New Cultural Subspecies in Britain

America has the beer-swilling, foul-mouthed hillbilly who lives in a trailer park, does crystal meth, and wears a wife beater and overalls. Britain has the "chav." The chav lives in public housing called a "council estate," drives a big-bucks hot rod, wears more gold than Mr. T and is a foot soldier of corporate consumerism.

Dressed uniformly in unimaginative designer-labels, chavs congregate around the halls of consumerism in the United Kingdom -- shopping malls and fast food outlets.

In the 19th century Karl Marx predicted the overthrow of capitalism and dreamed of a classless society, but British society today continues to lambaste lower classes, referring to them as chavs as a way of writing off those at the bottom of the social ladder. The phenomenon was first defined in 2005 in the Oxford English Dictionary as a "young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of [real or imitation] designer clothes."

Two London schoolboys, Dilir Habibi and Ali Hussaini, interviewed as they walked near Hammersmith yesterday, described the archetypal chav. He wears, "a Burberry cap, his trousers down to his knees, walks with a bop and wears a fitted cap. He's not very nice, plays loud music on his mobile phone on the back of the bus, thinks he's above everyone and aspires to become a musician."

The Burberry clothing brand quickly became synonymous with the chav subculture, and it ceased production of its branded baseball cap in 2004 in an attempt to distance itself from the stereotype. The company argued that all chavs are associated with counterfeit versions of the clothing.

The Miriam Webster Dictionary describes American "white trash" as "a member of an inferior or underprivileged white social group," which is where white trash differs from the chav. Chavs do not experience any lack of material poverty; in fact, they have more disposable income than most. This new generation of nouveau-riche are the proud owners of a wealth of brand-name clothes and the latest cell phones -- every self-respecting public housing project has an army of satellite dishes. But there is a poverty of attitude towards society and education.

They behave how they want and without morality. It is wrong to class the poor as chavs since there is a distinction between working-class but law-abiding people who go about their business, and the tracksuit bedecked vultures we see on our streets. We feel pity for chavs because perhaps all they are missing is love and encouragement from parents.

Their parents don't care. They do not work, and they are allowed out at night in packs. They get bored, resort to drinking and take drugs, instead of staying in and doing homework, watching TV or reading books. Their social exclusion has created the culture of low expectations and a poverty of ambition.

But the widespread use of the chav stereotype has come under criticism. Some argue that it amounts simply to snobbery and classism. But when there is a phenomenon, no amount of political correctness is going to stop the use of the word coined to describe it.

Dr. Keith Hayward, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Kent and author of "The 'Chav' Phenomenon: Consumption, Media and the Construction of a New Underclass" pointed out:

"The chav is an increasingly ubiquitous epithet used to pour scorn on everyone from unwed mothers to Posh and Becks."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...