Book Reviews

Book Review: Chavs The Demonization of the working class by Owen Jones

Front-cover-of-Owen-Jones-Book-ChavsGame changer, these are the words I’d use if I only had two to describe this book.

Chav’s challenges what Jones describes as the last acceptable prejudice, class hatred. In Britain you’re hard pushed to get away from class, however much we lean towards liberalism and politeness, if you’re in a situation with someone of a completely different class to yourself in hangs the air, like an elephant in the room. However Owen Jones approaches this subject in a fierce and impassioned manner, there is no denying it, he is angry. He examines the attitudes towards the working classes and how we’ve got to where we are today, what he describes as a forgotten underclass.

This book provides an incredibly strong argument for the government, media and general publics mistreatment of working class people.  Jones’ influence for this book began with a joke from a friend at a dinner party, Woolworth was shutting down and someone said “But where are all the chav’s going to do their shopping”.  This lead Jones to write this book and setting up a dialogue investigating what it means to be a chav. At the heart of class prejudice is money, it is undoubtedly the core of what divides us or at least its origin. And whilst the upper classes suffer their fair share of stereotyping and ridicule it rarely affects their ability to make money. He begins the book analysing the way in which the media, newspapers in particular, often exploit a few to the detriment of many. This powerful media tool is often criticised but I have never seen it analysed in such a way, facts figures and column inches are used as ammunition to back up point after point of mistreatment. Child abductions, Hillsborough, representation within light entertainment, work places, homes; Jones covers all aspects of life in this book. The origins of class hatred Jones describes in this book stems from political control hailing from the Thatcher age. He takes the reader back to the times when working class meant salt of the earth not scum of the earth, skilled workers doing jobs they could be proud of. His strong analysis of certain areas in the UK creates very bleak picture of those born into a community that has very little for the young to aspire too. Jones argues taking skilled industry away from certain areas, especially in the north has created an environment that few are able to flourish in.

The origin of the word chav is contested, coming from the Romany word chavi meaning simply young but many now preferring to understand it from the acronym: council housed and violent. There is nothing but negative connotations surrounding this word; over sexed, wasters, scroungers, drinking cheap alcohol in sports clothes and claiming benefits. This caricature is firmly in place thanks for the demonization of the press and government Jones argues. I think we all have our own experiences with this word and realisation of it’s connotations.  The first time I heard the word “Chav” was when I was in my first year of university back in 2004. The student union was holding an event called “Chav Night”, not really knowing what it meant I was told to don my Adidas track suit and put on my best pair of hooped earrings. Strolling out into the shared kitchen my flat mates laughing told me I made a brilliant chav and proceeded to look through my wardrobe to find something for themselves. With a wealth of fake Burberry clothes and accessories I was perfectly equipped to sort everyone out. I remember feeling a little bit embarrassed, my clothes weren’t as fashionable in London as they were back home and apparently I was a chav or at least I had been. This made me begin to look at people very differently. Upon visiting friends at other universities I realised this Chav thing was very common, the more wealthy students especially took pleasure from making fun of those who were less fortunate than them. Regardless I brushed it off and my initial shock was dulled down, after all the word became more and more commonly used. chav poster

It is argued by many people that the modern class system isn’t based on how much money you make anymore but by geography, where you live, where you were sent to school and who your peers are. Class boundaries are something that is ever changing and expanding, so instead of shying away and feeling embarrassed about class isn’t it time we start talking about it? Be warned those who believe The Iron Lady to be a woman who has changed this countries fortune for the better, you will be rueing the day she ever came into power after reading this book. The main message I’ve taken away is how damaging public opinion can be, its not always correct and almost always fails to look at a community as a collection of individuals. This book is very well written; it flows and is easy enough to understand whilst being extremely informative. It’s passionate and sometimes might be on the emotional side but it’s strong journalistic base holds it together. If you’ve ever considered class stereotyping unfair and wonder where it has come from, I’d recommend this as Owen Jones connects the dots.

2nd edition now available with additional chapter examining the London riots of 2011

Owen Jones

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One thought on “Book Review: Chavs The Demonization of the working class by Owen Jones

  1. Good book – good review – but the Thatcher generation are out there alive and well and disinclined to look back over the sprawled remains of their (less fortunate) former class mates and agree to pay a penny more in tax to help them.

    The problem is that although noone will say it – they agreed with her.

    Did someone say we are all in this together?

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