"Every breath you breathe belongs to someone there..."
The other day at work, I found myself amused to come across a copy of Lusso, the "luxury lifestyle magazine". Amongst its contents were a strangely Vice-worthy cover feature on the kind of experiences one might enjoy in post-Communist Russia (including "luxury vodkas" and driving armoured cars), featuring a limpid, high-cheekboned female on the cover, not dissimilar to those of another distasteful magazine; another, concerning the Segrave Club of Knightsbridge - an 'exclusive' group that allows members the 'use' of 'luxury cars' such as Aston Martins and Ferraris and what-have-you, all for a membership fee of somewhere around £5000 - included a pull-quote that made me laugh out loud: "I think I could handle the class warfare that driving around in a [insert overpriced automobile name here] entails." Presumably what the gentleman in question - and you can tell it is a man, verbally stroking this car like the idealised cock he takes it for - enjoyed was being given envious looks by even the rich, rather than having his car keyed by 'hooded youths'.
What struck me about this quote was the sheer strangeness of actually seeing the word 'class' in print, in a context not taking it to mean a bunch of children being educated (which they aren't these days, anyway.) Within the context of the mass media, or even everyday conversation - whose content seems to have more-or-less changed into that of the former in either case - class seems to be a total taboo, unless treated in a certain way: the occasional Ken Loach-style social-realist misery-fest on the BBC, a documentary here and there about 'underdeveloped' communities, or, as in Den Elliott's recent set of photos about the Bournville Estate in Weston-super-Mare, some tasteful 'journalistic photography'. The only acceptable framing for the topic is that of the anthropological document - a trip into the black areas of the map, outside the territory of seamless affluence that makes up most of the media Weltanschauung. This perhaps goes some way to explaining why the BBC could come up with such a folly as the White Season - class is made the subject of ethnology, or ontology; it's 'your roots', 'where you're from', and thus, ultimately, 'the way of the world', 'something that can't be changed', rather than the result of objective political or social structures. That the divide-and-conquer tactics of the nineteenth-century late-bourgeois class, rallying to 'king and country' when under attack from emerging working-class radicalism, should be enacted through an ostensibly public broadcasting service, shows that the supposed democratising effects of popular media - the idea that, both within the corporation, and among its viewers, the common thread of 'the public interest' makes them all equal; and that, moreover, relatively new public institutions like the BBC had a culture more pervaded by class mobility - have become as nothing. The bourgeois worldview, with Oxbridge graduates feeding straight into the stereotypes of 'media professionals', has colonised the public space (or what little remains of it.)
This became oddly obvious to me last night, as I was walking home. The same road that leads from my neighbourhood - lower-middle-class, with at least a few working-class families, all mainly in somewhat run-down Victorian semi-detacheds - through the working-class neighbourhoods that stretch to the east of Holdenhurst Road, towards Boscombe and Southbourne, travels to the heart of the town, a web of chain stores, nightclubs and alleys, where the young, affluent and airheaded may be seen stumbling around - whether in untucked dress-shirts and wide-boy flashed rolexes, or the Vice art-school student uniform. I was thinking about why it is that the middle-class-and-over customers at work a) always seem so miserable, as if buying huge amounts of unnecessary stuff were a disgusting chore, and b) always seem to believe it not merely perfectly reasonable to ask you to act like their personal shopper, performing stupid rule-bending tasks for them that they can easily do themselves, never once taking pity on a face prematurely aged by harassment, as all working-class faces seem to be, but feel that they have to treat you like a piece of shit, and that you should be thankful for the privilege of even speaking to them. The answer, it struck me, is that, to these people, class is essentially invisible. Don't misunderstand me - they know perfectly well that there is a division between myself and them, that I am a supposed inferior to be looked down on; but the idea that these divisions are the result of social and political structures doesn't even occur to them; neither does the idea occur that anyone would resent their arrogance or monetary independence (an independence, mind you, thoroughly undeserved, based as it is on nothing, and accompanied by corrosive stupidity). To say that, in their worldview, this inequality is 'naturalised' is putting it mildly.
I've recently been reading Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia, and one of (the many) quotes that resonated with me concerned the nature of elegance, as it is (only) found in bourgeois circles. Much of my time at work is unfortunately spent idly gawping at the, ahem, 'fairer sex'; the store is something of a magnet for all those with nowhere better to go, and the slightest hint of social pretension - thus attracting many of the young men and women who attend the local art school and university, as well as many of the foreign students who visit, i.e. all those who can afford to be elegant and/or attractive. The idea, however, that any of them might consider me a human being, has been proved wrong time and time again. Adorno writes that "The elegant attract by the expectation that they will be free in private from greed for advantages already theirs, and from the blinkered myopia that results from constricting circumstances.... One... believes that their sensitivity must recoil, at least in thought, from the brutality on which their privilege depends, whereas the victims have scarcely even the possibility of recognising what makes them such." This idea has been the foundation of a whole host of archetypes, from the Victorian philanthropist to the sensitive little rich girl who crops up again and again in literature, folk tales and society - from the count's daughter who visits, unbeknownst, the suffering people of the village below the castle, to the 'ministering angels' of nurses in the First World War, to the bohémienne who takes up with the sensitive working-class boy (see Elizabeth David for ref.) But, "[n]ot even the subtlest snobism has dégoût for its objective precondition, but rather insulates the snob from its realisation"; class consciousness, in the bourgeois, instead of flashing up the suffering their existence and behaviour creates, revealing how they themselves are shaped by the social and political structures they are part of, consists in "deleting [their] individual destiny, help[ing their] being-in-itself, [their] social character, to emerge."
Reading part of K-Punk's Tricky cover story in the new Wire, I found myself nodding involuntarily at his description of 'Tricky Kid' as "the best song about a working-class male projected out of his milieu into the pleasure gardens of the hyper successful since The Associates' 'Club Country'". My own, none-too-frequent, encounters with the social milieu of bourgeois hipsterism and 'indie culture' have been, to say the least, curiously enervating: expecting, to a certain extent, the excitement and glamour that was absent from a childhood and adolescence spent in the alternately dreary and torturous realm of public education (including 5 years in a rather shit all-boys' secondary), in a family with no real expectations and not a lot of money, I found simply a variant on the same dreariness, and a sense of continual exile. I was there, but not with them. The seemingly ontological sense of embarassment I carried around - my clumsiness, my ill-fitting clothes, my social ill-ease - persisted precisely where I'd hoped they would disappear; indeed, they seemed almost amplified. The ideal of an unbridled hedonism permitted by monetary independence quickly palled, and was revealed as impossible; it soon became apparent that my previous depressive insistence on the impossibility of happiness was nearer the mark (if still a little off). The world and possibilities documented in Virginia Nicholson's Among The Bohemians: Experiments In Living 1900-1939 were a corrolary of the experience of modernity, something that has apparently now left us. In his Plan B article last year on Cocorosie, the modern paradigm of Williamsburg pseudo-bohemia, of a monetary independence that gives licence for so-called carefreedom, Everett True wrote that "[b]eing outside means being condemned to a cold existence away from the neon and greasepaint"; but it is no longer possible to "make yourself that way"; there is no way inside.