Now here’s a conundrum for social scientists and marketers alike: according to a survey by MORI, which likes to keep us amused, more than two-thirds of adults claim to be working class.
Asked whether or not they agreed with the statement “At the end of the day, I’m working class and proud of it”, no fewer than 68 per cent replied “Yes”. The correct answer of course was “Ay, lad”, but polling is an inexact science and “yes” was deemed to suffice.
Just as amusingly 55 per cent of those who would normally be seen as middle class admitted to “working class feelings”.
It’s responses like that that make surveys so unsatisfactory. One longs to know more about these emotional responses. What arouses them? How are they expressed? Does the pulse quicken at the glimpse of a bygone artefact such as a cloth cap or a bicycle clip? Or in the watches of the night, is there a deep, ancestral yearning for the aerated acerbity of the outside lavatory?
There is a conundrum here because we have it on no less an authority than the prime minister that we are all middle class now. Who is right?
By any standard one would have thought that Mr Blair was himself middle class; perhaps, like God, whom he resembles in so many respects, he is casting us in his own image. But, ungrateful wretches that we are, we defiantly prefer to think of ourselves as working class. I cannot believe that Mr Blair can be wrong, it is simply not in his nature.
Then again, if the feelings of 55 per cent of adults resonate to folk memories of hobnail boot on greasy cobble, if their eyes grow misty at the name Scargill, if in their hearts they yearn for the days when you could buy a bag of whelks, ten Woodbines, six pints of Bass, half an hour round the back of the pub with Big Nellie, and a tram ride home and still get change out of fourpence, who is to say they are wrong?
There may not be any conflict at all. We might by one definition be middle class and by another working class. And to be muddled about both would be in keeping with the irony of the post-modern world.
Seen in that light, it is plain that many of society’s ills are the work of just a minority of middle-class hooligans. I don’t know if the MORI questionnaire included the statement “At the end of the day, I’m middle class and proud of it”, but you may be sure that if it did, those who replied in the affirmative are the sort of people who put their feet on train seats, leave supermarket trolleys in parking bays, eat hamburgers on public transport, throw Coke cans into hedges, and dissolve into mawkishness at the mention of the word “kids”.
This has implications for marketing, or more specifically for advertising. For it would suggest that the current vogue for coarse, juvenile ads – the lavatory-wall genre pioneered by TBWA – is wasted on an unreconstructed rump of middle-class semi-savages. The majority – those who, at the end of the day (in its lesser used sense, ie when the day comes to an end) sink into their DFS leatherette sofas, kick off their Nike trainers, and, become contentedly suffused in pride at being working class – are too mature, tasteful and sophisticated to respond to commercial messages written by a snigger of smutty smart arses.
Support for this contention comes from another MORI poll (or, to be precise, from a survey conducted by a body calling itself the MORI Social Research Institute, if you don’t mind). This purports to show that adults aged 35 to 54 have become “the grumpy generation” because they are fed up with their lifestyle, the pressure of modern life, the failings of political leaders and the sterility of popular culture.
Leaving aside the truism that if you use the word lifestyle you don’t have one, the sterility of popular culture has come to characterise much of UK advertising, once widely admired for its creativity and wit. Strange to think that what is said to be “popular” is in truth liked and admired by a relatively small group of middle-class donkeys. The working classes can’t stand it. Which also explains why, in increasing numbers, they are turning their backs on Greg “Crap” Dyke’s version of public service broadcasting.
The Calibans, however, may yet inherit, if not the earth at least the UK. According to yet another poll, this time by YouGov, 54 per cent of Britons are seriously considering seeking a new life abroad. Just suppose they are the same 54 per cent (give or take a per cent) who get a funny feeling inside of them just thinking of margarine sandwiches and darned socks. Britain could be denuded of its salt-of-the-earth, working-class masses, leaving the country at the mercy of the people who wear FCUK T-shirts and go to football matches.
There is, deep in that Stygian prospect, a scintilla of hope. Medical evidence has come to light to suggest that the middle-classes live longer. Let that get about and next time MORI asks, at the beginning of the day, the end of the day, or any other old time of the day, who’s working class, watch the shuffling of feet and listen to the silence.