Much ado about nothing, courtesy of Stephen Glover:
“I suspect Ms Winslet may be exaggerating a little. I mean the idea that she was working class is rubbish. And the fact that she is at such pains to lay claim to this accolade tells us a great deal about Kate Winslet, and quite a lot about modern attitudes to class.”
To bring you up to speed, Kate Winslet gave an interview to Marie Claire in which, among other things, she laid claim to working class origins. Stephen feels this is important.
“What fascinates me is that Kate Winslet should be so anxious to pretend that she is working class. Why disown your origins? Is there, in the back of her mind, something wrong with being middle class? Has it almost become a dirty word?”
Stephen here begs the question – he assumes that Winslet is ‘disowning’ her origins, rather than merely disagreeing with him over what they are. For example, Kate may be a good Marxist and believe that, since her father clearly was not party to the ownership of the means of production, he was working class. Alternatively, following Thompson and Hickey ¹, she may feel that the preponderance of blue collar and service sector jobs her father took, combined with his low income made him working class. To put it simply, she may disagree with Stephen’s reading that:
“Her error is to confuse a person’s class with the amount of money which he or she earns. Our Kate thinks that because her family was poor it was working class.
But there have always been people who earn more money through hard, physical work than some members of the middle class do in less strenuous occupations. Equally, there are impoverished members of the aristocracy.”
Here Stephen is confusing class with social grouping – an aristo who relies on his labour to survive is working class, in the same way that a working emo is, for the simple reason that however you define it, class is not an inherited genetic trait. Simultaneously, Stephen appears to be following the aforementioned Thompson and Hickey by calling the professional sector ‘middle’ and the manual sector ‘working’ and ignoring Kate’s assignment of her father to the latter. The money here is a straw man – Kate says that her father was poor and blue collar, not just poor.
From this uncertain base, we get to the meat of the piece, as Stephen has a pop at the sort of person Kate might be:
“There is, though, a sizeable group of people, usually Leftist, sometimes intellectual, sometimes pseudo-intellectual, who sneer at traditional middle-class values.
These might include hard work, thrift, a certain moral conservatism (though that is not so closely associated with the middle classes as it used to be) and a suspicion of fashionable trends, whether in art or fashion.”
The very idea of traditional values and conservatism (moral or otherwise) is a ‘Rightish’ one, based as it is on the status quo which favours the ruling social groups – the money, the landed, the religious and the male – so it is unsurprising that those who sneer at them tend to fall on the left. Indeed, the label ‘leftish’ tends to be applied only to those in opposition to such values, regardless of their actual political alignment – feminism, for instance, tends to be seen as ‘leftish’ despite its clear libertarian underpinnings in the right to self-determination and freedom from constraint. There is also a problem here in Stephen’s post hoc appropriation of traditional values as being ‘middle class’ – the fact that he feels Kate to be of middle class stock yet (possibly) in opposition to these values suggests that they are not definitional, but merely coincidental, that is, values often held by the middle classes rather than values which define someone as being part of the middle class.
So when Stephen asks:
“Why would someone born into this class wish to disown it?”
it’s a non-question. The ‘disowning’ suggests a rigid and obvious categorisation which is not the case. Stephen’s proposed answer (“For reasons of snobbery, I suggest.”) is mere mud thrown at people who disagree with his conception of the the correct values to hold. It is possible to see yourself as middle class and passionately disagree with the values Stephen feels are ‘middle class’, just as you can see yourself as working class and share them. The former position isn’t snobbery, any more than the latter is grasping. Snobbery is feeling superior to someone else merely by virtue of some defining feature, such as being comfortable with your perceived class – and writing an article to prove it.
¹ eg. Thompson, W. and Hickey, J. (2005) Society in Focus Boston, MA: Peason