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Trying to understand class

Earlier this week I read someone's snobby comment about how American is "supposedly" a classless society: more interesting, I think, is reading this article and its conclusions about the boys depicted in the photograph.

Later: GAH. I did not use an apostrophe in that ITS. Only I did.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
Well, (and I've argued this before) the dirty little secret of our country is that we do have "class", but in our defense it is far less rigid, less delineated, and much more porous than the British class system (or, as an Irishman once told me, "Ah, that's the British class system; you can't beat it and you can't join it"). It's based first and foremost on how much you have in the bank, or land you own, or wealth in general. "Breeding" is pale second, and really was only taken seriously in the old Northeast; I get the feeling this sort of thing is mocked nowadays. Snobbishness in general isn't in high esteem. Probably has a lot to do with our myth of rugged self-reliance in "taming" the West (I'm not concerned here with the truth of that, just its effect on the American mind).

Look at it this way; I can't see "Caddyshack" being made a British film. I know that's a silly example, but I think it would get very mean very fast.
Mar. 26th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
it is far less rigid, less delineated, and much more porous than the British class system

Hmm... the most objective social measure for anything approaching this is I would say is "social mobility". This is a statistical measure of how an adult's wealth corresponds to their parents' wealth. Most people believe in an ideal "class free" society one succeeds on ones own merits regardless of the wealth of ones parents.

By this measure Britain does not do so well but America is worse. For all the "land of opportunity" talk, in America if you're born poor, you're more likely to stay poor than almost anywhere in the developed world.

I appreciate that wealth and "class" are not the same of course. Then, I also appreciate that wealth is probably more useful.
Mar. 27th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
This place has a class identity and class is a pervasive element in public discourse. People have class loyalty. As an American, I just don't get it. It's like how we talk about race in America, though, but class as it exists in England is a foreign concept to Americans. You never hear people saying they don't want to better themselves because it would be class betrayal, or talk about hiring someone to do a job for you as if it were oppressing them.
Mar. 27th, 2010 08:57 am (UTC)
I think you've hit the nail on the head there. Classism here is like racism in the states. It's got the history of 100s of years of prejudice and the absurd idea of those who are your "betters".
Mar. 28th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it totally has that "hundreds of years" thing that makes the discussion of class in England irrelevant to a discussion of "class" in America. Can you imagine, for example, a play about someone being tortured by being 1/16 a commoner? Impossible!
Mar. 28th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
No but that's because you would never have been able to get that much interbreeding in the first place! But I'm pretty sure there was turn of the century stuff written about someone being "exposed" at having a working class relative back in the family tree. (I mean that is everyone's fear in the importance of being earnest)
Mar. 28th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Which reminds me: pick a date for London Assurance so I can get you your birthday present bought!
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
Yes mam! Sorry have been sick the past three days! I do want to sort that out. :)
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
You never hear people saying they don't want to better themselves because it would be class betrayal

I don't think I've ever heard an English person say that either.

or talk about hiring someone to do a job for you as if it were oppressing them

You mean like having a cleaner in. I guess I would not want to do that. It's like saying "my time is worth more than yours" I suppose. Then, it's a funny attitude since I "pay" people to cook for me (I mean in restaurants not that I have a personal chef in my flat).
Mar. 29th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that "my time is worth more than yours" thing. That's an English attitude. If you hire someone to work for you, you are simply choosing to use the money you earned to pay them for a service, and whether it's hairdressing, plumbing, or house cleaning, the American attitude is not to feel that you're doing so because you think your time is worth more than someone else's.
Mar. 29th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
Yes... I'm not sure how it relates to class really though... Would you say it was a middle class or a working class attitude?
Mar. 30th, 2010 06:51 am (UTC)
It's a middle class attitude, based on the idea that the other people are "working class" and thus below you. (I've only heard of this since moving here so I'm putting together the pieces based on who's said it.) The American concept is more that these people are your equals but have different skills - in the case of someone to clean your house, it's often someone who's on their way up (young) or is cleaning to raise some money, but certainly not someone below you. They're your equals, doing you a favor, as it were, for cash.

Edited at 2010-03-30 06:52 am (UTC)
Mar. 30th, 2010 11:36 am (UTC)
Do you think so? My working class father feels a bit like that but my middle class mother does not. Of course it doesn't apply too much since if you're working class you're not likely ot afford to hire a cleaner in any case.
Mar. 30th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think in America you don't feel guilty about it, you need a plumber, you call a plumber! Only here would someone feel like they were treating someone like a "servant" by hiring them to do work for you.

And when I was growing up, I wanted to make enough money that I could have someone clean my house, because I HATE doing housework. I don't understand why people here have an attitude problem about doing that any more than having someone come over and do your garden right, clean your chimney, or service your furnace.

If you read some of the Andrew McCall Smith books about Botswana, you'll see yet another attitude about hiring help: that it's an obligation you have to spread your wealth in society. And I certainly feel that hiring skilled or unskilled labor to help me out - so that I don't wind up working all 50 hours at work and then another 20 a week at home - is just, fair and decent. It helps us _both_ out. And that, I think, is an American way of looking at it.
Mar. 30th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
I can completely see your viewpoint but still, some part of me would think that I was claiming to be better than them by having them clean my house.
Mar. 30th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Since I used to clean toliets twice a day a one of my old jobs, I would never feel that way!
Mar. 26th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
I'm in the midst of reading Duck Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War. A Virginia good ole boy/journalist who left and came back, he does an impressive job of explaining class in the U.S.

His take focuses on small towns and how the Republicans got people to vote against their interests. When he talks about how reduced spending for public education and health care keeps people locked into poverty, it's chilling. If you get a chance to read it (my copy is borrowed), I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts.
Mar. 26th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Anyone who thinks we don't have Classes should picture the Kennedys socializing with $latino_nationality immigrants. It would look a lot like that photograph.

Though I do agree that it's less prevalent outside New England; places where people haven't heard of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Edited at 2010-03-26 06:50 pm (UTC)
Mar. 28th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
I'm used to being able to socialize with anyone and not knowing anything about where they went to school or who their parents are. People put their high schools on their resumes here, for God's sake. I just can't imagine that in the US.
Mar. 28th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
In NY the stereotype is the power parents who worry that if they don't get their kids into the right preschool they'll never get into an ivy league school and become rich doctors/lawyers/politicians/whatever. We're both from the west coast, but I think it's happening in New England.

Maybe the clue is in the name?

Also, I haven't been here long and have pretty much only socialized with my equals :o) And people who, to be perfectly frank, I consider slightly below me, if only because they act like stereotypes of frat boys and sorority girls and they're my age or older :o/

Also, my UK spellcheck doesn't recognize "sorority".
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued. How is listing a school on a CV to do with class? I've always thought it was just for educational background -- so the employer knows when and for how long you were educated (were you a mature student, did you go to university straight after school etc etc). I've certainly never thought anyone is judging it as a posh or not posh school. (I guess very disreputable people might give preference to someone who went to their old school but they would have to be very careful doing so as most companies would come down like a ton of bricks on that).
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


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