Thursday, 19 September 2013

Arctic Monkeys vs Kaiser Chiefs on class and chavs

This post would have been so relevant if I'd written it in 2006.

They might wear classic Reeboks
Or knackered Converse
Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks
But all of that's what the point is not
Arctic Monkeys ~ A Certain Romance

So much chav-hated is focused on clothes, isn't it? You say, "Please don't use that word, it's hate-speech against working class people" - or, you know, a slightly less pompous version of same - and they say, "But what about people who really are chavs? Who wear Burberry and caps and tracky bottoms and Croydon facelifts? It's okay to hate them, right?"

The point is there in't no romance around there.

Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict A Riot is in the peculiar situation of being held up as the epitome of the wave of chav-hatred that's been rising in this country for years - at the same time as being an anthem to the very people the song derides.

Girls scrabble round with no clothes on
To borrow a pound for a condom
If it wasn't for chip fat they'd be frozen

"I don't find you sexually attractive, therefore you shouldn't wear revealing clothing" / "I don't want to look at your body, therefore you shouldn't show it in public" / "I don't want to listen to you, therefore you shouldn't exist". (I'm paraphrasing slightly.)

The difference between A Certain Romance and I Predict A Riot is like the difference between you gently taking the piss out of your mum, and your stepmother viciously sniping about your mum. It's the difference between my sister, 15 years ago, railing against the townies who made her life a misery every day at school - and my sister virulently bitching about "chavs" (on benefits, in council houses, in Burberry) who she's never met. Back then they had the power, and she was the underdog; now she has a degree and secure white collar work and the ability to code-switch to Received Pronunciation for job interviews, while the objects of her disdain are struggling to feed their families on ever-dwindling benefits, unable to work because childcare costs are too fucking high and the minimum wage is so fucking low.

I tried to get to my taxi
The man in a tracksuit attacks me

While A Certain Romance laments the cultural wasteland of Sheffield estates - there's only music so that there's new ringtones - it also has the close-up view which shows individuals (don't get me wrong, there's boys in bands), rather than the alarming uniform army conjured up by I Predict A Riot.

Over there there's friends of mine
And they might overstep the line
You just cannot get angry in the same way

That's the difference, isn't it? A Certain Romance is full of exasperation at people who you've grown up with, who you love dearly, but who want different things and go about them in different ways. It's feeling apart from your friends because you're into books and music and get good marks in school, but knowing that those things are prized in the outside world. I Predict A Riot is full of anger: frothing hatred, disgust for a faceless mass of people you don't know and don't want to know.


With thanks to Greg L. Rose for mulling this over with me while we were doing the washing up, and for making me finally listen to Arctic Monkeys seven years later than I should've done. Now that, my friends, is a certain romance.

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