Dave's Progress. Chapter 106: The Indiscreet Charmlessness of the Bourgeoisie.

The above title, for those who know and for those who don't, is a play on the title of a Luis Bunuel film called "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" ("Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie" in French). It was actually a friend of mine at the Pathways Group who came up with this title, and he was referring to one of my previous blogs in which I wrote about the erotic "charms" of Nigella Lawson. The blog was entitled "That Obscure Object of Desire", named after another Bunuel film. So, you can see the connection which was being made by my friend, suggesting, that far from being an erotic pleasure, the shenanigans of Nigella rather reflected the "charmlessness" of her class. Indeed, looking back on it, one sees that Nigella's programme could be interpreted, with all its show of bourgeois privilege and manners, as mind-achingly, relentlessly, middle-class. As Nigella primps and preens around her perfect kitchen, and invites round her perfect friends to eat her perfect food, one almost forgets that there could be another, less affluent world outside. Much like Bunuel's film, the only thing seeming to be on the mind of Nigella and her friends is the relentless pursuit of dinner and being served and pampered. But, perhaps also like in the film, we can see the cracks in this ostensibly perfect, infallible, cosseted world begin to show. One can almost imagine, as in Bunuel's vision, their secret hypocrisies, corruption and slow-burning fears being steadily exposed.
Anyway, all this got me thinking about how the class system works today. Unusually enough, on last night's "The One Show" on BBC1, this subject was broached. The programme suggested that the clear delineations of class into upper, middle and working were perhaps no longer as relevant to today's world as when they were initially brought into being to assess society in the industrialised age. With a new survey now being undertaken to reveal the class structure of Britain, one's material wealth and status is not all that will be taken into consideration, but also things like one's hobbies, interests and social network, or as some clever French sociologist once put it, one's "cultural capital".
So it is that the days of the satire of "The Frost Report", in which John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett acted out the roles of the upper, middle and working classes, appear now somewhat antiquated. The days of the old servility towards our so-called "betters" appears to be over. The days of "I look up to him because...", or "I look down on him because...", or, as Ronnie Corbett as the working-class man intoned in the final line of "The Frost Report" sketch, "I know my place", seem now oddly rigid and outdated.
After all, these are the days, as we are told by politicians, of ever-increasing "social mobility". Just because one is born into the working-classes, does not mean that you can't elevate yourself into the middle echelons of society. Indeed, the majority of the people interviewed in "The One Show" felt themselves to be "middle-class". Some, even, explained how they had working-class roots but had become, either through education or work, middle-class. Even little old me, although this is pushing things a bit, might be viewed, because of my education and "cultural capital", as middle-class, despite my impecuniousness.
Add to all this the way that industry has essentially changed from a manufacturing to a service base (this is particularly true of Stoke-on-Trent, where the pottery industry has largely been replaced by service industries) and one has a situation where almost everyone seems to be becoming middle-class.
It was Margaret Thacher who, in the '80s, proclaimed that she would create a "classless" society. If she meant the offer of opportunity and affluence for all, though, then this seems to have been a resolute failure. While many of us do perhaps enjoy increased opportunities of social mobility, Thatcher's zeal for reform virtually destroyed the industrial base of the country and with it the life-styles of the working-classes. To my mind, then, the working-class of this country was changed beyond recognition, and far from becoming socially upwardly mobile, many appeared to be left floundering. The situation which has ensued appears to have been the creation of a whole "underclass" which has perhaps replaced the traditionally subservient working-class. This, again, seems particularly true of my own locality, where rates of poverty, unemployment and illness are disproportionately high.
So, "Red Dave" strikes again. But you must allow me my little foibles. And, I still think that, as some of us move upwards towards an ever-burgeoning middle-classness, many have been left behind. And from where I'm sitting, "the indiscreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie" seems particularly charmless.


The Manic Chef said…
Interesting article, I live in Canada and I work for a client that is in the 'upper middle class'. They are 'financially' situated in this class, but personally are extremely pretentious, and have no real, excuse the expression 'class' or charm, as you describe. They are what I regard as users,they expect me to work more but desire not to pay for it. As soon as I am able, I shall be removing my excellent services from their grasp. If they aren't willing to pay for it, then they shall not receive it! Later....
dcrelief said…
"Red Dave,"

We have an expression: "He got kicked to the curb." The same as kicked to the side of the road. But David, I think they're driving over us.
I watched Nigella one time because I wanted a recipe I saw from her commercial. When she arrived at the third ingredient I switched the channel. Charmless, indeed.
Great post!
In peace,
David said…
Dear Manic Chef,
Good for you! Don't give away your labour for nothing in return. As you say, your "excellent services" obviously deserve better.
Hoping you well, and all is well,
David said…
Dear Dixe,
I didn't know Nigella had got so far as the States!
Thanks for your comment Dixie, and I hope you haven't picked up my habit of saying "indeed"!
With Very Best Wishes, your way,
bazza said…
Hi David. I think class is defined by habit, not spending power. When I worked for a market research company, it was defined by 'occupation of head of household'. Your impecuniousness would not prevent you from being middle-class.
Have a Belle(de)Jour! (Ouch!)
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear bazza,
Nice to see you back after a longer than usual interlude. I hope that things are going OK.
Of course, I am a pretty classy individual, so in my mind I'm probably upper-class. In reality, being from working-class roots, I have probably been propelled into the lower-middle echelons by virtue, as I say, of my education and cultural capital. Also, in reality, I don't really think that class distinctions matter at all, so long as you are a decent human being.
Thanks for the comment, bazza.
Very Best Wishes, and a clever interjection about Luis Bunuel films, your way,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Another interesting and enlightening posting.
And now me, a rather classless chap, cannot really add much to what you have noted or what the preceding correspondents have alluded too.
However, I do know that you have lusty ambitions to meet Nigella and be one of her perfect dinner guests at one of her, oh so perfect meals. Maybe not:-)
Thanks for another provocative read, David. See you soon where, we can discuss what 'class' we're in.
All the best, Gary.
David said…
Thank you Gary,
Personally, I think we are both pretty classy guys, despite being a pair of impecunious dudes.
Looking forward to your imminent visit where we can discuss a variety of wide-ranging topics, such as why we tend to end our comments with "your way".
Anyway, all the very best and a Nigella Lawson recipe, your way,

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