Thursday, 26 April 2012

baby you're a class act (or why chavs are not funny)

I walked out of a performance the other night, pretty unusual for me as I will sit through most things. in this case I found I was close to tears and just needed to leave.
The venue was 'Bar Wotever', a place which has been very important to me as a safe space and which I have very much felt 'part of'. It's a space in which I've often test run performance material and had a lot of fun on stage playing to a lovely and responsive audience.

Overall performances at BW are always a bit of a hit and miss affair, I've seen moments of glorious brilliance alongside the less inspiring, self indulgent and bloody awful car crash type affairs. It's an open stage and as such exhibits the strengths and weaknesses of a very open curatorial hand. The strength of the space is it's safety and commitment to fostering a genderqueer flavour, welcoming all genders, alongside a sort of 'soft wash' political edginess.

To set the scene: there was 'community news' : because this is about more than about my dislike of a particular performance its about my extreme uncomfortableness with what happened in the setting.

So we begin with 'community news' a regular weekly fixture at the bar.

There are a LOT of announcements. Someone has spotted the BNP's majoral bid advertisement on television and takes the stage to educate people about what the real adgenda of the BNP is. A visiting film maker makes a call out for more diverse (trans inclusive) participants in his documentation of gay mens personal lives. Someone else highlights that there is a health survey targetting trans experiences of the healthcare system on line and asking people to take part. Then theres a celebratory announcement of the role a BW regular has played in making the voices of trans people visible in a Ken Livingstones majoral manifesto.

The community news announcer is wearing a 'Sack Boris' T-shirt and talks of their own involvement in the Livingstone campaign, how important it is to use our votes and have a more fair and representative system of government. Like I said, it's not exactly storming the barricades, but it is community politics in action; A real expression of people talking about things of concern to themselves and those they identify with as a community.

Which is why I was so shocked by the performance in question. It seemed strange to see a show like this hosted at Wotever, particularly after all the community news about the political change we can make. How we need to educate others about the racist adgenda of the BNP and what good work is being done to have the voice of LGBT people represented at the level of local government.

The performance seemed to make a lie of everything previous because while racism is held up as 'bad', homophobia and transphobia 'bad' it seems that bashing the working class is still very much OK.

How to describe it? I suppose in many ways it was standard 'comedy club' fare - I admit Im not a fan of stand up, the culture seems too dependent on the staples of rascism, sexism, class, transphobia and homophobia for its 'gag' material.

But what I saw was a slightly racier and harder edged revamp of 'Little Britains' 'Vicky Pollard character, its a tried and true formula  - The female 'Chav' stereotype.  The performer appeared on stage bling-tastic, in the best of Primark and wearing a British Bulldog T-shirt to (of course) signify their characters nationalism and political ignorance. She then performed a set centering around: how much prison time she has served, how many children she has, the depth of her substance abuse problem, her habitual minor criminal behaviour; all played 'in character' with a sort of aggressive and yet hopeless stupidity. Excuses for why the performance was really ok (offered by friends/the promoter/casual bystanders) so far include: That it was 'edgy', that it was an attempt to reclaim/challenge the stereotype, that I shouldn't be so sensitive, that I lack a proper sense of humour.

I know many people will dismiss the shows content as 'just humour' or even dignify it as 'satire' ... But satire undercuts itself, it shows the stupidity of what it sends up. This performance was as I have said fairly standard comedy club enough on that.... What I found really strange was to listen to those around me laugh at the jokes. I wanted to ask them why they laughed. Not as a criticism, but purely because I felt so confused, but then my own tears started to come and I needed to leave.

Perhaps some of my sensitivity is how much I have been thinking lately of my own distanced relationship with family and where I come from. My queerness, politics and education makes it difficult for me to blend comfortably. I live as part of a queer diaspora and yet, invisible, within me my class background trips me up, causes me to stumble and feel uncomfortable in some situations.

For a good while afterwards I thought of the stereotypes used as 'humor' in that show.

I mean yes, surprise, surprise the ridiculing of  different groups of people via the use of stereotypes DOES exist! But that this passed as humour in a space dedicated to safety was what really caught me off my guard and felt like a sucker punch to the gut.  

What really made me wonder was why it was ok to make fun of working class people in exactly the same way as the conservative government.

That while we talk about how terrible racism is, how we must fight for the inclusion of trans and queer people.... it's JUST FINE to laugh at exactly the same portrayal of working people that the government promote. 

 'The Chav' character sums up much of the hatred and resentment directed towards working class people in a time of economic recession. As the papers constantly tell up its POOR people who are really to blame for the state this country - gobbling up precious resources while sitting around their council houses living on benefits; It's either them or 'Immigrants'.

No matter how knowingly or ironically you laugh at 'The Chav' the point is that groups like the BNP feed off working class disenfranchisement to promote a racist and nationalist adgenda. The Tories meanwhile sell the middle classes the idea of being trapped between dangerous "immigrants" and the greedy "hoi polloi'. The function of divide and rule still runs strong as long as you refuse to see a complex system in which each oppression plays off against each other.

The media and government manipulation of racism on the one hand and class on the other is SMART but its NO JOKE.


  1. big hugs to you Moon. Blessings on how eloquently and honestly you open up and share your heart's journey and witnessing.... Much love and I hope to see you soon x x x

  2. Well said.
    sending love from across the forests and deserts and sea.... xx