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."

He explained there has always been a group of no-gooders hanging out on street corners who have gotten into trouble with the authorities; in the '70s it was punk rockers and in the '80s it was motley crews of shell-suit (track suit) layabouts. "These groups," said Hayward, "have always rattled the cages of the 'bourgeoisie pace makers,' only this time the semantics of their exclusion are defined not by income but by their consumption choices, which offend middle-class taste sensibilities. The chav mob indulge in many unaesthetic choices like outrageously obvious fake orange tans and bad make-up."

Hayward said: "It's not surprising that this phenomenon has grown in a world where we relate to each other by a consumer index, we read each other like bar codes. For example, kids in school parks judge each other by their mobile phones."

Hayward said chavs are evolving and the British media have now picked up on the next epidemic, a new generation of chavs, known as the "NEETs" -- the growing proportion of Not in Employment Education or Training youths in the United Kingdom, who do not know the meaning of an honest day's toil. And the reason they don't have a job? Because they feel they are too good to weed fields, pack potatoes, stack shelves, serve at tills. Instead the United Kingdom welcomes immigrants, predominantly Poles, to do the jobs the Brits do not want to do.

NEETs have no structure to their day and rely on benefits, theft, robbery, drug money and playing the lottery. So while our generous welfare system is being sucked dry, the British police forces are overstretched and Burberry's sales are up and counterfeiters all over the globe are rubbing their hands with glee.

Meanwhile British OAPs can't walk on the street at night, for fear of encountering chavs or the upgraded version, the NEET, who are all trained to target anyone who stands out -- for instance, someone who has dared to wear something more interesting than big hoops, sweat pants and sneakers. And their chief weapon is, no surprise, a volley of inarticulate abuse, "*****innit****bling…innit," backed up by safety in numbers!