards I feel dirty.) It features – if you don’t know – various social inadequates slagging each other off in front of a studio audience, with a couple of heavies on hand in case it gets out of hand. Most of the ‘guests’ are young, many are single mothers or serial fathers, all seem to sleep around quite irresponsibly – one of the regular events is a DNA test to determine who the father of one of their babies is; most of the women and girls are outlandishly fat; the men – as it transpires – are abusive; many are thieves, sometimes from their own (fat) mothers; and nearly all of them are unemployed. They shout over one another – much of it ‘bleeped out’. They lie to the high heavens, until tested by Kyle’s ‘lie detector’: whose accuracy, incidentally, Kyle absolutely relies on. (Haven’t those things been shown to be a bit dodgy?) They’re usually ugly. Nearly all of them are on drugs. An extraordinary proportion of them are ex-cons. Kyle treats most of them appallingly, with no understanding of the conditions that probably made them like this. (One exception is drug addicts who genuinely want to kick their habits. He arranges expensive rehabilitation for them.) He’s particularly critical of the unemployed. ‘Then go and get a job then, you useless waste of space!’ They often leave in a worse and more violent state than they arrived in. It’s hard to understand why they agree – or, usually, volunteer – to come on his show, unless they’re paid well for it – drug money. It’s sickening. And fascinating.

Of course these are all marginal people, quite real, of course – I’ve met them in Hull – and may even be representative of a sub-culture in Britain. But they’re not typical, on the whole, of the ‘working classes’ they come from. It has occurred to me, however, that it’s shows like this, and Daily Mail accounts of this kind of behaviour, that form many Conservatives’ dominant image of the lower orders whom the last government seemed so intent on punishing. (See Owen Jones’s excellent Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, on this.) If, coming out of Eton and Oxford, this is our rulers’ only glimpse of hoi polloi – apart from faithful college retainers – I’m not surprised that they are as pitiless and vindictive as they are.

But I really must try to kick the habit. Perhaps there’s a rehabilitation centre for guilty ‘Kyle Show’ addicts that Jeremy could send me to.

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