Common People: A lyrical discussion/dissection

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in the US this would have to be an alt-country song, probably

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:29 (4 years ago) Permalink

doesn't the contrived folksiness of those ethnonyms for the ppl just above white trash repulse yr LATTE LIBERALS?

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:30 (4 years ago) Permalink

that last post to goole. agree that well-paid blue collar workers make as much as or more than bottom-rung middle class professionals. but this equivalence is a mirage, because you're looking only at the point where the classes overlap. at the other end of the working class/middle class intersection, the lives of 50-year-old minimum wage menial laborers trying to support families have almost nothing to do with those of successful small businesspeople and white collar professonals (doctors, lawyers, business administrators, bankers, etc).

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:30 (4 years ago) Permalink

looking back, "wealth-based tears" was supposed to be "wealth-based tiers..."

lol

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

wtf you've come up with a schema that cuts across wealth lines, and then declared it to be "wealth-based tiers"

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

i mean - cops in big cities make six figure salaries - up there with lawyers - but the lawyer is less likely to get knifed or shot on the job.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

p.sure the chick is actually greek btw, which is obv v.much u&k

whoa...did I or didn't I? (cozen), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

no, i've quoted (not really come up with) a common way to understand class divsions in america, one that's primarily wealth-based, but which allows a fair degree of overlap where the tiers meet.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

the common way is wrong

goole, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

that's a pretty simplified version of class divisions though

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

re, sarah: yeah, there's a point at which the income available from blue collar jobs begins to seriously complete with what most white-collar professionals only hope to make. in drawing a distinction between blue and white collar work, i'm kind of hedging with regards to class & culture, because the income division between the two is unclear. but it makes sense for the most part, and given that there just have to be gray areas in a discussion like this, i'm willing to accept the imprecision.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

i agree that divisions i proposed are reductively simple, but i'm shooting for serviceable shorthand here. alternate suggestions appreciated.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

why are you doing it tho?

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

OK here's a scenario and then a question.

An American couple. Husband grew up comfortably middle-class, but his parents both grew up during the Depression and have always been obsessed with having "enough" money, and have passed that obsession with money/fear of debt on to the son. The wife grew up really dirt poor, lived in a tar-paper shack until she was six, also to Depression-era parents who worried less about $$$ because they had less interest in what money could buy. The man and the wife meet, marry, and instantly accumulate $25K in credit card debt. The wife's blithe attitude is that you're never broke as long as you still have some Available Balance left; the husband is terrified every day that his life is about to cave in. The husband assumes control of the family finances and spends the next ten years whittling $25K in debt down to zero.

Who has lived a life with more financial struggle, the husband or the wife?

Donovan Dagnabbit (WmC), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

why are you doing it tho?

umm, because the question had been raised, it interested me, and i was trying to have a conversation about it. wtf?

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:45 (4 years ago) Permalink

Who has lived a life with more financial struggle, the husband or the wife?

can't really answer the question. but you've posed it in such a way as to suggest that the answer = the husband.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

the differences between (some fom of) middle class and working class are complex but given enough exposition you'd probably agree w/ any given poster which group [random person] fell into

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

regardless of whether you're making the distinctions solely on material wealth, you kinda have this:

super rich - inherited wealth or investments will prevent them from being poor for the rest of their lives
rich - wealth is dependent on a certain amount of earned income
upper middle class - quite comfortably off, can generally afford to pay for a child to attend a private college (their kids tend to go to these, or else a well-regarded state school - they pay attention to college rankings)
middle class - comfortable, can generally afford to pay for a child to attend a 4 year state university - want their kids to get a quality education but in something reasonable so they can get a job and support themselves
working class - their ability to maintain living standards above the poverty level is contingent on a lot of things, they don't want to be poor or for their kids to be poor
poverty - barely subsisting, may not be on government assistance (which if they're not, they might really resent those who are)

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

disagree w/ x-post. again, this comes from concentrating only on the point at which working and middle class begin to meet and overlap. the lives and cultures of the working (very) poor and the comfortably (not quite super) wealthy have very little in common.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah, i'd echo sarah's question. when we say "working class", we typically mean blue collar workers & menial laborers, probably making enough to get by, many living quite comfortably and able retire early

wait what

a cross between lily allen and fetal alcohol syndrome (milo z), Friday, 3 September 2010 21:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

the differences in england largely relate to a more dissimulated vocabulary (eg you'll seldom hear the term umc) and more anxiety about belonging

the basic schema outlined by sarah and contenderizer applies to all advanced capitalist economies

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

difficult to talk in exclusion about cultural aspects without lapsing into narcissism of small differences

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

see, that's where it gets tricky - because (an ever decreasing number, but there are still some) blue collar workers and people in related professions (fire fighters, cops) do have comfortable salaries and pensions - so in some ways they are middle class, but can sometimes have working class lifestyles/attitudes

i think it's complicated

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:57 (4 years ago) Permalink

disagree w/ x-post. again, this comes from concentrating only on the point at which working and middle class begin to meet and overlap. the lives and cultures of the working (very) poor and the comfortably (not quite super) wealthy have very little in common.

― having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:53 (3 minutes ago)

that's exactly what i'm saying, like in the case of a 50 y/o cop w/ a permanent desk job, 10% more than median salary, maybe you'll get contrasting answers

90% of the time it's fairly clear cut tho

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 21:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

here's another example for the class = money only side. What about drug dealers/growers? Let's say you have a modest operation and net $150,000/yr operating a meth lab ... are you of the same class as a computer programmer making the same salary?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:00 (4 years ago) Permalink

and kind of disagree w sarah's more nuanced breakdown. only cuz it seems to cap "middle class" far too low - this is what leads to the idea that the middle and working classes are functionally identical, share common interests.

i'd argue that really only the super rich are "upper class", like landed gentry, living lives entirely separate from those of the "lower classes." i.e., the owners of large corporations and/or family fortunes, the very wealthiest of celebrities and investment bankers, etc. people who measure their annual income in the millions. less than that, you're probably middle class, though perhaps "upper middle class", as they say. and if you make substantially less than six figures, you're not probably not middle class at all, not even "lower middle class", regardless of your profession. you're working class, though that doesn't necessarily mean poor.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:02 (4 years ago) Permalink

middle vs. upper middle is a vast swamp filled with the narcissism of small differences

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

are you of the same class as a computer programmer making the same salary?

well, it depends, right? it depends not only on where the drug dealer and computer programmer are at, culturally (the dealer might be the black sheep of a rich family, and the computer programmer the child of migrant workers), but on who's doing the evaluation. class isn't fixed and is judged differently by different cultural groups.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:04 (4 years ago) Permalink

here's another example for the class = money only side. What about drug dealers/growers? Let's say you have a modest operation and net $150,000/yr operating a meth lab ... are you of the same class as a computer programmer making the same salary?

― sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 23:00 (2 minutes ago)

crims are all lumpens or some description right? but obv they wouldn't qualify as bourgie cuz their livelihood is perilous

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:05 (4 years ago) Permalink

let's say that both meth lab operator and computer programmer come from working class families: dad is the assistant manager at a Home Depot and mom does daycare.

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:06 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah but his mom is of rurikid extraction and dad got fired from tenured professorship cuz of molestation conviction

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:11 (4 years ago) Permalink

For US posters.....
Alongside the posh V common thing, it's important to remember that Cocker is from Sheffield - which gives a different weight to the setting 'St. Martin's College' (many English people mightn't know where it is, but for those who do, it is quintessentially metropolitan, and for those not from London, it's very 'London') - the singer is clearly Northern (accent would be immediately apparent to British listeners) so St. Martin's is not his home turf either.

― sonofstan, Friday, September 3, 2010 5:29 PM (4 hours ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

would it be similar to say - someone from the midwest going to NYC?

― sarahel, Friday, September 3, 2010 5:30 PM (4 hours ago) Bookmark

Not that similar, i don't think, tho' I know the North of England far better than I know the Midwest: but it does indicate how difficult it is to translate the specifics of this from one country to another.

For a start, 'the North' is very urbanised,(post-) industrial, and traditionally left- wing politically - in a way England sort of reverses the Red/ Blue thing, and not just because 'Red' stands for Left and 'Blue' for right over here. London itself is mixed, but the rest of the richer South of England is generally solidly Tory, whereas the traditionally poorer and more industrial north is pretty solidly Labour. Northerners don't hate London the way those in the flyover states hate New York - they don't hate it for being God-less and liberal and the like, they hate it for being pretentious and full of capitalist parasites. Someone from Sheffield wouldn't be intimidated by London, but there would be infinite grounds for annoyance.

sonofstan, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:11 (4 years ago) Permalink

sarah's question:

gonna go with nakhchivan's initial response on this, cuz criminals are kind of a different class, separate unto themselves, but socially equivalent to the very poor.

computer programmer is probably comfortably middle class, but again, that depends on how he (i'm pretending he's a he) lives his life. if he lives in a run-down shack with a pit bull tied to a dead tree in a yard full of rusted out beaters, spends his money on sleazy women & bad drugs, plays in a heavy metal cover band at night and is covered in prison tattoos, then some blue-blood would likely label him as irredeemably low. but hey, his money's still good...

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:12 (4 years ago) Permalink

imagine that jarvis comes from a family of meth cookers in the north, whereas this greek tart has inherited a computer programming dynasty.

like a musical album. made by a band. (fucking in the streets), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

Contenderizer, that part of your life described upthread recalls the plot of Metropolitan.

Goole has the best grasp of the song's background - it is the continuation of the concept of 'a cheap holiday in someone else's misery'. For those of you who may be interested in specifics, the Greek girl Jarvis refers to in the song is called Sophia (meaning: knowledge/wisdom, LOL) and is from a very wealthy/highbrow family of exiled Communists who live in one of the most beautiful streets in Rome. Her brother - who is now a town planner - was best friends with Nick Momus when both were students at Aberdeen (this, and discussion with Jarvis a few years back, is how I happen to know).

Jarvis grew up in a single-parent household when divorce was still stigmatized - his mum - a mod who is now a Tory councillor LOL - had gone to art college herself, but they had no money, were poor compared to most people in their part of Sheffield. He describes the conundrum of being 'the educated poor' all the time. Plus he has the Northern thing of suspecting that anyone Southern is most likely spoilt or pretentious until proven otherwise. One thing that no working to lower-middle class person from that time and place would be expecting to see in London is LARGE NUMBERS of amazingly stonking rich jet trash expats instead of one or two. Having said that, Jarvis went to St Martins with his best friend because both were accepted on the film MA in 1988 and lived in a shithole in Peckham, students were still just about living on grants and not paying fees, and people were bothered by classmates who got massive handouts from their parents (which is why some rich kids would try to hide it). Continental Europeans don't hide it in the same way.

maintenant avec plus de fromage (suzy), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

Great topic. I haven't read through all the responses yet, so apologies if any of this is redundant or dumb or whatever, but I just love these lyrics and his delivery and how explicitly the lyric addresses class. I don't think I've listened to another Pulp song 1/1000th as much as this one.

"Pretend you got no money" / "You're so funny" is a great couplet. I can see him kinda leaning in to her ear as they are holding hands in the aisle and I can see her just vacantly looking at the stuff on the shelves and ignoring people.

"you'll never fail like common people / you'll never watch your life slide out of view" -- Oh man, these lines just kill me -- you've never seen your parents worry about how to provide the best they can for you or had to work or racked up a monster student loan for what you want to learn or attended a less than stellar school or even just had a care in the world and you still feel entitled to...more.

My wife and I had this conversation with an Art Institute of Chicago student from Manhattan that I remember every time I hear this song. It was infuriating. I still get pissed off thinking about it ten years later. Nothing was *enough* for her and she truly believed the world was her playground and that she deserved whatever/whenever. No sense of...reality -- or such a twisted one as to be unrecognizable to 99.99% of people who've ever lived. While the character in the song just seems oblivious, though (or maybe not), this girl seemed willfully ignorant and narcissistic.

Back to the song, I'm not sure his class is particularly relevant. It's her perspective on his class that matters.

john. a resident of chicago., Friday, 3 September 2010 22:15 (4 years ago) Permalink

the only consideration is financial - the likelihood of arrest/confiscation/explosion is significant

if yr meth cook has a secure income (safe lab and effective immunity from prosecution) then perhaps they can be considered as analogous

doesn't the fact that you have to create these baroque contrivances show that irl these things are usually fairly clear cut?

nakhchivan, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

jarvis got into st martins by telling the admissions officer that if he didn't he'd have to resort to a life of prostitution, iirc.

like a musical album. made by a band. (fucking in the streets), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

many xp - I instinctively disagree with the idea that cops are "working class" (or related) FWIW. It's a professional government job with middle-class pay and good benefits.

A job which has, existed in large part to protect the other classes from the working class.

a cross between lily allen and fetal alcohol syndrome (milo z), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

if you make substantially less than six figures, you're not probably not middle class at all, not even "lower middle class", regardless of your profession. you're working class, though that doesn't necessarily mean poor.

It's hard to port these things trans-Atlantically but as an academic in the UK, earning six figures in Dollars is where you can hope to be at the very end of a very successful career. However, calling academics "working class" throws out almost the entire set of attitudes and experiences that are taken to be signifiers determining or at least correlating with class in standard discourse. It's kind of the opposite of sarahel's drug dealer example.

seandalai, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

Which is why splitting hairs based on "well, this hypothetical construction worker man makes X but this female office worker makes less -Y-, then..." is all sort of irrelevant to me.

It's about money and opportunity to me. If you're stuck as an administrative assistant who's never going to make more than a living wage, if that, then you get to join me When The Revolution Comes. If you're ostensibly blue collar but exist primarily to order migrant workers to do work, up against the wall motherfucker.

a cross between lily allen and fetal alcohol syndrome (milo z), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:20 (4 years ago) Permalink

i only created this baroque contrivance, because things aren't clear cut - like goole and horseshoe are arguing that the metaphorical bus driver and the community college prof are of the same class because they make the same money, and i disagree - the community college prof is of a higher class because of additional cultural capital, or at least, better working conditions and a higher status job

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:20 (4 years ago) Permalink

and if you make substantially less than six figures, you're not probably not middle class at all, not even "lower middle class", regardless of your profession. you're working class, though that doesn't necessarily mean poor.

this is straight up insane.

The median household income in the US is well below six figures - and the curve falls off rapidly as you approach six figures.

a cross between lily allen and fetal alcohol syndrome (milo z), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:21 (4 years ago) Permalink

milo otm

horseshoe, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:22 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yep - one crucial factor in the case of high-status low-income professions is that most people in those jobs *choose* to do them instead of something better paid.

seandalai, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

using dollar amounts is pretty useless when making generalizations about class in America (except at the top and bottom ends) - $30k/yr is way different if you live in NYC, SF, maybe Seattle? - than say Memphis, Baltimore, or Kansas City

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:25 (4 years ago) Permalink

doesn't the fact that you have to create these baroque contrivances show that irl these things are usually fairly clear cut?

― nakhchivan, Friday, September 3, 2010 3:16 PM (6 minutes ago) Bookmark

no. i agree with sarah here, though i don't think the drug dealer/computer programmer example works well. class is not a single thing, the product of income and that's that. class is a word we use to talk about a wide range of things that relate to wealth and social prestige, and though the lines can be made to seem fairly clear-cut when look at from on high, down in the muck of actual human social interaction, the gray areas are huge.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

anyway, the designations here in the U.S. are way more arbitrary and fluid and debatable than it seems they are in the UK

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:28 (4 years ago) Permalink

The median household income in the US is well below six figures - and the curve falls off rapidly as you approach six figures.

― a cross between lily allen and fetal alcohol syndrome (milo z), Friday, September 3, 2010 3:21 PM (5 minutes ago) Bookmark

yeah. making median income doesn't make one middle class. that's an entirely different evaluation system. in most economies, making median income makes one a well-paid member of the working class. working class = most people. middle class = the not inconsiderable number who've begun to break away from working for a living. upper class = ur overloards.

having taken an actual journalism class (contenderizer), Friday, 3 September 2010 22:29 (4 years ago) Permalink

middle class = the not inconsiderable number who've begun to break away from working for a living

huh?

sarahel, Friday, 3 September 2010 22:30 (4 years ago) Permalink


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