‘In the trendy liberal’s bumper book of stereotypes, the term middle class does not describe who we are: industrious, law-abiding and tax-paying’
I am not sure what I find most annoying about the film High School Musical 3 – the fact that my five-year-old daughter can’t stop singing the ghastly “You are the Music in Me” in a cod-American accent (having never, to my knowledge, seen any of the actual films); or the fact that the success of Disney’s seemingly unstoppable bandwagon appears to have generated more self-consciously counter-intuitive beard-stroking than even that other assemblage of over-hyped gym-bunnies, Channel 4’s Big Brother.
As it happens, I can live with the singing, although if she starts demanding blonde highlights and a Wild Cats tattoo I shall be less magnanimous. What really irritates me is the self-appointed position of liberal superiority from which this beard-stroking takes place – in particular, the trendy assertion that HSM is not, “as the middle classes might think”, a perfectly harmless but rather annoying bit of cinematic bubblegum, but a musical movement in the fine tradition of Rodgers and Hammerstein and one that should, as such, be embraced suitably “knowingly”.
I can offer no expert opinion about Rodgers and Hammerstein, nor indeed the status of HSM within the canon, but I do take exception to the implication that a bunch of grinning, star-jumping, shiny-haired teenagers with a seemingly irrepressible desire to set all their emotions to a fast-paced disco beat is too sophisticated/ironic a cultural concept for the middle classes to grasp. We know what it’s about, OK? We fully comprehend all the pop-culture markers. It doesn’t mean we have to like the damn thing.
Perhaps it’s not their fault – I don’t mean the HSM kids, but the culture vultures. In the same way that Disney Club stars are bred for all-weather perkiness, the metropolitan classes are genetically programmed to think themselves culturally superior to everyone else – and in particular the bourgeoisie. But it really is ridiculous (not to say very last century) to assume that anyone happy to describe themselves as middle class is some kind of cultural pygmy, interested only in the tiny world between privet and front door and devoid of the ability to grasp simple concepts such as “irony”, “youth”, or the fact that Zac Efron (aka Troy in HSM) is clearly a made-up name. Ridiculous, and rather offensive.
The glorification of pop culture excesses such as HSM, and the implicit contempt for anyone who dares to disagree, is just one example; there are countless other situations in the British cultural landscape where the term middle class is used as shorthand to indicate the blinkered, the bigoted and the busy-body. The people who (can you believe it?) would prefer it if their daughters were not prancing around in trashy pink ra-ra skirts, posturing like apprentice pole-dancers, but thoughtfully reading a book. The people who secretly (because if you say it they laugh, loudly and patronisingly, in your face) think Jamie Oliver is the sort of kind, well-meaning fellow we would like our sons to grow up to be and not, as he is constantly being portrayed, a patronising middle-class twat; or that Katie Price is not a post-feminist poster girl, but just a hard-nosed glamour-girl made good.
The middle classes are themselves partly to blame, since we are on the whole a reasonable and non-confrontational bunch. Recently, however, the contempt that certain sections of the media and political elites harbour towards us has started to grate – especially since it is becoming increasingly apparent how much they need our support. Surely it would not be too much to start demanding a little respect.
In the trendy liberal’s bumper book of cultural stereotypes, what the term middle class does not describe is what we are: the industrious, law-abiding and, crucially, tax-paying classes. Or the people who, in these turbulent times, suddenly find themselves being called upon to save the world. What, us, save the world? But hang on, aren’t we an unsophisticated social embarrassment? Didn’t you strike us off your Christmas list years ago? Surely there must be someone better you can turn to: what about the welfare classes, or the every-man-for-himself city classes, or even the old-fashioned upper and working classes? Can’t one of them save the world? Apparently not. Which is, of course, only going to exacerbate the problem. How painful – not to say infuriating – to have to be propped up by the very section of society you so despise.
For without the docile cash-cow of the reliable, law-abiding Middle Englander, how would Gordon Brown have financed the vastly wasteful public sector he seems so inexplicably proud of? And what about the £500 billion rescue package to salvage a stunningly irresponsible financial system to which he, as a Labour Chancellor, ought to have at the very least been ideologically, if not practically, opposed? Step forward the middle classes, with their unimaginative sense of fair play and unfailing work ethic – the very same people that the new metropolitan establishment now finds itself reliant upon for survival.
The bourgeoisie bails out Brown’s Britain: how embarrassing; how (assuming you are sophisticated enough to understand the term) deliciously ironic.