The British class system is still in full effect. Maybe it seemed like it went away for a while, but if bedroom tax and this Daily Mail cover prove anything, it's that the chasms between the haves, the haven't very muches and the haven't got a sink to piss ins have been leveraged open like old scars with Oxbridge boat race oars. You couldn't imagine Britain without its archaic, embarrassing fixation on class. It is integral to British democracy; without it, our existing political system would stand as much chance as the North Korean branch of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
However, that doesn't mean that the system can't change. The BBC teamed up with some boffins from the universities (can't be that clever if they're still at university, can they?) and decided that the old, traditional, hat-based, three-tier system just isn't relevant any more. Instead, they've come up with seven new categories, which range from the "Precariat" (the Hackney Heroine or Mick Philpott) to the "Elite" (think Melvyn Bragg or Tamara Ecclestone), with the middle classes siphoned off into five shades of ambiguous social mush.
To ascertain which new class you might be part of, the BBC's test uses a series of questions based on your economic situation, social habits and cultural tastes. These questions range from the obvious, like how much you earn and what your job is, to the slightly more obscure, like who your friends are and whether you use Facebook, listen to indie music or go to the gym. It then takes the data you've provided, puts it into a "class calculator" and spits out the social category that defines your existence in 2013.
However, how much can knowing that you're part of the "technical middle class" really help you figure out who you are and what your place is in life? We decided to put a few different social groups through the BBC's class calculator to see where they wound up on the new seven-tier class ladder. Let's put faces to the abstract social categories, it might not be 100 percent accurate but at least it's more useful than just tweeting something like "but I like rap music and I know solicitors" to prove what unique individuals we are.
Let's understand Britain's new class system.
Photo by Joe Ridout
Who? Somewhere along the line, the poshos tried to become like the rest of us. Perhaps it was the recession, perhaps it was one Nazi gaffe too many, perhaps they really do enjoy going to watch Fulham, wearing Converse and calling everyone "mate". Whatever the motivation, the consequence is that they don't really seem like the Byronic overlords they once did. In the age of puking Princes and Made In Chelsea they seem to occupy a kind of novelty heritage status in our society, like Camden punks or beefeaters. At which point they began getting papped.
Economic: God knows with these people. The majority of them are cash-rich, but even if they're not currently earning, all of them are wealthy with the kind of inherited assets and social standing it'd take more than one generation of being a fuck-up to eradicate. For all you know, these people could be clearing less money than a toilet attendant per annum, or they could be making enough cheese to stage a coup of the country that the toilet attendant came from.
Social: Outside of the fleeting glimpses of the proletariat they might get when they’re trying to buy kebabs on card, these are people who were basically brought up to only mix with their own kind, in the same way that most of us are told to mix outside of it. Less social even than the lads, I imagine the gangs and covens that young Tatler scum roam around West London in are defined by which island their family's offshore account is stashed on.
Cultural: Culture? They’ve got the original draft of King Lear hanging above the cistern of their best cocaine toilet, mate. But that’s not what they’re interested in; they’ll leave that to the lefties. The closest they get to modern culture these days is when they try to tip the funky house percussionist at Guy Pelly’s new joint.
Which BBC class are they? "Elite", unsurprisingly. While the Beeb's list is quite happy to play fast and loose with the idea of traditional lower and middle class roles, old money is still the realest money when there's none out there any more.
Photo by Muir Vidler
Who? We live in an age in which our cultural choices define us. Nobody watches The Killing because they're interested in Scandinavian police procedures, but it does tell the world that they probably also read Tom Watson's blog, eat kale and okra and listen to the cricket in the bath while reading Paul Auster books. For that reason, we must consider Twitter's lefty colony to be a proper social group now.
Economic: Mostly being brave teachers and righteous lawyers, the conscious Twitterati are a social group who probably could have risen up to run the country, but instead decided to spend their days working for the greater good, and tweeting about the people who run the country. They probably give all their spare money to Amnesty, yet saw sense to buy up that Stoke Newington townhouse back in the 80s. Let's put them around the £25-50k bracket.
Social: While they'd like to be mates with their plumber, they're scared he might be racist. So they stick to their own kind: ageing professionals and young politicians.
Cultural: Anything that isn't Knife Party or a Will Mellor sitcom. They love Breaking Bad, they like X Factor, they saw Deadwood... in fact, despite their healthily straining bookshelves, you can't help but wonder if they ever do anything other than watch TV. They like Chief Keef, they like Joan Baez, they love Beyonce (but can't help but worry about the validity of her feminism). Basically, they like anything as long as it isn't wilfully offensive, which is why they all have season tickets at Arsenal.
Which BBC class are they? The "Established Middle Class". Which sounds fairly predictable, but bear in mind that these are probably the same people who marched for CND and against the Poll Tax, and you begin to see the natural drift of progressive British politics in action.
Photo by Josh Jasper
Who? An odd breed of (generally) young person who exists as a series of contradictions that almost add up to something resembling a real human being. They wear grey suits, but with popped collars and snazzy shoes. The men are clean-shaven, yet they have Hadouken! haircuts. They're flash, but polite. They're affluent, yet they make terrible money. They live in nice flats in grim places. When they go to V Festival they check out Paolo Nutini but also Pendulum. They double park and cut people up, yet they do so in garish Minis. No one really knows where they came from, but you suspect it's probably Kent.
Economic: Their entry-level three-grand bonus and company car place them in the middle of the middle-income bracket. They earn more than teachers but less than lawyers. Their job depends so much on being flash that you imagine they were issued with iPads and bespoke sex toys on their first day, but that their flats probably resemble a looted branch of Dixon's, bereft of any furniture, crockery or anything else that might suggest human life bar a few flashy gadgets. Their ability to swim through tidal waves of opprobrium and social awkwardness to clinch a deal suggests a yawning chasm in the ego where the security blanket of savings should be.
Social: Their social lives aren't empty, but again, they are ultimately hollow. The Foxtons employee rushes about town in their prickmobiles because they only really have time to hang out with students they're planning to bankrupt, fellow employees and Australians.
Cultural: Get Loaded In The Park. Mumfords are OK, but they'll never be the band the Stereophonics were.
Which BBC class are they? "Technical Middle Class". Which is technically a strain of middle class exclusively made up of people who only exist in TV adverts.
Photo by Kieran Cudlip
Who? Don't pretend you've been spending too much time at Steve Reich ukulele recitals to know who they are. You know who the lads are, you know what they do. You may even be one of them, or you, like The Tab editor and Telegraph blogger Jack Rivlin, might gaze upon their antics longingly from across the student union bar, desperate to join in with the banter. They are the asbestos spunked into the walls of today's society by the American coming of age college films and New Labour higher education policies that meant anyone with a parent with more than a few quid in the bank was expected to study, irrespective of brain cells. They're the bastard sons of 90s lad culture, raised with the conflicting mantras of "chug, chug, chug" and "education, education, education".
Economic: Being students (or at least barworkers or personal trainers in university towns), Uni Lads are placed firmly into the 10-25k a year bracket. But being the sons of public school headmasters and country lawyers, the vast savings they squander on endless Hollister scoop necks are topped up by the internet drugs they're able to bulk-buy and deal piecemeal to their mates. One day their hoard of cash will be returned to the treasury pot via an embarrassing indecent exposure charge.
Social: Part of the appeal to this kind of lifestyle is its isolationist standpoint. Uni Lads almost have their own Monroe Doctrine going on, a kind of back to basics, "I'm alright Jack" worldview. In practical terms, this means that they only really interact with people they went to school with, people they're trying to have sex with, or figures of authority they're reluctantly apologising to.
Cultural: Again, their natural mistrust of females, homosexuals and ethnic minorities whose existences they've been alerted to by Phonejacker leaves them somewhat suspicious of the outside world. If it wasn't for the lecture attendance quota and nightly sexual safari, they could probably just barricade themselves inside their halls with a copy of Fifa, a beer funnel and a Domino's menu card forever. Let's just say they won't be writing the next great novel on the human condition any time soon.
Which BBC class are they? "Emergent Service Workers", apparently. Which, depressingly, is probably what most VICE readers will be. I can’t help but think it might just be a nice way of saying “drunk and doomed young people”.
Photo by Danielle Levitt
Who? With the death of the dog-racing track and the increase in welk prices came a vacuum in traditional working class pursuits. For a few years in the 90s, all sorts of activities from joyriding to CFC canister huffing were claimed to be working class crazes by Daily Express journalists, but really, that was just a hysterical middle class idea of what the working class might do if left to their own devices. In recent years, UFC/MMA has had a massive surge in popularity, both IRL and on the internet. So much so that it’s even attracting some highbrow attention from Hollywood and the like (and even us).
Economic: Taxi drivers, plumbers, labourers: Strangely, traditional working-class jobs now seem well paid, or at least in comparison to the jobs that their once smug middle-class neighbours are now breaking their backs for.
Social: Pretty much the exact opposite of the Tatler lot; a phobia of men with "soft hands" replaces the elite's distrust of anyone with dirty fingernails.
Culture: I think you know the drill here. Violence is music for people who can't be fucked with music, and the cage fighting superstars are their Beethovens. Also: Trivium. Alt-porn. Everything that doesn’t involve men wearing tights that isn't wrestling.
Which BBC class are they? "Traditional working class". McDonald's may have made the old working class fat, but now their kids are turning the meat into muscle and fighting back.
Photo by Stuart Griffiths
Who? How low can you go? If there’s an (albeit minor) social group who surely reside at the very bottom rung of our rickety social ladder, it would probably be drug dealers. I mean, you could probably sub-categorise into a separate drug dealer hierarchy (with middle class ket dealers being the lowest of the low), but before this turns into a David Simon tome, let’s just group them altogether in one bunch. I mean, what are they gonna do, complain about press misrepresentation?
Economic: Drug dealers are probably the only group cagier about their incomings and outgoings than the Tabloid Aristocrats (unless they also happen to be rappers, of course, then the sky’s the limit with the financial flagrancy). Of course those making real cash are secretive Gus Fring types, while anybody who self-identifies as a drug dealer probably still lives with their mum. Let’s put them in the £10-25k bracket. I mean, they're taking all your money and they must be saving SOME of it, right?
Social: Everybody takes drugs these days. So I ticked every single box going.
Culture: It can’t be said that they trouble BBC Four too much on their Sky+, or Radio 4 on their Punto’s stereo. But consider how much time they have to spend at raves, gigs or festivals. Clearly they're much closer to the cultural coalface than the Conscious Twitterati hoovering up Philip French over a £20 pub roast, or Uni Lads spending their youth chanting top 40 hits at bemused taxi drivers.
Which BBC class are they? "The Precariat", the absolute zero of the zeitgeist. The lost souls of the high street. Or so we’re told. Tell yourself, when you’re sitting on the top deck of the 56, who’re really the oppressed ones? The young men and women just trying to get a few pages of Freakonomics and a Twix in before they start their 15th hour of the working day at home, or the happy young guys and girls cruising around listening to Preditah freestyles? Yeah, thought so. This whole list is upside down.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
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