Monday, July 16, 2007

I’m confident because I’m a southern parasite

The various estimable threads around class confidence were probably not intended to inspire a slew of confessionals relating the contributors’ own experience, but, er, well…. Let me say from the outset that I broadly agree: they’re a bunch of wankers, those in the middle classes and upwards. I should know, I am one, for hristo's sake.

My family were ‘working-class’ in that they worked blue-collar jobs (not ‘professions’) and never had a great deal of money. Both parents were from large families in postwar societies in which austerity and locality still dominated for at least two decades for the majority. My sister and I were the first generation to even consider higher education, but would only be doing so with means-tested grants, before the complete disintegration of welfare state notions of universal education. And in marked contrast to those wealthier scions we did not have centuries of genealogy behind us; in fact, a generation or so removed from my great-grandpa the info stops, because, I dunno, it’s probably to do with peasant immigration or something like that, back in the eighteenth. Heading towards their late-60s now, my Dad still works and my mum would if physical ability allowed her to. They can’t rest on the laurels yet.

At school there were the usual extremes of council estate youth and actual pikeys abutting the liberal creme who sent their children to state school as a point of principle – I didn’t feel comfortable with either. By the last years of my secondary education, we had risen up to a middle-class-sized house, mainly on the back of their mad hours and going without the traditional adult indulgences/treats (alcohol, a social life) to pay for it.

Nevertheless, it takes a bit more than a detached gaff to become truly middle class: culture, wine, books and conversation are all important – there were none of these in my house. And for a while I was blissfully ignorant of circumstances (not just your current status but history, locality etc), until I was detached from them, at Leeds for university, co-ordinates fluttering. I studied English and that at A level but I don’t know nothing about shit and all I have got is the arrogance of youth to pull me through. Or maybe I am a gypo scumbag?

The reason why people still recoil a lot these days, or wonder why you are pushing that line, when you say you are/were working class, is because of media conditioning to make you believe that all working class people are lawless, amoral, fat, carcinogenic chavs; when of course the majority are the decent people soi-disant trying to live a life of dignity. So when they see someone be articulate, urbane, polite, bling-free, it jars with their expectation of what a dirty little prole can be. The rich may ape the clothes, music, culture and language of the poor but they sure as hell ain’t willing to live like that.

Because it was drummed into me to achieve things better than we already had, I am almost always surrounded mostly by bourgeois. On the outside looking up/in. So what fills me even to this day is an inferiority tinged with outright resentment. The latter I don’t mind because I don’t want to be in their world, thinking their ways, but the other can leave me bitter, spiteful, irascible. The sight of a posh bloke ‘at the footy’ still inspires rage at their co-option (did anyone just see on that cooking programme the soccer ‘guys’ watching that footy with ‘the beers in’ at a ‘mate’s’ – while, er, being served haute Bharati cuisine from the latest celebrity chef? Football is finished). Why on earth would you even want to talk to someone like Katie off the Apprentice? Rory isn’t even real. Nobody has that much privilege imprinted on their face. But they sense it too, even now a few incidents revisited in my head, where I have been pointedly given the cold shoulder by the confident rich, make me feel cold with ineptitude.

But contrasting all this is my own innate self-confidence. Other factors as suggested above from school have contributed, such as being half-decent in class and half-decent in football, but I have always thought this has stemmed from regional lines, from my being a southerner, or more precisely (the horror!), a Surrey boy.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re working class or not, in the county that rhymes with slurry you have an implicit sense of entitlement, my attitude could be simplistically boiled down to being a taker not a giver: we don’t make the popular culture; the popular culture is made for us (The Jam very much an exception); we’re on the outside looking in and assessing. Learning to dj while at university and doing shitty little music/football journalism for it is hardly going to correct the input/output parasitical deficit. All you tortured artists in the north and London churn it out, and we’ll react with our numbskull geezasthetics. Get a few of us together and we’ll be grinning like a bunch of Hampshire cats, happy in our relative safety, self-assured to the point of hubris, free of existential woe. And it goes on:

‘I don’t have to earn the right to be anything (only the money with which to recreate) – I’m already a fucking cool cat, new mod type with his finger on the pulse, son. Innit, etc.
In the home counties, we are parasites, in-between cultures and we are proud of it. London is on our doorstep and we make use of it but thank Christ I don’t have to live there it’s a dump, etc, etc.’

This was my attitude from about 16-25, bar a few years of post-rave serotonin depletion at university. I acknowledge not every mush from Surrey is going to feel this sense of affirmation, but that’s my take on it.

Comedown or not, one of the reasons I was never an in-crowder on campus was that so many of them were rich bastards. Step into my world. No thanks. But I would still walk around thinking I’m the bee’s-knees – solipsism is a dangerous thing – with or without weed it can send many young men off track for years.

At work now, the double-thread and releated sense of liminality still looms. I go in confident of what I can do but leave deflated by the bourgeois monochrome set, and their demands for a grey life. The confidence drains at about the moment of the first interaction, when the first public presentation is required. I don’t say what I needed to say in my head so schlep back into my corner. In fact, I have to draw a distinction between the operational stuff (ie, the actual job) which I can do I my sleep and the other stuff (meeting, relationships, the office culture) which, seemingly, is only want some well-connected people in the office, can only do. Being factored in is not only the feedstock of class and place, but also that sense of being inbetween; while that indifference and diffidence can help disconnect from office politics, maybe that remove always puts you at a disadvantage too.

The boss seems to want to employ Reuters/Bloomberg editorial masochists, the type that work all the hours of the day, can take the criticism-bordering-on-abuse but, crucially, come out fighting because that was what punched into them at public/private/public-private school. Failure is not an option, but being continually demeaned and treated like a cunt is – and that’s why Simon had to win The Apprentice, because he is the avatar of this never more-prescient ‘I can take the knocks, I never shirk a challenge, the better to deliver them myself’ strain of ingrained middle classness. Did it ever go away? Well I ain’t going out like that, and I indulge delicious fantasies of the Do Me Bad Things variety towards the boss.

Even now, when I am the father setting the standards of living and the balance of factors make me indisputably middle class, I dread the possibility of the children developing in some of the conceited bourg ways listed above. Too straight, and they’ll come out like ‘bring it on’ office masochists; too twisted, and they’ll have the affected psychological ticks of the overindulged, as Antigram mentioned to IT.

The liminal line continues. I have often said that I have an inferiority complex as well as a superiority complex. I feel literally like the scum of the earth but I can walk tall; in my own milieu I feel untouchable (not like a dalit, the other way) but take me out of my environs and I struggle. Clearly it is not only class which can govern self-confidence, but if you are from the well off it can make success stories out of even the most tragically inept. And this is the whole point about the threads by Mark et al; advocating a socialised society far removed from where we are now, a future where that sense of inequity, the new forms of the old school tie, the helping hand for old pals, is not the rule.
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