Upper Class Chavs

Published on Thursday June 30th, 2011

In period dramas like Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, it’s the servants, not the wealthy aristocrats who embody aristocratic “snobbish” virtues like social grace, good manners and wit most authentically. According to one common critique, these ideals have no intrinsic value, they are arbitrary markers of class. It’s a coded language that the wealthy learn at home and at their private schools that allows them to recognize each other and defend their collective interests against the working class. It all seems meaningful, but this critique unmasks the illusion and claims that its all arbitrary.

We should reject this line of thinking. As these films demonstrate, its really the nobles themselves who treat their own virtues as arbitrary signals, cynically manipulating the system to improve their own situations and spreading rumors to destroy the reputations of rivals. Other nobles are easily deceived by all the machinations, but the servants stand for the position of truth and judgment. The moral failings of their lords and ladies provoke genuine disappointment for the servants, not the desire to cover up the truth or exploit its revelation depending on what is most advantageous, which is the typical aristocratic reaction.

Doesn’t this indicate that the upper class appropriated authentic working class virtues to impress them, to justify the claim that “we are your betters.” At the same time, the stereotypically “chav” behavior – lawless, loud, irresponsible, destructive, ostentatious displays of wealth – are these not the natural instincts of the privileged aristocratic lord?


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