During the 2010 X-Factor the outstanding performer was a 16 year old from Malvern called Cher Lloyd. She brought modernity, originality and zest, as well as a fine singing voice; it was her modernity, in the form of rapping, which was new for the X-Factor (and which made it certain she would not win – but that’s another issue). Since X-Factor ended Cher has been recording an album which will be released in the autumn, and has recently released the video for a captivating and catchy (and wonderfully defiant) single (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdbyG2MrBHk) entitled Swagger Jagger. While I am certainly a fan of Cher’s talent and very much look forward to hearing her album, what fascinates me is the amount of hatred which this young woman generates. Now some of this is just trite teenage sniping which no doubt all young celebrities inevitably attract, but the depth and intensity of this hatred (and some of it is very, very nasty – I am not going to cite examples but you can take my word for it) demands some further explanation. And in fact the reasons are not far to seek because they tie into three current, very unpleasant, trends in British social and cultural life – misogyny, class hatred and anti-gypsy prejudice.
To take the latter first, two of the repeated forms of insult which are levelled at Cher are that she is a ‘chav’ and a ‘gypsy’ (the actual word used in connection with the latter is more offensive but I will not use it). It may be fairly objected that the latter in fact introduces an element of racism. Gypsies for some reason seem to be excluded from the general rule (a rule I am very happy about) which restricts the use of racist language in respect of most ethnic groups to the BNP and other far-right fascists and numbskulls. Quite why this should be I have little idea. It seems forgotten that gypsies were in fact one of Hitler’s targets (along with communists and gays) and he sent them to the concentration camps with quite as much assiduity as he did the Jews. Antiziganism (as I have just discovered anti-gypsy prejudice is called) has a long history but is also very much present right across Europe including the UK ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiziganism ). In fact…. In 2008 the media reported that Gypsies experience a higher degree of racism than any other group in the UK, including asylum-seekers and a Mori poll indicated that a third of UK residents admitted openly to being prejudiced against Gypsies. I think that this is in part because people consider that they will not be criticised for expressing anti-gypsy sentiments, in part because the Left has (as far as I am aware) completely neglected this issue, and in part because it does tie in very closely with class antagonism.
The rebirth of intense class antagonisms in the UK crystallise around the use of the word ‘chav’. This horrible word has its etymological derivation in the Romani word ‘chavi’ (back to the gypsy theme) meaning child, but is also an acronym for Council House And Violent, which latter makes absolutely clear its class origins. It is used as an expression of abuse against anyone or anything which is deemed to be overtly working-class. What is so shocking about this is that use of the word is considered perfectly acceptable even amongst people who would not dream of using racist or homophobic language. It is part of a process which is best described in the title of a book ‘Chav: The Demonisation of the Working Class’ (by Owen Jones). In a country which is now run by Old Etonians and has recently once again gone into raptures over the marriage of two upper-class twits, the class antagonisms which have never gone away are now laid bare in their naked aggression.
Over and above this process however is the fact that the use of chav is often directed at women and specifically young women. This is where the misogyny arises. In particular it is directed against women who are considered to in any way flaunt or assert their sexuality. This has a very real impact in the appalling conviction rates for rape in the UK and the fact that we have the Minister for ‘Justice’ (Ken Clarke) declaring that there are 2 types of rape – more and less serious, the latter being where the woman is supposed to have contributed to the rape by her dress, attitude or behaviour. One really positive outcome of this has been the sudden growth of a movement to fight back against this which organised a Slut Walk (see http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/london-slutwalk/ and more importantly http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/why-i-support-slutwalk/). The depressing thing about this is that I had thought theses battles had been won years ago but in this, as in many other things, it appears that we have regressed. The encouraging thing about Slut Walk is that it seems to have been the initiative of young women themselves and is perhaps tied up with that other bright light on the horizon, the re-emergence of student radicalism.
All these three factors – anti-gypsy prejudice (although her connection to gypsies is somewhat tenuous), class hatred and a renewed misogyny coalesce into a perfect storm around Cher Lloyd and explain the extraordinary and revolting venom which she attracts. The most subtle form of this is to disrespect her musical talent as is the case of a so-called musician called ‘Example’ – I went and listened to an example of his ‘talent’ and found it to be a slice of highly unpleasant misogyny. This miserable specimen (real name Elliott Gleave) no doubt has a great deal of appeal for over-sexed and under-performing male teenagers (ie: nearly all male teenagers – I can remember back that far!) but should know better at his age (in fact to still be called Example at 27 is pretty embarrassing in itself). However the essential point is that this so-called ‘musical’ criticism is just a cover for the misogyny and class hatred which I have pointed out as being real the reason for Cher Hatred. Fortunately this young woman has the talent, the fans and I hope the determination (though I can hardly start to understand how hard it must be to face up to this stream of vitriol) to continue with a very promising musical career.