Susan was a woman, that much was obvious; indeed many a passer-by would quip to one another ‘that ones a woman!’ But really, Susan was much, much more than merely a woman. Susan was a woman multi faceted, with many an edge, virtue, perspiring with guile and purpose.
She was a consummate professional yes, but her friends would tell you she had quite a temper, this however is irrelevant. They would also say she enjoyed a socially acceptable, socially mobile drink or two, as did they of course, for as everyone knows, as long as you wear a nice flowery dress, debilitating alcoholism is absolutely wicked. They would tell you that on a Thursday evening Susan enjoyed a spot of Volleyball, nothing remotely racist there then. Even the tiniest suggestion of such would have Susan’s pals stoutly pointing out her pioneering work in broadening the diversity streams at the office. ‘What office is that’ I here you cry? Silence!
Yes Susan was indeed many things, but she wasn’t a Chav, oh no, for Susan shopped at Debenhams.
That ladies and/or gentlemen is rather an irreverent and irrelevant way of introducing the topic I wish to discuss; Chavs. Firstly, how do we define a ‘chav?’ And secondly, why do we in this so called age of equality condemn all Chavs to the stark and lowly status of ‘scum’? Has this downtredding of a sector of our society gone unnoticed by the ‘PC brigade?’ If I was to call an ethnic minority or a homosexual ‘scum’ then I’m sure I’d literally be eaten alive by the PC monster. So, if I was to do the same towards a chav, then why do we not fear such devouring? It’s clear in my view to see how the first two questions are linked. That is, we define Chavs (subtlely or not so subtlely) in such a way, attaching certain attitudes and preconceptions to them, therefore allowing others to refer to and permanently label them as a large source of ‘scum’ in society.
According to Wikipedia (yes I know, my sources are the business) media perception and my own observations, Chavs, on the face of it can be defined and identified by the clothing they purchase (or steal, as the ‘haters’ would have it.) Particular brands, such as Mackenzie and Burberry are alleged to be almost without exception the preserve of Chavs. Thus the identification of the said scourge in Britain is patently simple for any interested observer. On reflection this is important, in that arguably so much these days is placed upon image; it is not so much ‘you are what you eat’ but ‘you are what you wear.’ I am not for one minute advocating we judge each other conclusively on this basis. Hopefully as this article continues you will see I argue the opposite, but I think it is true to say we can all at times be guilty of attaching negative assumptions and stereotypes upon certain groups of people based largely on the way they choose to dress. And I think in the case of Chavs, these assumptions and stereotypes are broadly negative. The question is though, are these connotations that arise in our minds when we see a Chav fair?
Well, we could then go on to ask ‘what is ‘fair?’ We could then blissfully remind ourselves of that advert with the American dude in glasses saying that a certain bank was fair, and then base our view of fairness upon that…. I digress. For the purposes of this article fair will mean ‘an accurate reflection and/or a high probability of something being true, based on another seemingly unrelated factor.’ An operational example of this could be the following hypothesis: The more Mackenzie branded clothing in one’s wardrobe (the unrelated factor) the more likely they are to be a Chav. See graph at top of page.
So, if we agree that being dubbed a Chav is generally a bad thing, then surely even the briefest glance at the graph above we can see how strange, absurd and distinctly unfair it is to condemn one to ‘Chavhood’ purely based on what they choose to wear!
Ah, but as raised earlier ‘you are what you wear’ comes the chortling reply. Well no actually, I myself at times elect to wear the odd pair of tracksuit bottoms, white trainers and even when I’m at my most deviant a hoodie! Does this make me a Chav? That is, one who partakes in unsociable behaviour and drinking on random street corners (more on these two things and more later)? And this is my point; I don’t choose to dress myself in this attire because one boring, dreary Friday evening I decide for a laugh I wish to commit some petty theft. I choose to wear such items because they are comfortable and functional. Is it a crime against society to put on these comfortable and functional things because they may, or may not offend people’s sentiments? Call me a hopeless romantic but I like to think we react to actual behaviour, character and personality rather than to the clothing decisions one makes.
Ok so let’s look in more at actual behaviour. We could say that a Chav could be defined not only by the clothes they wear but more crucially by the way they choose to conduct themselves. Let’s say for example that a Chav is a human being who chooses to commit petty crime (shop lifting for example) and who makes the conscious decision to be a nuisance wherever and whenever possible. And let’s assume for arguments sake that someone of a more ‘Chavy disposition’ commits more crime and deviant ‘naughtyness’ than one who maybe isn’t. Thus, is it then fair to say that because someone is a Chav they will (or are more likely to) commit crime? We then get to this appearance issue discussed earlier. If we see someone who we suspect of being guilty of being a Chav, then is it fair to automatically assume they will commit crime, even if we haven’t seen them commit anything like a crime ever?! The UK as a country might not be perfect but at least we have the principal ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to attain to. This very democratic virtue applies here, yes Chavs might commit crime, but how can we deduce as much just by looking at them?
What is also worthy of consideration here is the evident diversity and ‘seriousness’ of crime. One thing I learnt working at the Ministry of Justice for a year (whilst I wasn’t eating cake or on the BBC football website) was that crime when statistically recorded is split into various categories, ranging from your ‘less serious’ nicking a Mars bar offence to your more disturbing sexual and violent type offence. What is more, various categories of crime are committed by different groups of people, depending on age, gender and ethnicity (just to mention a few.) Couple this, with what some would call the criminal behaviour of our MP’s, and we can see that crime, in whatever form is not totally beyond any given group of people. If we were to encounter a man in a shirt and tie, or woman in a trendy pencil skirt, would we tense up inside and fear for our internal organs? I certainly wouldn’t. Yet if confronted by what looks like a lesser spotted Chav, I know my reaction in the past and even to a lesser extent today would be quite different! But why?
‘Ok then Binder, maybe not ALL Chavs commit ‘crime’ per se, but they’re certainly a nuisance, shouting about, drinking their alchopops, swearing like you wouldn’t believe, vomiting on kittens, all on my street corner! You wouldn’t catch my Harry doing that at University you know!’ To that I’d say, ‘Well Mrs Featherbottom, I have in fact caught your Harry (in a net) doing just that! In fact I saw him this very Saturday gregariously knocking back his fair share of alcohol, or ‘bevies’ as they are trendily called these days. I also saw him simultaneously swear a few times, and get this; he threw up the entire contents of his stomach on a granny!’ Harry, as you’ve might have guessed by now is metaphorical, but nonetheless relatable to a few of us in one way or another; including me on that one fateful Sunday evening (never again since then I can assure you.) The point here is not that taking part in the above activities is ‘wrong’ (I think it is wrong by the way, that some say we can only be deemed to be having fun only when we’re off our tits, but that’s for another day) but that to put down others, Chav or otherwise for essentially doing the same thing seems to me to be a tad hypocritical. It seems to me that we in the first breath jump on the ‘Chavs are sub human animals’ band wagon, and in the second we champion behaviour seen at specially put on student events around the country as ‘character building’, ‘banter’ and ‘a normal and integral part of being a student.’ It’s baffling how incredibly similar behaviour can be treated so differently!
So, if what has been said so far holds any validity then why else do we choose to deride Chavs? So far I have looked at just some of the social and cultural arguments surrounding the subject of ‘Chav hate’ (or whatever you wish to call it.) But maybe for the vast majority who scorn and scoff, the reasons for mocking are neither complex nor rational. Could it be that Chavs simply exist to make the Middle Class (if that even exists anymore) or anyone who ‘isn’t a Chav’ feel good? We’ve had a bad day at work/uni/college/school/pilates, and whereas in previous times we were told to kick our cat (or ‘a’ cat if we didn’t actually own one ourselves, a stray perhaps?) we now choose to kick a Chav. I am of course speaking metaphorically. If we were to actually kick a Chav in the flesh we might get chased and bitten, thus running the risk of catching rabies. This argument (not the ‘we’ll catch rabies’ one, the ‘it makes us feel good one) intertwines itself with others raised in this article. We may not know personally the ones we so hastily deride, but because they are an ‘easy target’ we do so. If we rant and rave against a Chav we almost without exception will not as be excreted on by our peers for being a racist, homophobe or a bit ‘wrong.’ We may even get extra approval points from our mates for ripping it out of a drooling hoodlum incredulously lurking in our midst. Doing either of these things seems all so easy and acceptable, but does that make it right?
‘We may not know personally the ones we so hastily deride’ holds a particular resonance here in that it is so often the case that we view one another (and maybe even ourselves) as an end, rather than a means to an end. We see, comprehend and judge the behaviour of one another as an entity in itself, as something in total isolation to anything else. For example, we see a man shouting and gesturing at another violently in a street corner, we judge that behaviour as negative and we may therefore see that person as conclusively negative. I believe we sometimes neglect to consider the events that lead to that person being particularly aggressive, nasty, rude or whatever. In extreme cases such events could include the bullying he endured for 4 years at the local secondary school, or seeing at 6 years old his mother dying on a hospital bed after being run after by a drunk driver. These particular events then, are the means to the end. By the same token, particularly traumatic events in one’s past do not justify traumatic events that they then go on to initiate, that is not an argument I wish to try and justify here. Indeed, it would not be fair to say that everyone who has had a tough childhood goes on to become a masochistic mass murderer, nor would be fair to say that masochistic mass murderer’s difficult childhood justifies his mass murdering activities. Nonetheless, not everyone in life is lucky enough to enjoy a stable childhood, good mental health or a happy social life (plus many more factors) and some (not all) of these people who may have not been so lucky, may be dubbed as Chavs, worth thinking about before indulging in some ‘harmless’ stress relief.
The point I am trying to (laboriously) make is that ‘threatening behaviour’ seen to have been committed by Chavs isn’t necessarily just, fair or ‘ok’ but if we consider the reasons for it, it may become more understandable, and hopefully as a result we can become more empathetic towards Chavs, this in turn meaning we don’t have to live in resentment of them. And I believe that if this empathy or understanding can be achieved, however negligibly, then our society as a whole will be the better for it.
I suppose it’s logical that this sense of threat or fear of Chavs is exacerbated somewhat when they congregate in intimidating and nasty ‘herds’ (much more nasty and intimidating than their cow like counterparts.) Keeping this in mind, and going back to the Mrs Featherbottom illustration, it might even be the case that despite not actually seeing these herds commit any atrocity, we assume that inevitably they will at some stage because it’s ‘in their blood.’ These herds then are as cited earlier ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ And because influences such as the media and in some cases our own personal experiences tell we’ll be killed if we go within 100 metres of these herds, we choose to conspicuously cross the road or stare the other way, or ‘power walk’ past.. It is biologically understandable that if we feel threatened and are considerably outnumbered, we flee, for fear of being eaten alive, or whatever.
The question is though, is this sense of threat exacerbated when a Chav is part of a ‘Chav herd?’ Logic and biology would again tell us yes. When one is against ten, the chances of ‘victory’ (coming though the other side with their Ipod, mobile phone and internal organs still in full working order) for the individual one are significantly diminished, that is of course presuming their will be an altercation of some sort. Groups or ‘herds’ are key to this article, in that Chavs appear at their most menacing and attract the most criticism from onlookers when they are present in groups. As cited above, this is perhaps understandable, but only on the assumption they carry that inevitable ‘threat’, which as I’ve argued throughout, might not always, or even most the time, be the case. But if we can agree that a sense of ‘belonging’ is a good thing (see the government report, ‘Building a local sense of belonging’) then why is it unreasonable to expect a group of Chavs to hang around together? Should they be deprived of social interaction with likeminded people? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to have mates with similar interests? The problem of course comes, when the ‘threat’ of violence becomes real, and similar interests includes things like throwing eggs at houses, setting fire to bins and the like. No one, not least me would try and defend such actions as harmless social interaction. Yet, it seems all too easy to deride and be clench our buttocks fiercely when faced by a group of ‘scary looking’ people who aren’t in reality doing anything wrong. Would for instance, our buttocks be equally unyielding if on one wet Tuesday we encountered the Biggleswade Bridge club lurking in a shady alleyway?
To conclude then, I feel it is important to make a few things clear, ‘for the record’ if you will. Firstly, this article is not an attempt to excuse anti social behaviour. I am aware that it can be a nuisance and can make the lives of those it effects a living hell. Nor am I expecting any crime committed by a Chav, regardless of seriousness to be brushed aside, and it seems perfectly logical that if you have been mugged by a Chav (or anyone else for that matter) then you are likely to be more than a little wary (at least in the immediate aftermath) when encountering someone who looks similar to your attacker, Chav or otherwise. Thirdly, I can assure with utter sincerity that I am not a Brigadier General (is that even an official rank?) of the PC army of Great Britain. I do not want the World to be ‘magnolia’ or ‘beige,’ holding hands in a big ‘World sized’ circle, continuously singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ over and over again. For of course the remotely controversial joke is one thing, but the immediate stereotyping and downtredding of a group of people is completely another.
And it is the latter of which I am sceptical. If we go back to the original aims of the article; the first of which was to establish a definition for Chavs, then what I was told by a friend; that Chav is a shortened version of ‘Council house and violence’ goes quite a long way to explain the link between the definition of a ‘Chav’ and how we comprehend that sector of society. Are we really saying that all people from council homes are simultaneously committed to a life of violence?! ‘Of course not!’ chimes the indignant reply, but as raised earlier treating Chavs with contempt, even as a casual put down is somewhat confusing and worrying. Chavs, like most in society, are people too, with their own priorities, goals and worries. Also, as with all humanity, these creatures (believe it or not) are capable of experiencing and sharing both positive and negative emotions, and can play a constructive role in our society. It seems all too often that when talking about Chavs in particular it seems we forget these facts.