July 28, 2004


As you know, Wifeswap is usually exploitative-but-compelling rats-in-a-lab TV, but last night's ep was strangely uplifting. It was good to see that a family could really live that self-sustaining Good Life er life. What was morbidly fascinating was the resentful resistance of the other couple to this patently superior lifestyle. Their addiction to the neuropathic slow death of instant mash potatoes and e-bay had a real pathos to it, as did their inability to in any way rationalize their antipathy to the other family's positive living strategies. 'You take too much exercise...' Err, why? The only answer they could have given was that 'too much' meant: more than we take. And that must be dangerously aberrant.

Nice to hear someone say they preferred DOING THINGS to housework. 'If you give me the choice between a cycle ride and cleaning, I'll choose cycling any time.'


Just clocked this, but Flum is back from his US sojurn. If you want a blog on pop pleasure, there really are none better than Talent in a Previous Life. (And I'm not only saying that because Flum is in the growing army of Streets haytaz. Well, not haytaz exactly. Sceptics.) Pleased to note that TOTP is giving Tim Kash the push, too.

Speaking of sackings, what is Sven Goran Eriksson being threatened with dismissal for this time (besides being foreign of course)? A somewhat sinister quote from the FA yesterday (paraphrase): 'Lying to your employer is a serious matter, and punishable.' OK, if you're talking about concealing a pensions scam, but witholding information about a sexual liaison with a fellow employee... is that 'punishable' now?

Posted by mark at July 28, 2004 04:33 PM | TrackBack

kash going! best news I've had all week.

Posted by: at July 28, 2004 05:24 PM

next thing you know they'll not be putting the clocks back.

Posted by: at July 28, 2004 05:24 PM

Yeah, he's a rubbish presenter, that Tim Cash. Thank God for Fearne. One thing in his defence tho', my Main Man Dom says Kash is actually a really nice bloke "Though a bit thick", and he def. doesn't suffer fools gladly...

Posted by: kek-w at July 28, 2004 07:17 PM

Are you going to take up outdoors pursuits then, Mr K-P?! less punk and more pink!!!...what will we do if you're off practicing for triathlons and suchlike instead of writing penetrating socio-culturo-philosophical critique...?! Hmm....

The fatter lady on wifeswap did acknowledge that she should be spending more time with her kid tho - I think she was jealous of the sporty family really.

Cycling round London is not a particularly attractive/healthy/safe option tho, is it now?

And will they ever open any public swimming pools in Hackney ever again....? Dark local politics....

Posted by: infinite thought at July 28, 2004 07:50 PM

"Murky" is a better work for Hackney Council and it's exciting "conspiracy or cock up" machinations, I.T...

Posted by: john eden at July 29, 2004 08:03 AM

Nina, Lol, but actually I'm with Nietzsche about walking y' know.... I'm not in the league of that family, unfortunately I'm not going to manage 20 mile bike rides, but I'm definitely at my most productive when I'm doing lots of exercise, which I get lots of opportunity to do in the holidays. Now the zombie meat-truck (bus) ---- work ---- TV routine during termtime that makes productivity very difficult.

Bromley has a good swimming pool. Just got a deal of 10 days swimming for a tenner...

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 08:35 AM

jeezus, mark, did you see last week's wifeswap where the working-class woman went to the middle-class house and when her rules were instituted, banned the children from having books in theior bedroom, throwing them into bin bags and dumping them in the garage!!!???
it was funny in a sad way, but this series more than the previous has been all about swapping classes, rather than "lifestyle strategies" or philosophies, with the possible exception of the last two episodes. it's more about the viewercentric spectacle of making extremes meet, that any meaningful dialogue being established between the participants, which there was in the previous series, to a certain extent.

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 11:08 AM

she threw the books into bin bags, not the children, obviously

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 11:10 AM

Yeh, I saw that... on the books: 'I'm sick of looking at them' Like they were ornaments or something!

The reviewer in The Times today picked up on Northern Bloke on Tue saying 'you can't convert a working northern family into the lifestyle supplement of the Telegraph.' But what interested me about that ep was that the 'positive' lifestyle precisely wasn't the clinically clean hyper-hygienic houseproud one.

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 11:18 AM

yeah. the thing is in the 1st series you did get the feeling that people were ate least learning something from each other, especially the very 1st episode, with the fat, racist family from east london (who i have seen in my local tesco!!!) and the black couple (her: lovely; him: knobber). whereas these one, people just seem to be scrapping, going to the meeting at the end, scrapping a bit more, then leaving and saying "well thank god that's over, i never want to see them again! "

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 11:32 AM

Yeah the aspect of Wife Swap where the couples examine their own relationships* has totally gone. It's just cock-fighting now.

*(eg that heartbreaking bit in series one where the put-upon wife discovers that There Is A Better Way than just waiting on her bone-idle husband and he cynically defuses the timebomb by saying "I love you" for the first time EVER.)

Posted by: Tom at July 29, 2004 11:40 AM

>banned the children from having books

that was one of the best yet; the pathetic personality that was revealed when the supposedly supermature teacher-dictator husband refused to move his rats!

The truly great thing about WS is that they manage to push things 'too far' so that something actually _changes_: what I find infuriating about most other 'reality' things is that they either simply reinforce/report 'reality' or invent stupid artificial ways to intervene (ie BB) , whereas this WS both non-interventionist but actually effectual in unpredictable ways, which also makes it more informative about reality.

What was moving in that episode was how the 'slob' husband, after a couple of days of being a total bastard, just instantaneously realised that he _could_ actually bother to do something, to interact with his daughter, and that he enjoyed it more than being a sullen petulant twat; showing that no matter how deep people's pathologies seem to run, they're not unchallengeable (except for the bearded book-fascist, or course. Hilarious wasn't it, when she had a go at him for going to the park with his kids 'A 56-year old man with a beard, it's embarrassing')

Posted by: undercurrent at July 29, 2004 01:10 PM

the sting in the tail for the woman on the last episode who didn't understand the need to do so much exercise was the child could die if it wasn't for the healthy values of his family.
surely that would be enough to shake any proslob to the core.

Posted by: mms at July 29, 2004 01:18 PM

yeah, i mean the book-binning woman was only as annoying as the beardy rat-bloke, certainly no worse and the "posher" family did look like they should be in the news for running a satanic sex cult. but i thought the first series was a lot better when it came to actually changing people's outlooks/patterns of behaviour than this one. that moment with the husband engaging with his daughter was a very rare flash opf anything positive.

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 02:11 PM

also i did love the way that "the beard" really became the major issue at their meeting. very little else got said, save a massive ruck about facial hair. (apologies to tom ewing and any other people with beards.)

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 02:14 PM

Beard Swap!

Posted by: Tom at July 29, 2004 02:23 PM

yeh, what I enjoyed about this week's though was that it wasn't just Posh vs Slob (I mean the 'healthy' family's class was actually difficult to gauge; woman seemed definitely m/c but her husband a bit more ambiguous) -- it wasn't just a cockfight or something that wd reinforce the audience's comlacency (with a message like 'everyone's different'): there actually was a Better Way to Live on offer. The previous week's was the same old Lumpen vs Snob schtick ---- Rat man clearly an unpleasant smuggernaut, Book binner a domestic fascist ---

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 03:40 PM

but at the end of the day it really was all about the facial hair! it's funny now, though, just how cringeworthy both sides are. those higer up the social ladder are so bourgeois they're painful and those lowewr, just painted as being totally dense. sadly i missed last night's as it sounds like a slight deviation from form, but i'm willing to believe you(!) the only other one vaguely like yr describing was where two different types of middle-classness went head to head: daily mail-style nouveau affluent v hippie environmentalist dropouts = SCRAP!!!

Posted by: stelfox at July 29, 2004 03:57 PM

haven't seen many of either series, but those that I have seen seem to have one image of the working class (slobs) --- certain absurd impressions abound --- fer instance the idea that the m/c spend more time with their kids than the w/c is fucking ridiculous ---

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 04:36 PM

Well Ratman certainly spent a lot of time with his kids, he even went to the park with them! As that family showed, beyond a certain reasonable threshold 'spending time with' or 'paying attention to' kids is equally as noxious as ignoring them.

I agree that usually you get the impression both the m/c's and the w/c's as equally hideous - what a double-bind; but it's invariably the case that the w/c at least have the redeeming virtue of having some wit about them (ie the beard thing) whilst the m/c's are merely horribly authoritarian and selfsatisfied.

stelfox + mark ongoing co-processing of it all into shorthand ciphers - 'RATMAN vs BOOKBINNER' - extremely amusing LOL!

ps. see, I do watch TV!

Posted by: at July 29, 2004 08:22 PM

So that must be you, UC?

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 09:02 PM

that's the problem with nullonymes, no-one knows who you are.

Posted by: undercurrent at July 29, 2004 09:20 PM

I think it reminded me of Deleuze&Guattari's 'telegraphic signals' which I always found unaccountably funny: WASP TO MEET ORCHID HANS TO SEE A HORSE RATMAN TO MEET BOOKBINNER' lol...

Posted by: undercurrent at July 29, 2004 09:22 PM

actually, meant to mention this before, did anyone get the Sunday Times this week? There was an article by that guy who's written that new biography of the working classes, saying that Wifeswap et al are the 21C equivalent of ppl like Mayhew going into the proletarian districts and bringing back Tales of Horror...

Posted by: mark at July 29, 2004 09:40 PM

no i didn't read that. i'd be really interested to read it tho. what's (especially fr robin) BIOGRAPHIST's name? i'll look it up either on times online or on my archive service at work and post a link.

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 10:04 AM

apologies for the long post, but can'[t fund a url and you won't be able to access my archive server and if you do i get sacked.

White trash, the only people left to insult

Michael Collins
912 words
18 July 2004
The Sunday Times
News Review 5
(c) 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

The middle class's delicate racial sensibilities mysteriously disappear when it comes to poor white folk, writes Michael Collins

At a dinner party in an elegant north London flat in the 1990s, one of the guests said she was buying a property in the far less salubrious area of south London, a grenade's throw from Elephant & Castle. What followed metaphorically booted the white working class so far below stairs it could have been the 1890s.

"The street is very white," she moaned, pointing to the absence of aubergines at the local market as somehow indicative of the parochial, archaic nature of the native white tribe. She feared living there would be a far less cultural experience than her current address in Notting Hill.

Once established in her new home she would take up the missionary position and set about educating whitey. And her mission would begin with egg plants.

I was born and lived out my formative years in the area she was talking about.

From the beginning of the 19th century both sides of my family had lived pretty much within the same streets, many working in the local market, selling fruit and veg.

I had begun to realise this woman's view was not an isolated one. Even in polite company the term "white trash" was beginning to rear its head, and in media circles no one seemed to object. It didn't occur to those using it that anyone present might be offended.

The white working class now is the last group it is possible to demonise without breaking the rules of modern racial etiquette. For me, this trend was particularly visible in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, during which certain columnists became preoccupied with the illiteracy of the former murder suspects, who "didn't have an O-level between them". This, along with the news that their mothers were neither natural blondes nor non-smokers, was cited as evidence of guilt.

Soon it was as though the south London postcodes from which these families emerged were all somehow in the dock. Journalists were parachuted to Eltham and reported back with dispatches highlighting the smoking, drinking, swearing and designer clothes that were "de rigueur for white urban youth". And this before they'd discovered the relative absence of aubergines.

Recently these urban youths became identified by the term "chav". What apparently characterises chavs is a desire for designer clothes, flashy jewellery, illegitimate offspring -lots of them -with ridiculous names. All this is equally applicable to the black urban working class.

A Guardian writer recently shamelessly described Wayne Rooney as being part of this white trash tribe of chavs, an uncool minority that will never even be ironically cool.

What has become obvious is that the relationship between a certain type of radical and the white urban working class has dissolved. It was indeed traditionally a one-way affair that had begun as the dust settled on the industrial revolution.

When Henry Mayhew became the first middle-class journalist to embark on an expedition into the world of the white urban working class in the name of sociological observation, chronicled in my book, The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Granta), he stumbled on a tribe known as cabmen which, oddly, he lumped in with pickpockets and prostitutes.

In describing them he said there was "a greater development of the animal than of the intellectual or moral nature of man, and they are all more or less distinguished for their high cheekbones and protruding jaws". The article about Wayne Rooney noted that "his jutting jaw-line, that seems to have been drawn by a Beano cartoonist, harks back to another age -the Neolithic perhaps".

Throughout the 19th century, the middle classes not only reported on the urban white working class, but embarked on missions to mould them or rally them.

Novelists began to see the urban working class as their muse. At the one end was Mayhew's contemporary, Charles Dickens, and at the other George Sims, whose "slum journalism" became the reality entertainment of its day.

Sims took himself to south London's working-class postcodes like a missionary discovering tribes from outposts of the empire. His dispatches revealed an unkempt, rowdy, music-hall loving crowd of slum-dwellers and hooligans.

A hundred years on a little bit of history is repeating itself. On the small screen, in shows such as Wife Swap, white working-class women are temporarily relocated from the below-stairs of the wrong postcodes to middle-class homes, where their lack of modern etiquette might be exposed. Also ushered beneath the umbrella of white trash is the wider urban working class that has fled the cities for the suburbs.

These chavs have been branded because they have made it into the lower-middle-class via money instead of education. And once there they wear the wrong jewellery, the wrong clothes and put the wrong windows in. It would appear that this is what will keep Wayne Rooney within the confines of that "uncool" minority, according to those who fancy themselves his cultural and intellectual superiors.

He has achieved his success and bank balance via plain and simple talent, but seemingly without the right windows, clothes or jaw. God forbid they discover he has a mother who is not a natural blonde.

(C) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2004

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 10:13 AM

has anyone read Collin's book? Burchill was raving about it (but don't let that put you off). I've only seen positive comments about it...

Posted by: mark at July 30, 2004 10:43 AM

i've not but i thought about ordering it after a recent feature in the guardian(?)/observer(?) mag and it's not often i'll say that. it's classic burchill-love material, so it's not surprising she likes it, but he seems pretty smart and there's a lot of wit in his writing, too.

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 10:53 AM

Yeh I thought that too ... and thanks for posting the article btw Dave...

Posted by: mark at July 30, 2004 11:13 AM

In last Saturday's Guardian Review the book was slagged off and damned as a virtual BNP manifesto. This of course had the inevitable effect of making me go out and buy the thing straightaway. Will read it once I'm done with the BS Johnson omnibus (Trawl is a proto-blog if anything is!).

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at July 30, 2004 01:59 PM

read a piece in last sats guardian on sat review written by mike philips who wrote the biography of black britain saying it is pretty thin on research and heavy on pining rhetoric basically.
im pretty sure the term chavs is an overall term for people who wear labels and tracky bottoms nowdays rather than white working class
But the whole chav thing is pretty grotesque and a pretty new phenomenon I think. Not entirley sure how it all started

Posted by: mms at July 30, 2004 02:08 PM

the term "chav" is exclusively white, exclusively working-class and exclusively male. (dunno what females are called but "chavette" is too reminiscent of a second-hand vauxhall). i've just bought it, too. will report back.

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 03:37 PM

It's not exclusively male - ppl in my office use it of women all the time, esp. Michelle off BB. Never heard it used of a non-white tho.

Posted by: Tom at July 30, 2004 04:01 PM

I think that it derives from from the romany; chavo (CHA-vo) -- a Romani boy
chavi (CHA-vee) -- a Romani girl, but has now become a general term to denote
a certain section of w/c normally derogatary - due in part to certain websites (you can find them if you want to: fun is somewhat lacking - hate fills the space). . Having lived in Kent for a large part of my life I often heard it as a greeting as in ‘awrigght chav’ offence was seldom taken. Things seem to have changed. Denoting that you’re a gypsy seems to increasingly an insult of choice.- I don’t think that it necessarily comes from a middle class position having watched the trading of insults @ West Ham / Millwall last season.. (Wheres your Caravan? Etc.)

Posted by: Ali Tonbridge at July 30, 2004 05:18 PM

so is the uk's chav a bit like the dutch gabber ?
sounds a bit like it.

Posted by: mms at July 31, 2004 12:42 AM

yeah - except they have worse music

Posted by: stelfox at July 31, 2004 10:10 AM