The Fetishizing, Representation and Demonizing of the Working Class | Sarah Stook
The working class is a conundrum for many. Our politicians constantly try to be one the side of the working classes, showing off the comprehensive school they went off to, the tax cuts they voted for and the chip shop they spent five minutes talking to constituents. On the other side, we have the snobby pseudo-intellectuals who praise the working class before demonising them for voting leave or for Donald Trump.
In some ways, the media puts rose tinted spectacles on the working classes. They are sexualised as hard-working, family-oriented men and women who just so happen to be down on their luck and need the firm hand of their local MP. Politicians prize the photos of them in greasy spoon cafés in the worst part of their constituencies, sitting between a single mum and a retired steel mill worker. There is no longer a real, substantive argument in favour of the working class in parliament- it is a beautification.
Is it aspirational to be working class? Yes and no. Working class people may not have the best jobs or securest economic backgrounds, but most are fine folk- as are people of all classes. Is the idea of being working class aspirational? Well, it’s not ideal to be lower on the economic food chain, or to have lower wages. That’s where the problem lies- no solutions, just substance. Politicians are happy to do photo shoots in factories and look stony faced at food banks, happy to write op-eds in their local paper about what they’re doing for their local council estate. They may it look like it’s beautiful and what they’re doing is great work. It’s a drug to them. No longer do they really represent single mum Polly or retired steel worker John, they go into Westminster for the TV appearances and shiny Instagram posts. When they’re on the BBC, they’re happy to start fetishizing the working class.
A fetish to most is BDSM or threesomes, but a fetish can also mean an obsession with something. It’s not an obsession with the working class as people, but the working class as a voting bloc. They show their obsession by making it glossy. I’m sure that some politicians genuinely care, in fact most, but it’s become more of a show. There’s a romance about it all, dreaming of hard times undergone by good, hard working folk. It’s better to be working class than it was one hundred years ago, but it’s still no comfort for the renters in poor, seaside towns.
The immigrant worker has also become a fetish. They are not admired as hard workers who make good money and contribute well to this country; they are seen as cheap labour. On the remain side, the chattering classes worried excessively about who would take low paying, menial jobs, such as fruit picking if migrant workers flee the country after Brexit. It’s not a totally undeniable issue; we have to look into why native workers aren’t filling up these jobs. That is not the point, however. In this case, many see them as simply job fillers, who pick their Waitrose potatoes and wash their cars. An infamous case occurred in an episode of ‘Question Time,’ when an anguished woman asked ‘who would be serving our coffee in Pret?’ It’s faux middle class concern, not seeing them as people, but as the cheery fellow who makes their latte on their morning coffee run.
Last year, a piece of graffiti was taken down in Shoreditch. The offending words? ‘Sex with refugees is jasmine-scented and beautiful.’ Being a refugee is hardly a glamorous thing. Many refugees, particularly political ones, are richer, but many are also poor and working class, needing the state to help build up their new life. Refugees are people, not fetishes for the liberal luvvies to get off to. It makes them sexual objects, not people whose lives are in disarray through no fault of their own. That graffiti is definitely fetishizing in both meanings of the word- the exotic woman or man is now a sexual being, as well as an object of political and moral desire. Making the refugee beautiful only serves to make them seem morally sound compared to the ‘evil xenophobic Kipper types.’ They are not serving the poor immigrant through charity or campaigning for their rights, but by making them a thing of beauty for others to admire like a pet. That’s what they are, sweet little people for them to pet, coddle and sympathise with. It’s the same with the native working class.
We no longer see parties or papers for the working class. The Conservatives have traditionally been seen as the party of the middle and upper classes, in spite of the Essex man and recent surveys showing they’re doing better than the working classes. Most working people don’t see the Tories as their saviours. Now to the Labour Party. Previously the party of the common man and woman, they now see themselves doing well in Islington and the cities. Their representative in the media, the Guardian, gives us delightful headlines such as ‘millennial dads are a force for good, but even we can’t breastfeed,’ and ‘my search for Mr. Woke: a dating diary’ (seriously). Tabloids such as the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun have become the new media opiate for the masses, each sensationaled and criticised for all manner of journalistic sins. They may represent some working class views, but they do not give them that representation in the media.
Next up: the demonization.
A recent tweet provided a bit of insight into the working class demonization:
It’s a simple concept. The working classes are sweet little things that need help, until they take the wrong decision. Brexit is one of the key components of this. A quick search on Twitter reveals the #FBPE types calling Brexiteers ‘idiots’ and ‘brextards’ amongst other nasty terms, acting as though they’re all thick as mince. Sadly, others wait for the day that older, working class people die off because they think it will herald a new age of Europhile progressivism. Many working class people voted for Brexit, for a variety of reasons from immigration to economic concerns. Those who voted for it couldn’t see how they’d be worse off.
Of course, most politicians aren’t stupid enough to straight up insult the working class- at least on the face of it. They will happily claim that upper class; rich politicians such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have hoodwinked them with lies about money for the NHS and putting a cap on immigration. It’s not a direct insult, but they’re sly enough to insinuate that the working class are stupid and need to be fooled by all manner of tricks into voting- as if they haven’t got a mind of their own. Perhaps they’ve forgotten all the tricks the remain side has pulled. Twitter users are more open, with insults and a range of arguments in replies to Brexit supporters. It’s not to say that Brexit supporters can’t be as bad, but many elitist remainers seem to be under the impression that being condescending towards working people is a good idea.
‘Gammons’ has become a term for white, older men who like Brexit and have more traditional views. The left portray them as racist, homophobic mouth breathers who get all of their information from the Daily Mail (they say this whilst clutching their Guardian). Another quick search of social media can show you that name has become common. Name calling in politics is seen as childish, but not when it’s against people you disagree with.
The worst type is in America though.
Many in the upper echelons of American society are vocal about their love for Hillary Clinton. Hollywood celebrities stand up at the Oscars and proudly state that they still stand with her. News stories seem biased towards her in traditional media. There seems to be an elite favouritism. Clinton campaigned as a defender of the working class, a woman who would make the rich pay their fair share so that they could have better lives. It doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. She skipped Wisconsin and made comments about putting coal miners out of business- a bit insensitive. Clinton would drone on about this before Beyoncé and Jon Bon Jovi would put on a show stopper of a political concert for her. It all went swimmingly until Donald Trump went and won the presidency, gaining support from working class former Democrats in Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
That’s when it all went pear shaped.
From loving the working class to demonising them in a second, many turned. Trump supporters were tarred with the same brush, as angry poor white men who hate gays, women and anyone with a different skin colour to them. Ellen Pompeo tweeted that she doesn’t want Trump supporters as fans (she’s not even my favourite character in Grey’s Anatomy anyway and I’m not even that much of a Trump fan). Jim Carrey has called Trump supporters ‘loyal zombies.’ The list goes on. Many go off at Hollywood actors for being more liberal on immigration because they want cheap labour, for being anti-gun even though they have security and for supporting a higher wage even though their lives wouldn’t be affected by job losses. That’s true, but it seems they don’t care for the working class when it doesn’t fit their narrative of plucky little Roseanne-esque blue collar workers.
It seems the Democrats have become in favour of the elites and the same can be said with the Labour Party. Champagne has replaced beer, Islington has replaced Sunderland and the chattering class has replaced the working class. That’s not to say the Republicans and Tories are any better, but they have never traditionally been seen as the working class parties. Many were turned off by Clinton in 2016, going towards Bernie Sanders and even he isn’t exactly a blue collar hero. Politics has seen a shift from being for everyone to being for those who own their houses and are much more likely to vote.
The working class get a raw deal here. They are praised as warriors and sexualised by politicians, all whilst struggling to get their views across to the Westminster elite. The media doesn’t represent them, not the traditional papers anyway. When they vote the wrong way, they are demonised as idiots who are fooled easily and need the guiding hand of the progressive elite. The working class need to be seen properly- in a situation that isn’t ideal, as good people who need representing and whose voices matter as much as the doctors who live in Surrey. They can’t be made to be perfect, nor torn down as idiot racists. They’re stereotypes as the working class hero ala Roseanne Barr, the racist imbecile ala Al Garnett or the bumbling oaf ala Homer Simpson. Most readers are working class. If they aren’t, it doesn’t matter. If they are, it doesn’t matter. The working class aren’t pawns to make you feel morally superior as a virtuous hero or progressive liberal.
It’s time to stop fetishizing them. It’s time to stop pretending to represent them. It’s time to stop demonizing them.