Home > General Politics > D’you know what really annoys me? On chavs and other subgroups

D’you know what really annoys me? On chavs and other subgroups

The choice of title here is a phrase I am often heard to utter right before departing from issues of carefully crafted analysis and descending into the bear pit of pub gossip. In doing so I’m joining Tom and a few others, to discuss the subject of chavs. What are they? Who are they? Working class? Better or worse than punks and mods and skinheads? Apply within dear reader and all of this will be answered…

As a kid growing up in Northern Ireland, I wore tracksuits. I got my first named brand pair when I was about eleven – two pairs of the latest Adidas. I had Reeboks, Lecoqsportif and Kappa too. This was all the rage at the local youth club, held in the local Catholic secondary school. Said school was no picnic, but it was emblematic of the very real social divide that occured after primary school.

Kids who were poorer, without exception, went to the secondary school. Kids who were richer, without exception, went to the grammar school. My mother wasn’t wealthy, at least to begin with. I’m not sure when we crossed from being ‘poor’ to being ‘well-off’ but the shift was subtle. It may have been to do with the influence of richer kids at the grammar school or part of a universal trend…but the tracksuits fell by the wayside.

Jeans took their place. Jeans and shirts. And, when I had the money to afford it, long dark coats and fancy shoes. The tracksuit and baseball cap subculture continued to exist. When I went into town, I tended not to eyeball these kids too closely, largely because I was never the fighting type except at need. I remember an attempted robbery by a group of three of them, as a matter of fact. Broad daylight, walking down the streets of Belfast!

So when people talk of the chav stereotype, I have something to relate to. In Northern Ireland, actually, we called them ‘steeks’ or ‘spides’. I’ve heard that we also called them ‘skangers’ but I suspect that was a Derry or countryside slang. Some guys I know were interested in punk and dressed all in black with the funny hair and they got beaten up occasionally – though they did the same in return to the chavs.

Yet, strangely, all the people I knew who were interested in Rancid and Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedy’s were at grammar school. At our grammar school, that was one extreme, then there were the non-jocks, listeningn to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and stuff. Then you had the jocks and I’ve got no idea what they listened to; they were the ones going to the different discoes to pick up girls and having relationships. Presumably they listened to some combination of whatever was ‘hot’ at the time.

Separate from all this were the chavs, who didn’t enter within the confines of school. This may be a Northern Irish thing because we still had the transfer exam, but only in very unusual cases did one come across a chav at our school. At home, they were everywhere, rarely walking alone, often shouting insults and trying to pick a fight for no other reason than they enjoyed it.

Did I like them? No, not really. I lived in a town suburban to Belfast, combining some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of Northern Ireland and chavs roaming the streets after chucking out time largely alienated me from that town. So when I went to university and began having lots of free time, I spent most of it either on campus in Belfast or at home – online, playing computer games or reading.

Overwhelmingly these people were poor and lived in squalor. They weren’t the only ones; some of the middle class punk kids would eventually choose to live in “communes” in Belfast, and I suspect these were no different. One of the reasons I never fully committed to political activism while at university in the same way that some of my peers did was that I was heart scared of becoming like them. I enjoyed having a computer, and money for books and listening to classical music. I wanted to get out of Northern Ireland.

For all that, however, chavs were just accepted. It’s another part of youth culture, no different from any other. Who gives a toss what people wear? Certainly no one did when I was growing up, and though we took the piss out of boy racers in their Vauxhall Novas, or out of local crap radio station with its dance tracks, Energy 106, that’s where the maliciousness and the sneering ended: a joke.

One of the things that really irks me about all this is how the media have managed to convince everyone that being a chav is somehow morally degenerate. Sure, there are plenty of benefits scroungers out there…but how is that different to corporate tax avoidance? There are people getting knocked up because they want a house from the Council (fat chance, these days!) but how is that different to prostituting yourself to the press on your wedding day for lots of lolly?

Endlessly we read about different celebrities going out to get pissed, falling down, exposing themselves, fighting or whatever. We don’t read about the ones who sit in, maybe have a glass of wine over a book and cook some dinner. This sort of activity is not limited to the poor or to people who can be categorized as ‘chavs’. Young blokes, lagered up, will fight. So what? Chav clubs employ teenage, underdressed girls as dancers and this teaches us to see women as breasts and an ass. That’s life.

We’re not going to fix it by attacking the subculture itself. Just because you happen to like Vivaldi over Scooter doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t cure you of racism. You may not pass around jokes about Muslims or ethnic-subgroup-of-the-week, and you may volunteer at the local church fayre, you may be well qualified but smugness with regard to these things is just about as harmful as it gets.

Indeed, some of the alternatives to being a poor kid dressed in tracksuit bottoms are even worse. I was sitting in my usual coffee shop having a cup of tea the other day and I noticed a guy’s hands. He’d been saying something snide about a political matter, and on each of his fingers was a symbol of one of the world faiths. My first reaction was, “What a wanker!” I’d rather be illiterate than be that far up my own arse.

But Dave, you say, maybe he is just religious. To which I retort, “So?” I’m political and I don’t go round wearing a red star with a hammer and sickle. I grew out of that when I was sixteen. We all get a pretentious git phase, and this guy was about thirty. Maybe this is the part of me which is irredeemably chav, but I resent most students. They may pass exams but they have an ignorant, dull and unimaginative streak that’d put a chav to shame. Worse, they think of themselves as somehow better.

Working in Tesco, I was alongside kids who failed their GCSEs or AS levels, which woke them up sharpish. They were working to put themselves through tech – and to keep their chav-mobiles on the road, and to get themselves the latest phone and to pay rent. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but for a large number of the rest of us, this is similar to why we work? They wanted to get a trade, to make money; most university kids haven’t a clue what they want to do, so they pick arts subjects.

I always knew I wanted to rule the world, so history was a natural choice really.

Often some of the most inoffensive people have some of the most authoritarian, tyrannical views. One chap I get along well with is Catholic; he believes that secularism is unfair because it constricts Catholics from living how they ought (by which he means, telling the rest of us how to live and compelling us to do so). He thinks that formal education is wrong as parents should be allowed to teach their kids whatever they want. He believes that rebelling against social or economic factors is irrelevant because Christians should live in any world in the same Christian way.

Frankly, give me a chav and a can of lager any day.

Or law students. I’ve never met such a bunch of weasels. Not a passionate opinion between them. I’d rather be an ignorant and lecherous chav, with some peroxide blonde girl astride me than so completely unable to take a genuinely, full-on, red blooded position on real issues of the day. What really annoys me, therefore, is pretty much everything; chavs don’t get a bye-ball, why should you?

Categories: General Politics
  1. February 16, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Oh no, not you as bloody well.

    I did a long and hugely incisive post on this matter to Tom’s place which would have made me world no.1 blog commenter in the Times list of such, but it did that funny thing that’s happened with a couple of my longer ones to your place, and it got lost ‘cos as usual i forgot to bleedin’ save it.

    So I’ll have to engage with this whole debate at my place in my own time now.

    But basically isn’t it all to so with who’s doing the naming/identifying of your particular group, and therefore about power?

    more later

  2. February 16, 2009 at 10:34 am

    It’s certainly subjective. The dominant ideas of an age are the ideas of the ruling class etc etc. Yet Tom and I have different views and neither of us are part of the ruling class. Well, Tom is probably higher up there than me.

    How we are influenced by the media, which seems to be able to take vague memories and recast them in a light we’re not familiar with at the time, makes for an interesting discussion. So does comparing notes on which subgroups we dislike.

    I suppose my basic contention is this: you can be a chav without being a shit, and you can be a shit without being a chav. In that, chavs are no different to the rest of us – and if we dislike the lifestyle, we should identify the factors which engenders its socially harmful edge and change them.

    Rather than slur chavs, I mean.

  3. February 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Yup, agreed.

    Add the words ‘materiality’, ‘subject position’, and ‘it’s all Chantal Mouffe’s fault that the Daily Mail gets away with creating the slur chavs concept without a working class fight back’, and I think we’re in agreement.

    Reminds me of the Guardian ad from a long time ago with the skin head saving the bloke from falling bricks and the different camera angles. Remember it? Might have been the Independent. It’s probably on you tube.

  4. February 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

    yeah, thought so

  5. February 16, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Interesting post Dave.

    Any chance of a link to the Paintbrush collective comrade?

  6. February 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Also, and as an abuse of your comments facility, I tried to leave this at Tom’s but his comments thing appears to have gone bad – keeps just saying ‘loading’. He’ll see it here, sure enough:


    Did a long comment on this but your site or my fingers went wonky and it got lost.

    It’s being picked up at Dave Semple’s place.

    By Dave Semple, who apparently is some kind of chav. Well he’s off my blogroll then.

    Score is 1: 1 at the moment in this game and you need to use the inside channels more Dave. Don’t be afraid of the strategic back pass as long as you’ve got a decent, epistemologically sound-footed keeper.

  7. February 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I already linked to you. You’re under “Paintbrush Collective” – and now I see that Jack isn’t alone from our little Oxford gathering. I spotted him some time last week – but I didn’t know you were Vote Red Go Green. Never fear, your secret is safe with me.

  8. February 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I don’t know what on earth you could mean, Dave! *blushes*

  9. February 16, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    David I just commented here but I didn’t appear, it may have been too long, if it’s not in your ether awaiting approval, can you email me so I can send it to you?

  10. February 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Michael has emailed me his comment:

    A couple of years ago there was a debate locally about our local schools merging, Hereson and Ellington are our local single sex non grammar schools, Kent still has 11 plus, frankly it’s so long since I was a school, a boarding school for the disabled too, that I needed some contemporary input. I sat an 18 year old, who I know, somewhere between the classes or wealth divide, in front my pc and persuaded him type out his views:

    Firstly I would like to say that I myself have been educated in a High School and also in a grammar school sixth form, so I am speaking from experience of both sides that are being discussed. I have mixed feelings about the discussions about the Grammar Schools and bringing together Hereson and Ellington but hopefully I will bring forward comments in which you may not of considered within your debate as I can see that it seems to be one sided.

    I feel that the advantage of having the grammar schools is that there is a divide from those who are wanting to learn/ who are gifted and want to exceed to their full potential, from those who can’t be bothered or who have difficulty with the whole learning process . Although, the whole situation with regards to the entrance to Grammar schools (the 11+) is putting pressure on children at a reasonably young age which maybe the reason for depression/ mental problems in later years in life. If you fail then you are a failure and these children may take this two ways: self fulfil to their new label and think ‘I’m a failure so what’s the point of trying’, or exceed this label to try and prove this label wrong. Either way these children who want to learn are chucked into a high school with those ‘can’t be bothered’ children, who disrupt the classes, hindering the opportunities to exceed the label.

    Also there has been evidence that the 11+ is middle classed based, asking questions that someone who has the money for their child to be tutored and have access to equipment/resources (middle class people) would be able to answer. So this means that there is the divide between classes: the middle class= grammar school, lower classes= high school. It is in very rare cases that this is not true, middle classed children are put into high schools and visa versa. This may not be so much to do with class anymore but it still is the battle of the bigger wallet. Parallel with this, a child whose parents haven’t been to university (usually working class) may not be accepted into a better quality university such as Cambridge and Oxford, which I feel is diabolical as if a child put in the effort to exceed why should it be hindered by their background and personal life style.

    The whole situation on the merging of Hereson School and Ellington has its pros and cons. The supposed advantage is that girls mature earlier than boys and that putting them together will influence the boys to mature to the level of the girls, creating better achievement. But will it? There could be a reverse effect causing the girls to de mature. Also will this actually work (the influence)? Stereotypical socialisation of young children is that FOR GIRLS “ boys are stupid” and FOR BOYS “girls smell”. This prevents boys and girls interacting with the opposite sex (until mid teens) creating division between the sexes. Boys don’t want to be associated WITH girls and visa versa. This avoidance between the sexes may prevent the influence occurring.

    Also when the males and females hit the certain age in which the opposite sex are seen as sexual beings, this may cause distraction to the academic achievement if they are exposed to them on a regular bases. This could have a very frightful impact on the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections and teenage pregnancy within society ( although this has occurred without the mix of Hereson and Ellington). To prevent this, more time would be needed in educating them in sexual education ( the art of safe sex) decreasing time spent on the academic subjects like maths and English etc.

    To conclude I would also like to add that teenage delinquency should not be blamed solely on the media. To say that Eastenders is the cause of illiterate youths is wrong as your saying that we as humans, when exposed to certain content, absorb this and act accordingly which would also be the theory from the hyperdermic syringe model.Saying this, you are claiming that we are all docile and have no free will into what we are exposed to. The fact that Eastenders portrays ‘common’ norms and values with the cockney lingo doesn’t mean that all that watch it act like phil Mitchell and dress like Kat Slater.

    I believe that the old generation have created this monstrosity of teenage cults such as Chavs and have just stood by and let their behaviour be accepted as the norm, and nothing has been done to prevent this. More time and money should be spent on changing the increasing minority of young juvenile’s behaviour and attitudes. These poor wretched souls need more entertainment and things to do to prevent them from roaming the streets and participating in deviant/ criminal acts such as drinking. These adolescences get bored between the ages of 13-18 as they are too old to play down the park and too young to go clubbing and pubbing, so drifting into deviant/ criminal acts ( Matza’s drift theory) like antisocial behaviour and take drugs to keep themselves occupied. I’m glad to see that there are social clubs like the juice bar for under 18s but there need to be more, it’ll get those children off the streets. I would like to add about the poor control in and around the town centres. When walking around Ramsgate yesterday night, I encountered many teenage gangs who were participating in illegal acts such as intoxicating themselves with alcohol and causing riots, but where were the police?



  11. February 16, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Thank you David, I don’t know what it was about the comment it didn’t like, perhaps it was the young chaps caps at the end, a shout from one who feels let down?

    I tried to put it up several times and was sent automated, but slightly polite messages, as though the machine both disliked me but wanted me for a friend.

  12. February 16, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Cheers for the (non)comment Paul!

    Dave, I’ve noticed that about people into punk too. It’s weird. I suppose it’s because it’s become a kind of retro subculture rather than a spontaneous one, at least, outside of the squatting scene. It’s now quite demanding where it was much more accesible in earlier epochs.

    Mind you, Joe Strummer etc. serve as confirmation that punk was never exclusively rooted in one class like skinheads were.

    I’m strictly comprehensive myself. I grew up in Newcastle, so pretty much the same as Derry re. Adidas and that. All my clothes were from Asda though, so I didn’t really get to do the popular or sporty social things (there was no school uniform). Not that I resent that. But until I was about 14, all I wanted were some branded trainers! My family were too thrifty about stuff for me to afford to be a Chav, really. Now, I’m glad. Missed out on a lot of chlamydia and crack.

    I never realised how formative these things were until relatively recently. I suppose my very first political opinions were also gained there, listening to Swan Hunter cutting my friends parents’ jobs on local radio. Luckily my Dad worked as an overhead line repair man on the railways, and electrification was going on, so we were reasonably safe.

    Strange, anyway, because people’s first impressions of me are always that I’m very middle class. I’ll never understand fully why.

    As a law grad myself, I have to say that I suffer from similar gripes about them (was also never a fan of the suits, cars, lack of social lives or laptops either). But then, I don’t see what’s wrong about being dispassionate either. I’ll never understand people who are, but I can certainly see the wider benefit of it, and often wish I was a bit less angry myself, and I don’t just mean about politics. Like leftism, usually a gut reaction for me, I make a conscious effort to take stock and reassess, though I’m still not very good at it.

    If it makes me a typical lawyer I don’t mind; I distrust my own intuition intensely. I think this is healthy.

    I’m not sure that attacking the subculture is the way to solve the problem, no. The immediate answers are in education, redistribution, decent jobs and basic town planning. Another part of the answer is in TopShop!

    But I also don’t think that attacking them is classist, and as someone who used to take a lot of shit from them on my old estate, I reserve the right to attack he who attacketh me. More to the point, as someone who has spent a lot of time exercising my civil and personal right to look a bit different, and receiving a lot of shit from the then dominant subculture for it, I also empathise with how insecure reactionary old ladies feel, in the same way that a passing mod on a scooter may distrust a rocker as much as his parents do.

  13. Bob
    March 5, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    This is what I just wrote as a comment on Tom’s post:

    The difference between “chavs” and, say, skinheads, is nobody (apart from Julie Burchill) identifies as a chav. It is not a subculture, but a projection of middle class resentment on to the white working class. Charlie McM above gets it right when he says “In reality chavs, or fear of chavs, has at least as much to do with people justifying choices like opting for private schools or living in gated communities as it does with the reality of the people they’re trying to avoid.” Chavs are a paranoid fantasy of the middle class imagination. Using the word “chav” to describe real people is equivalent to using the racist word “pikey”; it should have no place in a socialist’s vocabulary.

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