Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones.
This book got a lot of attention a few years back. It's ostensibly a critique of the hatred of the working class expressed in the term and stereotype of the "chav".
After a few chapters it expands into a much broader analysis of the class system in Britain, with its rising inequality and decreased social mobility.
The book is fairly convincing about its main thesis, that chav-hatred is class hatred, at least amongst the middle and upper classes. However, I'm not convinced that "chav" isn't still a concept used within the working class, to represent a very small and particular sub-class who are associated with crime and benefits fraud.
On the larger class issues, his points seem true and well-presented. However, they're not particularly original. If you read the Guardian or New Statesmen or "The Spirit Level" a lot of the ideas will be pretty familiar.
Also as usual, while the problems of social inequality and immobility are clearly stated, there's a lack of clear solutions.
Also I think he overstates the importance of Thatcher in the decline of manufacturing and the unions. Similar changes took place across the rest of the developed world. Automation and the rise of China are largely responsible for the decline in manufacturing.
One major problem with current politics is that a fundamentally false view of British society has become the accepted wisdom. That is that there is a huge underclass of lazy "chavs" living on benefits, sucking up a huge and growing proportion of government spending.
While some people like this exist, the truth is that the group of working age people on long-term benefits is small. The money they consume is small compared to the huge spending on pensions and healthcare for the elderly, and the medium spending that goes on supporting the low-paid and people on short-term unemployment benefits. This book provides more evidence of the truth. But at this point it's hard to see the myth being shifted: the myth is what people want to believe and what the powerful want to have believed.
Overall, a well-written and interesting presentation of class in Britain, but not one that has very much new to say if you've already read about the subject.
What I'm Watching
Saw Once Upon a Time in Anatolia on disk. Turkish movie about a group of officials on a car journey with a criminal leading them to a crime scene.
Atmospheric, superbly filmed and lit, concentrating on the subtle relationships and characters of the protagonists. I can definitely see why it got rave reviews from almost all the critics.
Definitely a masterpiece of film-making, but I have to say I found it incredibly dull. Very little happens, the revelations aren't very revelatory, and it drags on over two and a half hours.
Now if only the criminal was part of a gang, and if they were stalked in a deadly cat and mouse game across the Turkish countryside in a move peppered with gunfights and chase scenes, that would have been a good movie.
Overall, the balance of evidence is that this movie appeals a lot to movie buffs, but avoid it if you like movies where something actually happens.
Went to the anti-EDL Whitehall demo on 27th May. Reminded me of the similar counterdemo in the same place when they went welcome Geert Wilders, and UAF had to organize a counter-demo at short notice. The two problems in both cases are that the anti-fascists find it harder to organize at short notice, and that there's no local community there to mobilize. So, both demos we were outnumbered about 2 to 1.
Noticeable difference is that EDL discipline seems to have broken down a lot since then, which may have been their high point in terms of credibility. The EDL stewards were either absent or unable to control them. So, there was blatant Sieg Heiling, confrontations with the police, and eventually a bombardment of bottles directed at us.
Coming under bottle fire was a bit worrying, though fortunately we had enough enough space to dodge: you can see the bottles coming quite easily so it's not so bad if you're not jammed in. Annoyingly though I didn't have the camera in the right mode (I don't post video much) so I didn't get it recorded. Especially as I was trying proper stuff like zooming in on the bottles on the ground.
The so called "black bloc" (half a dozen masked poseurs who turn up and try to wind up the cops at every demo) weren't very impressive: everyone noticed how they legged it at the first sign of real trouble.
There's another anti-BNP demo at the same place tomorrow. Tempted to give this one a miss, I've got loads to do this weekend, and I think the wife's getting fed up with "Be late home, kettled" text messages.
What I'm Reading 2
Read another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery aloud to Girl B, this one was Clouds of Witness. This one seems to be more self-consciously dramatic than most. Wimsey's own brother is put on trial, and Wimsey is put into peril a few times rather unconvincingly, getting a classic shot-in-the-shoulder injury with no discernible consequences, getting sucked into a quicksand-like bog, and having to make a perilous plane journey.
Despite this, I wasn't that convinced by this one. In particular the resolution of the mystery seemed a bit weak relying on some unlikely coincidences.
More detail with full spoilers follows. The plot hinges on an unlikely triple coincidence. On the same day: the Duke gets a letter exposing Cathcart as a card cheat and confronts him, Lady Mary tries to elope with Goyles, and Cathcart commits suicide after getting a letter from his mistress dumping him. The Duke is therefore a suspect for the death, since he just argued with Cathcart and Lady Mary has hidden evidence thinking she's protecting Goyles. The coincidence is a bit hard to believe. Also, it seems like it could have been easily improved. Suppose there was a communication problem, like a postal strike or road-blocking landslide or a telegraph cable down: then the two letters and the elopement could be synchronized more plausibly. Or, suppose that the engagement was publicly announced with a marriage date, and this prompted the warning letter about Cathcart, the mistress' new lover to get serious, and Goyles to make a last-ditch attempt to elope, all simultaneously. Seems a bit lazy to just have the barrister to just say, "um yeah, lots of coincidences" in the defence speech.
Overall, not brilliant. Apparently this was the second in the series and the other ones I've read were from later, maybe it took Sayers some time to get the hang of things.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Serengeti darf nicht sterben (Serengeti Shall Not Die) on disk. Pioneering 1959 nature documentary that seems to be a bit of a cult in Germany. Made by a father and son naturalist team, who learned to fly and took a small plain to the Serengeti National Park to study the game migrations for the first time, with the hope of modifying the park borders to fit the migrations.
Some beautiful early nature photography of lions, zebras, ostriches etc, taken from plane and car right alongside the running animals. The naturalists seem to be taking huge risks, balancing on the top of moving cars to try to noose zebras, flying perilously low over the landscape. It's not mentioned in the film, but the son tragically died during filming when the plane hit a vulture.
I haven't managed to find out whether they managed to change the park boundaries in the end, but I suspect not.
Interesting, worth a look.
Politics. Government mismanagement report sneaked out at 5PM Friday on Bank Holiday weekend. Failed Work Programme plan to be rolled out to probation with same "Creaming and Parking" flaws. more Don't Call Terrorists Jihadis Inside Fox News. Digital Economy Act stalled over implementation. Anti-porn crusaders seem to forget UK's Cleanfeed censorship system (almost like it doesn't actually work to eliminate child porn?)
Pics. 1959 robo-vac.
Random. Signs you're addicted to books.
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