Against the Prolier-Than-Thou

The thing is, once you’ve made it, you’ve made it. Once you’ve got your newspaper column or TV show or made your first million, you’re not working class anymore. And, pretty soon, your endless prole-ier than thou platitudes start to ring a bit hollow. You’re like the rapper on his fourth album, still talking about slinging rock in the hood. I’m not saying there aren’t privileged people who, at 40, still haven’t got over the fact that they went to Eton, but I hate them just as much. I guess the point I’m making is that, once you’ve bought a £1.5m house in the part of Hackney that’s really Islington, we need a statute of limitations on your underprivileged childhood.

That’s Alex Proud nailing wealthy people who endlessly mention their working class roots or even worse embroider the economic context of their upbringing to make it sound more deprived than it really was. His whole jeremaid is worth a read, not least because it includes an embedded video of the Monty Python troupe’s hilarious skewering of “inverted snobbery”.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “Against the Prolier-Than-Thou”

  1. When a college classmate described himself as "lower class," a professor gently corrected him. "You may have grown up poor, but now that you're a Rhodes Scholar, you're no longer lower class."

  2. Hmm. No. This must be a UK thing, because in the US, our so-called betters too quickly abandon the interests of regular people. If they ever shared them to begin with, which seems rare.

    For example. It seems to me that a huge chunk of the motive behind "education reform" is misplaced guilt. People who have made huge piles of money, once they get to the top and have time to notice the rest of us, see that US society is not doing well. Convincing themselves that the school system, rather than poverty and inequality and prejudice and capitalism and, well, human nature, are the problem is convenient.

    It allows them to tell themselves that crushing a middle class union made up mostly of women is somehow crucial to the nation's future, and that it will fix all our social problems. (Which it will not do, especially since they are *wrong* about most of their aims.)

    And therefore, the yawning gap between them and everyone else — which, while highly lamentable in some ways, is not actually their individual fault, imo — can be safely explained away. Other people just need better skills. Forget about the brilliant mechanical engineers I know who can't find steady work — they probably don't know any! That is the problem with being rich, it seems. You are then in a bubble.

    So, no, people talking about the days when they were a normal person don't bother me. At least someone like that might have a chance at remaining recognizably human. Of course, it is actual policy and behavior that matter. But here in the US, no one bothers with that either.

    1. This must be a UK thing, because in the US, our so-called betters too quickly abandon the interests of regular people.

      This has nothing to do with Keith's post. He doesn't talk at all about whose interests they represent; he talks only about what background they claim, an endeavor that is often deployed to justify all of the things that you list.

    2. No, it’s very much the thing with American “journalists” these days. Tim Russert’s whole shtick was growing up in a predominantly Irish working-class neighborhood in South Buffalo and how he was still just a working stiff looking out for the little guy. The guy practically invented the whole genre and was among its leading practitioners until the day he died.

      1. Many US political figures have also been caught out on this. To take examples from each end of the political continuum, Jesse Jackson got busted by a journalist for claiming to have grown up in poverty when in fact he did not and Ann Romney was mightily mocked (most particularly by our own Andy Sabl) for her tales of struggling financially through college with Mitt when they two of them had to — sniffle — sell some stock in order to make ends meet.

        And to add another journalistic example to Mitch Guthman’s, Michael Kinsley had a hilarious evisceration of Bill O’Reilly’s lies about being a working class kid rejected by all the rich elitists at college when in fact he was from a securely middle class family.

        1. Oddly, Keith, I read your comment here to mean that there are a lot of public figures in the US who *falsely* claim working class backgrounds. That's somewhat different from actually having a working class background and having a social position that is not working class. It's the latter that Alex Hunt is apparently kvetching about. And I actually don't mind people remembering their roots (working class or otherwise). And I particularly don't mind people with working class roots remembering them, and working for policies that make it possible for everyone to achieve what they are capable of achieving and living in a society that makes it possible for everyone to have at least an acceptable minimum standard of living.

          1. Alex Proud is railing against both things, moreso with the fakers but also the ones who just won't shut up about their origins. We have the latter in the US two…"As the son of Greek immigrants, I got up at 7am today".

  3. It seemed to me that the quote was saying that, *even if* you were from a humble background, once you got to be rich you were required to stop talking about it.

    And it seems to me that that also implies that you must also then stop having any attachment to or regard for anyone with less money than you. As if somehow, once you are rich, it is fronting to still claim any allegiance to the person you used to be.

    Which is nonsense. But thanks for playing.

    1. It seems to me that you spent a lot more time theorizing about the post than you did actually reading it, as your interpretation isn't in any way supported by the actual words it contains.

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