2014 has ripped off the thin, translucent veil to lay bare the dynamics of power play between different social classes in the English-speaking West. We have seen, specifically, the consolidation and reassertion of a relatively longstanding phenomenon whereby a powerful, highly-educated liberal elite, with the means to influence the public discourse far beyond its size, systematically silences the voices of the working class and effectively banishes them from mainstream discourse. Although there is nothing new in the elitist, undemocratic balance of power exerted by certain social groups and classes, this year we have seen perfect demonstrations of this dynamic by way of the recent public hysteria over the NYC catcalling video and, more recently, the axing of ITV2's Dapper Laughs: On the Pull.
Having attended both a comprehensive school and Oxbridge, I've had the privilege of witnessing the fascinating contrast between two quite distinct tiers in society; their norms, sensibilities, senses of humour, and capacity to influence public discourse through mobilisation and activism. I should hope it is clear, in any piece of this nature, that the intention isn't to argue that all middle class or university-educated people share the same views or that all working class individuals agree. Rather, there exist prevailing attitudes or sets of beliefs held by members of these groups or, at least, held more widely than would be found elsewhere in the population.
When the video of an actress being catcalled and harassed, as she walked through the streets of a clearly deprived NYC neighbourhood, was posted on Youtube, the responses were rather predictable. The aforementioned liberal elite almost unanimously decried the lascivious and predatory nature of men and the need both to protect women and educate men. In fact, some articles written in response, no doubt with the ideological intention of shaping future discourse, defined all compliments by men to women they don't know as 'harassment'. What was especially fascinating was the reaction or lack thereof from the working class. It was practically non-existent largely due to their relative inactivity in the blogosphere in comparison with the liberal elite. It is this relative inactivity which immediately puts the working class at a huge disadvantage in setting the public agenda. While Joe Oxford and Jane Cambridge were busy, furiously typing away their disgust at the appalling state of society, there was a predictable lack of representation of the opinions of other groups.
Needless to say this kind of under-representation is undesirable at best and dangerous at worst. What is more worrying still is that it is precisely members of the working class who would least be likely to consider being merely complimented on the street by a stranger 'harassment'. No doubt many do find it harassing behaviour, but there is a large enough proportion who don't who are misrepresented. This difference in attitudes is quite striking to me personally when comparing the attitudes of friends from my school to those from Oxford. I don't hope to convince anyone who has not come from a working class background of a class-based difference in prevailing attitudes, since I doubt there exist studies comparing the two specifically on this issue (viz. whether mere compliments by strangers constitute harassment). To support the point somewhat, however, there exist some surveys that indicate the split nature of women's opinions on this. A survey conducted by Dove reported here showed that 21% of British women prefer to be complimented by a stranger than by a loved one or friend. Research by YouGov of Americans found that 45% of under-30s did not consider catcalls harassment (note they were asked about 'catcalls', which includes the full range to which one can be subjected and not mere PG-rated compliments) 31% considered catcalls a compliment.
Now of course some of what happened in that video was harassment; of course I am not condoning catcalls, or telling women how they should feel about them; and of course I am not saying all working class people are of one mind and all middle class university-goers of another. What I am saying is that women are not nearly unanimous on the issue of the acceptability of mere compliments by strangers, and it is unhealthy that only one side is being represented. There seems a general silencing of working class opinions on gender issues with a condescending "they don't know what's best for them" attitude. Since harassment is a subjective term, entirely dependent on whether the recipient feels 'harassed', it is wholly inappropriate to ignore large swathes of the population when using this label so universally.
More recently, Daniel O'Reilly has been hung out to dry by a seeming consensus of the British public for the misogynistic nature of his on-screen persona, Dapper Laughs. The prevailing voice has been that Dapper Laughs is not only deeply offensive but harmful. Whatever one's opinion of the show (I for one found it somewhat lacking in the comedy department) it's surely beyond doubt that it appealed to quite a specific demographic, among whom it enjoyed a huge fan base. I think we need to put things very much in perspective here. Rape jokes are nothing new. The likes of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr have courted controversy in this realm of dark humour many-a-time and have not attracted anywhere near this kind of backlash. The interesting difference between them is the uniquely working class face of Dapper Laughs, compared to the slick, middle class personae of most mainstream comedians (even ostensibly working class ones like Frankie Boyle). Dapper Laughs' 'banter' is exactly the kind of humour one could find at any local pub, and perhaps that is where it should remain. In any case, the singling out of Dapper Laughs by the liberal elite has been quite telling.
I did a quick Facebook headcount and wasn't surprised to discover the following: of my 711 friends, the split between those from my comprehensive school and those from Oxford is, very roughly, 50:50. 43 of them have liked the Dapper Laughs Facebook page and 100% of those are friends from my comprehensive - not one of my friends from Oxford have liked the page. The correlation between opinion on Dapper Laughs and socioeconomic group is so blindingly obvious that those who deny it--and there are many who do--can only be doing so for ideological reasons. With regard to the distinctly working class Dapper Laughs, the liberal elite has spoken, and all trace of his existence will soon be whitewashed, while comedians at least as offensive, but who both radiate a more polished, middle class sheen, and who appeal far more to middle class tastes, continue to enjoy the spotlight.
The liberal elite's hegemony over the public discourse is longstanding and indeed we have seen this exact kind of thing before. The media's response to the likes of UKIP and the English Defence League (EDL), both movements with great appeal among the working class, has been to silence, ridicule, and marginalise them. I am not a supporter of either UKIP or the EDL, and in fact I find many of their views to be odious. Nor am I a supporter of catcalling or rape jokes. What I do support is democracy and a fair representation of mainstream opinions, however bitter a taste they leave and however repugnant they appear to middle class, liberal sensibilities. Now that the public agenda is set mostly by the media and, increasingly, by the blogosphere, the voices of the working class are being drowned out more than ever before. We only come to be aware of this silent swathe of the population when fringe political parties gain unprecedented ground in elections, at which point Joe Oxford on Question Time trips over himself to explain how disaffected and disenfranchised everyone has become.
It seems we are perfectly happy to fawn over our servicemen and servicewomen (of whom a large proprtion come from the working class) when they put their lives on the line, but are otherwise content to ensure their opinions never see the light of day. No doubt many will respond by trying to sidestep the real issue and attempt to divert the discussion to nitpicking over politically correct terms and knocking down of straw men so that we can continue to pretend that the working class don't exist.