I've been following the US elections from a distance, and some of the most interesting texts I've read about it have been from a distance too. And they paint up a fairly worrying picture. First, Swedish blogger for a major right-wing newspaper (and ardent Obama supporter) Martin Gelin wrote about the Joe the Plumber shtick (in Swedish):
It's a real laugh to see how Swedish "middle class journalists" are falling for it. Can we call it a low education complex? Intellectuals who have a a complex towards the working class and desperately try to understand what the working class likes: cosy hockey moms who say "youbetcha" but don't offer a single pragmatic solution for low income earners.Second, style journalist Marcus Dunberg took it one step further in a column in the free newspaper Metro (again in Swedish). Following Gelin's thought to its logical, Palin-bashing conclusion, writing about how all the candidates fought about who had the most regular-Joe background, and how, in his eyes, it had created a backlash:
If Sarah Palin is an anti-elitist, then by extension the diametrically opposed stance has to be something good. [...] On the streets of Manhattan more and more people are turning up wearing T-shirts that say "Liberal Elite" on them. It's about time us elitists are able to run free, without being judged by the commoners.Well guys, trust me, if any of you have started falling into this shit then stop it. An elitist is not something you want to be. And yet, there seem to be little signs everywhere that, in fact, a consciously self-labelled elite is starting to appear even among the young, And I for one won't attribute it to Sarah Palin. (I do realise that "elitist" has come to stand for women and upwardly-mobile blacks, and for liberals in general. But adopting it yourself is a total cop-out to the forces that rather would not associate with the working class at all. Whatever new type of radicalism is emerging, I just have to ask them: don't ignore the working class. The class system is still one of the chief sources of inequality in the world.)
When I was still very politically active politically a few years ago, the kind of "complex" Martin Gelin talks about was still very much alive, and no-one pointed it out in order to mock it. People would try to reach out to the working class. They would hide their high levels of education and buy "anti-fashion" clothes from charity shops. The enemy was a traditional establishment consisting of both a cultural and an economic elite, who oppressed the working class and its (popular) culture in equal measure.
But now we're seeing this kind of shit, radicals dressing in fashion labels, and a seemingly conscious distancing from the working class in all sorts of contexts. Whatever you think about backpacker rap (I hate it, myself) and the dull roots reggae that was the soundtrack to a lot of demonstrations a few years ago, at least it never celebrated the upper-class lifestyle that's enjoyed in this post's titular track:
The song is from this fall, a period when (indeed) the new elitism seems to have accelerated. Just look at the iconography on the posters for this London club:
Can you imagine a club that plays kwaito, kuduro and baile funk having a poster so obviously designed to turn away the diaspora and the working class a few years ago? It's way past the sort of art-school faux DIY you still see around, it's deeply entrenched in a horrible sort of Victorian colonialist exotica. The concept, and the poster, has already been copied in Stockholm, of course:
It's taking working class music and planting it into a context the working class has no access to. (Like I said, little things. But what if the bear is real?)
How did we get here? Well, the right-wing appropriation of equality rhetoric in one thing. Another is the loss of a credible cultural elite to fight and the appropriation of the symbols of youthful rebellion by big business. But I think maybe part of the blame can be attached to the recession - is it a coincidence that some of the most elitist youth cultures ever have hit during recessions? Bereft of financial markers of success, the upper class takes to refinement as the dividing line between them and the mob. We've got better taste, even if we don't have more money, ergo we're better than you.
We'll see if, indeed, we're seeing a new elitism emerge. But I hope, for the sake of the left wing in general, that you Obama supporters won't be the ones spearheading such a movement. Now start by not trying to distance yourselves from the working class and for god's sake, please don't use the label "elitist".