Posh versus Plebian: Are we really a nation of snobs?

Dave Ward argues YES…

With the division of vast country estates and the cessation of wealthy family dynasties, it is easy to believe that social class and its associated snobbery has been reduced to insignificance. As unequal as society is, we have become better at rewarding people on account of their merits rather than their family name. Even those who succeed in getting into high positions for all the wrong reasons have got there off the back of their own dishonesty and ruthlessness, rather than as a result of their social connections. Now fame, as well as money, has become an intrinsic factor in how we view people’s social standing.

Yet snobbery is far from gone; it’s just adapted itself to our modern times. Rather than sticking to the stratified higher-middle-lower structure we’re all used to, it’s taken on another, more individualising guise.

Reality TV would have to be my main proof for this. It has always baffled me how shows like Jeremey Kyle have become so popular. I can’t help shake the feeling that most people watch these shows, not only for their supposed “entertainment value” but, also so they can look down upon those individuals whom they consider far less attractive, far less intelligent and as a result, are not as high up within the social hierarchy as they are. No matter how bad your life is it’ll never be as bad as the family on Jeremy Kyle.

Other shows like X-Factor make the pretence of affecting an individual’s rise to social stardom based on talent and musical ability. Yet like many other reality TV shows, the truth is that it is based on ridicule and humiliation. X-Factor would have failed long ago if it didn’t have contestants who we can have a good laugh at. If everyone was more talented, better looking and younger than you, I doubt that most of the British public would keep watching.

Snobbery, in whatever guise, is still alive and well; it has simply become relative to the individual. The snob of the modern era is more likely to be found munching Pringles on the sofa, than reclining on a chaise-long in the comfort and exuberance of their vast country estate. By setting ourselves a low bar, we’ve managed the unthinkable; we’ve convinced ourselves that we are all upper class.

Wolf McFarlane argues NO…

None of us are posh because posh doesn’t really exist. A lot of us want to be but everybody, in whatever ways, subtly proves that we are all just so…plain. What we are, what we can so easily be, is snobbish. Benedict Cumberbatch’s hilarious complaint about the ‘castigation’ of British posh boys by the rest of the nation should therefore be taken not as a remark about class struggles or social gulfs, but as an effort to give himself an identity. That’s all ‘posh’ is and all the bumptious, self-important horse shit you hear from some around campus is a fine indication of it. We’re snobs, at times, because we don’t want people to notice how repulsively bland we all are.

Unless you are literally aristocratic, snobbery is never a matter of how much money you have, its a matter of how much money people ought to think you have. It is this pointless, mythical plinth that most people in middle society – the massive, useless grey bit between the black and white extremes – strive to reach with fascinating desperation. I’m guilty of it, just as much as everybody else. Buy smart clothes, use big words, namedrop possessions or affiliations. An intriguing, grotesque act by a section of society too scared to embrace itself. The plebeians – a happy group of unabashed, burger-wielding penis-joke-lovers are in fact, everybody. All money, before it is inherited, is earned. Usually ‘posh’ people are from families that once had unremarkable amounts of money, or were flat-out poor. They loudly smother themselves and others with affected pomposity so as to disguise both their insecurity and their numbing flatness.

The real posh are in the distance, barely even belonging to civilization. The authentic bourgeoisie have nothing to prove and express it by remaining outside any commercial or social hierarchy. It’s all about self-acceptance. You might have money, or you might not, but snobbery’s about elevating yourself above others by suggesting possession of exclusive things, or knowledge of exclusive things, like food or art. The self-assured, the content, are all plebeians and unashamedly so. Are you comfortable with yourself? Then you’re not a snob, you’re a plebeian or whatever’s in between. Vice-versa.



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