Meanwhile, in another piece on class, The Working Classes Don't Want To Be Hard-Working Families, Selina Todd writes,
"Sit my extended family around a table and you'd have white- and blue-collar workers, the sick, the old, people in council housing, and families with two cars and a nice house but large debts to pay for them. This is replicated all over Britain. There is no static "underclass" and neither is there a robust middle class: instead, there are a lot of people who have to work for a living and, because of that fact, choose to identify as working class."This a world I recognise. It's hard for left-wing commentators to admit this, because it's much harder to get to grips with than a binary world of gin-swilling middle classes versus the pasty-munching working people, but we're pretty much mixed in. The one massive flaw in Grayson Perry's truly excellent 2012 series on social class and aesthetic taste (do watch it if you didn't) is the tremendous leap between the working and supposedly middle class folk he spoke to - a gap which could be represented by years of education, multiples of annual income, several degrees latitude and in fact, most of the UK's population.
And you know the thing that makes this stuff even harder? We're mixed in but not at all blended. Class still exists and it still matters. There is rising wealth inequality. The possibility of home-ownership is more or less hereditary now. We're being governed by toffs who were born into wealth and use their positions as public servants to generate more for themselves and their friends.
That's why Tom Whyman wants to call middle class culture fascist and takes aim at the unmissable target of nostalgic twee. I get class hatred. I was part of the Assisted Places Scheme. Being a precocious child who asked such questions, my mother informed me we were, "Lower-middle-class, fallen on hard times."
The mothers at school intimidated mine, so I observed their vulgarities. In those days, posh women wore Alice bands ("Grown women, wearing Alice bands!" my teenage self would sneer). They had handbags with thick gold-coloured chain instead of a strap. They often wore necklaces, generally pearls, outside their blouse collars or polo-necks - jewellery outside their clothing, for crying out loud! They wore a lot of make-up, some of them had had cosmetic surgery and they drove the first family-friendly 4x4s, the ridicule of which was clear to me, years before anyone called them Chelsea Tractors. These women seemed like characterless china dolls next to my wild-haired Mum, who dressed sensibly and practically and cycled everywhere.
Whyman isn't moving far beyond my teenage self as he sneers at modern middle-class hipster aesthetics. I don't entirely object to the sneering (although I do play ukulele). The tea parties, Liberty prints and shelfies of middle-class culture are routinely privileged as clever and tasteful, while the clubs, leopard prints and magazine racks of working people are not. The Guardian publishes dazzlingly sycophantic pieces like this about a very wealthy young woman using her wealth to get wealthier like that's somehow a worthy and interesting creative exercise.
I really enjoy The Great British Sewing Bee, The Great British Bake Off and BBC Three's Hair, which was barely spoken about but applied exactly the same format to amateur hairdressing (three challenges over two days each episode, the second day dedicated to something fancy). I like this format - I like to see ordinary folk showing off what they can do. I'd like to see a woodwork version next, please.
Despite the identical format, Hair was punctuated with random pop music and presented by Steve Jones, a sort of Welsh Father Dougal who asked what a quiff was, despite having a rather impressive example directly above his frowning forehead. Hair was not the subject of newspaper review, speculation about who deserved to win or any declaration that hair-dressing was the new black. Sewing and baking are fairly classless activities (although wealthier folk often have more time to muck about with more expensive materials, without needing a practical purpose or special occasion), but apparently, hairdressing - at least as skillful, creative and useful as baking or sewing - just can't be packaged as gentle and genteel.
Thus, as I say, I don't entirely object to the sneering. Sewing Bee played Doris Day to introduce an anorak.
But this sneering is always aimed at feminine aesthetics. It is the mob baying for Marie Antoinette; demands to strangle the thirty-five year old in bobby-socks and fairy-wings with her own designer bunting. Another crack in Whyman's argument is that, of course, feminine fashions (which is what cupcakes are) are very often infantile. At once point it was impossible to buy an adult woman's jersey nightdress without a big teddy on the front and a slogan about snuggle-time or feeling sleepy-woo. In the 1970s, a lot of women seemed to dress like Little Bo Peep.
And then Whyman gets it completely wrong about the 2011 London Riots. Yes, they were kicked off by the police killing of Mark Duggan, along with austerity measures that place the overwhelming burden on the poor and the young - it wasn't a random occurrence. But the riots were a nightmare for many ordinary people in London, especially poor, vulnerable, disabled and older people. Attempting to clear up and make things better was not about passive-aggressively asserting middle class values, but trying to put things right, tidying up one's own backyard after the storm, taking care of one's neighbours. People who want peace on the streets are not automatic supporters of the regime.
Meanwhile, what those rioters did? The young poor (and a fair number who weren't so poor and weren't so young) were exploiting a situation of over-stretched resources to their material advantage. Rather like, you know, our senior politicians. Except, of course, the kids got punished.
|A busty 18th century lady with a ship on her head,|
admiring a rather large cupcake.
There are political attitudes in our country, many class-based, which are causing us big problems; the belief that a person's value is measured by their wealth, and that wealth-creation is the highest possible virtue. The very middle-class belief that charity, rather than welfare, is a sensible way of providing for people in financial difficulty (it feels so good to help out). The belief that poor people are lazy, feckless and dangerous. Whatever belief you'd like to attribute to the fact that youngsters received custodial sentences for petty theft during the 2011 Riots, while Maria Miller stole £5800 and didn't even get the sack.
The cupcakes I had, even with the elicit thrill of having stolen them, weren't that special. My Granny, baker and cake-decorator extraordinaire was scandalised when my cousin had cupcakes instead of wedding cake ("They're mostly just buttercream!"). So we're agreed, I feel, that people should eat more substantial and flavoursome baked goods.
But twee is background; stage dressing. It is an aesthetic, not divorced from our social and political problems, certainly not immune from critique, but not to targeted in place of the widening wealth gap, increasing poverty, deteriorating working conditions and political disenchantment.
Plus it's hard to believe someone who uses the phrase Cupcake Fascism can really mean it when they conclude, "you are just not thinking about the matter dialetically enough."
Also, how can you possibly illustrate an article with the phrase Cupcake Fascism with anything but a cupcake with a swastika on it? I found some on a site promoting the swastika as a positive symbol we should reclaim from Nazism. But someone could have at least drawn one.
Oh and if you're interested/ bored enough to get down this far, you might like Is 'cupcake feminism' all empty calories? from 2012, which discusses some of these topics from a different angle.