Growing up in Merthyr Tydfil, my family never went to art galleries, never listened to classical music and never hunted foxes or pheasants. Our cultural exploits involved watching Gladiators, reading Jacqueline Wilson books at bedtime and going to a pantomime once a year. I watched a lot of cartoons and never listened to The Archers. Whilst we may not have been especially 'cultured', we considered ourselves to be middle class, and it wasn't until I came to university that I realised economic class and social class are two immensely different things.
Social mobility is a lie, which has been repackaged and sold to us by a succession of governments that have emphasised aspiration above all else. Whilst some degree of upward mobility is possible in purely economic terms, no degree of ascension through the monetary class hierarchy can buy you the social privileges of the upper middle classes. That's precisely why you can be raised middle class, go to a good school and get into a great university, but still find yourself excluded from full participation because you didn't catch someone's literary reference. That's also why you can be a member of the same economic class as someone who dismisses you as 'nouveau riche'. Simply having the economic means does not make you middle class - it's not enough to own the expensive bottle of wine, unless you can talk about it with confidence.
Although I come from a middle class background, during my first weeks at university, I had the constant sense that I was missing the punch line of every joke. Everyone else seemed to understand the references people were making, but I simply drew a blank. It's incredibly deflating to be accepted to a great university, only be excluded from conversations by a sheer lack of cultural capital. These cultural references are not unintentionally made. Those with privilege are aware that not everyone was raised on a diet of gravlax and Don Giovanni. Making these references around your new peer group is a subtle way of discriminating between those who have worth and those who do not. Elite and mass culture still serve as a tool to discriminate between the haves and the have-nots.
The elite members of the British class system seek to protect their privilege, and if you can't do that by assigning the plebs to heavy industry, then you can do it by scoffing at their lack of cultural capital. We are taught to aspire to attain a better economic status, and whilst you may climb the ladder of economic class, you are equally as likely now as ever before to die in the same cultural class that you were born into. It's a tragic irony that we have been trained to frame our ambitions within the framework of a system which continues to socially exclude all those except a privileged elite. Social class is the secret knock on the door of power and influence. If you didn't learn it at Eton, you are shut you out entirely.