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Culture & society

Brash and Loutish

Written by Charlotte Anderson

Chavs, Charvas, Chavvies. No matter which is in your vocabulary, I guarantee that a very similar image pops into everyone’s head when one of these terms is used. But what does it mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines the term ‘chav’ to mean “a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behaviour”. We’ve all heard these terms be used in passive conversation, statements such as “look at the state of that chav in that tracksuit”, or “I hate it when I have to walk past a group of chavs” are used in everyday conversation. I want you to now go back and re-read those statements and replace the word ‘chav’ with any other minority you can think of, then tell me how it can be justified that conversations like this are completely normalised within a society as advanced as the one we live in in the year two-thousand-and-nineteen. Not only does the lower-class face extreme stereotyping and prejudice, but they are now exploited on daytime television for everyone to enjoy!

“Not only does the lower-class face extreme stereotyping and prejudice, but they are now exploited on daytime television for everyone to enjoy!”

A typical assumption many have of the lower-class is that they engage in something you may have heard referred to as ‘benefit scrounging’. In 2014, a television show named Benefits Street aired on Channel 4 and caused quite the uproar. The individuals involved were painted as ‘scroungers’, leaving many viewers frustrated, believing the unworthy were getting cash payments for engaging in violent or otherwise dangerous anti-social behaviour. As the show aired, audience members took to Twitter to raise their concerns: “Should we just terminate all the scroungers, gas them in their sleep #benefitsstreet”. One of the show’s participants, Dee Roberts, claimed she was tricked into appearing on the programme. She revealed she agreed to participate under the impression that the show would exhibit the close community spirit in the area, stating that producers told her the show would highlight local residents supporting each other during difficult times. The reality of the programme is a clear fetisisation of class differences. The people living on ‘Benefits Street’ have been forced into working outside of the system in order to make ends meet, often turning to drugs and violence, unable to afford to get off benefits and essentially trapped within a system that’s forgotten, or chosen to forget, about them. “Just get a regular job like everyone else!” I hear you cry, but if the system was to reduce your earnings by 78%, reducing your wage of £90 a week to £20 a week (far less than minimum wage), would you? The system has found a flawless way to keep the lower class poor and the higher class rich, and now it’s being televised. Another controversial docu-series appeared on our screens in 2014 by the name of Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! which followed High Court enforcement officers as they execute writs on individuals unable to repay debts or vacate a property. East London couple Shakar Ali and Shahida Aslam appeared on the programme in 2015 after falling into arrears on rent as Mr Ali was recovering from a heart condition. The couple were filmed getting evicted, without their knowledge. Shakar Ali did not give permission to the company to air the footage, but they went ahead and aired the episode 36 times anyway. Channel 5 have since been ordered to pay Mr Ali and Mrs Aslam £10,000 each for the distress they have caused.

“The system has found a flawless way to keep the lower class poor and the higher class rich, and now it’s being televised”

Listen, I know that you have a guilty pleasure. I know that you watch The Jeremy Kyle Show. I know. But I have to tell you why you absolutely should not watch that disgusting excuse of a man shout at poor people on daytime television. I’m not here to talk about the affairs or the cocaine scandals, because I’m not here to judge Jeremy Kyle based upon his personal lifestyle choices. That’s none of my business. What I can judge is watching a 53-year-old man telling a young woman that she looks “like Elton John’s love child”. I don’t know about you, but that remark reminds me of something a child would say during an argument, not something I’d expect from a middle-aged daytime television show host. When I looked into the application process for the show I was shocked to see that the minimum age limit for participating is a measly sixteen-years-old. That’s right, at 16, given your parents give their permission, it’s completely fine for you to sign up to humiliate yourself on camera. An ex-producer from the show, Charlotte Brown, revealed in an interview with The Guardian that “guests never get paid: they just receive expenses, cigarettes and beer”. Guests are essentially bribed into performing for the producers of the show. Not only this, but participants are kept apart before the filming of the show and are unable to contact each other, and prior to filming are riled up by producers and other members of the Jeremy Kyle team to ensure an onstage kick-off for the host to sort out accordingly. It’s all completely staged. Jeremy preys upon the unfortunate and the unstable and parades them around on stage like a ringleader in order to entertain the masses, and in return they’ll perhaps recieve a little bit of free counselling or a DNA test. I know what you’re thinking, when it’s put that way it sounds like a dystopian fiction writer’s next novel. We live in a society where it’s easier and cheaper to apply for The Jeremy Kyle Show than it is to receive help from the government or NHS.

“We live in a society where it’s easier and cheaper to apply for The Jeremy Kyle Show than it is to receive help from the government or NHS.”

So, next time you decide to stick The Jeremy Kyle Show, Benefit Street, Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! or any of the other shows of which highlight the struggles of the lower classes to make yourself feel better by ridiculing those worse off than yourself, maybe take a step back from the screen and think about what the true intentions and outcomes of toxic television really are. English journalist, writer and broadcaster Julie Burchill once commented in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that “Picking on people worse off than you are isn’t humour. It’s pathetic, it’s cowardly and it’s bullying”. Before judging the paycheck of someone struggling, judge the paychecks of those in positions of power.

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