"The very idea of class makes Americans, including journalists, uncomfortable. It grates against the myth, so firmly ingrained in our national psyche, that ours is a society of self-made men, with bootstraps. This idea persists even though upward mobility, in any broad sense, is becoming a myth. It adds a moral tinge to discussions of poverty, a notion that the poor must shoulder much of the blame for their plight, and the corollary, that the wealthy should be credited for their success."
Hat tip to Skookum Talk for bringing to my attention Brent Cunningham's article, Across the Great Class Divide,which appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and where the quote above is originally from.
I think I first realised that class was a thorny subject in America when years back whilst still at school, I remember watching an Oprah Winfrey show - yes, I'm not proud of it but for the purposes of this post I am prepared to admit that I have in the past watched an Oprah Winfrey show all the way through; though if you fling it back at me at some later date I'll just claim false memory syndrome as my defence which I'm a bit of an expert on 'cos Oprah devoted two separate one hour long specials on the subject in series 4 show 17 and 18 back in 1989 - where a mailman on the show described himself as an ordinary middle class kind of guy.
Reading through Cunningham's article it looks like whatever false class syndrome that postie had is ten fold for the majority of Americans. Apparently the majority of America is seen by itself as 'middle class', with the exception of those on one side who can be labelled as the super rich and the underclass/white trash/urban poor on the other side. ("Urban poor is a polite way of saying black or hispanic.) Journalists, according to Cunningham, in America has done very little to challenge this myth because apart from the obvious reasons cited above in the excerpt from Cunningham piece, the working poor are never newsworthy. The right in Britain keep on harping on about middle England that never gets reported on or catered for, and yet from the other side of the pond there is the hidden America, 35 million in poverty according to official statistics, 44 million without healthcare and we can watch re-runs of Friends and Will & Grace on E4 until our lottery numbers finally come up but the C word won't be mentioned in Central Perk or anywhere else.
I'm okay though - I saw through the myth of there being no working class in the United States armed only with some back issues of the Western Socialist in my back pocket and a copy of a well thumbed collection of Raymond Carver's short stories.
I can't get too sniffy about the American view of class anyway. The so called obsession with class that we apparently have in this country is misnamed - we have an obsession with caste. The right schooling, the right breeding and the right sort of credit card and even that is being chipped away with the supposed meriocratic revolution kickstarted by Thatcher and her minions all those years ago. It's not the done thing to refer to yourself as working class nowadays. It's interpreted as being anti-aspirational, not wanting to get on in life, which you can if you work hard enough. People who refer to themselves as working class these days can be placed in two categories: 1) The lefty politicos with a chip on their shoulder - guilty as charged. 2) And what used to be known in my Gran's day as the Nouveau Riche. Various pop stars, actors and footballers who like to refer to themselves as working class 'cos it is a measure of how far they have travelled in life. The Latin term for this phenomenon is Micimus Cainicus , and the suggested family motto to be placed on the ceremonial coat of arms is: Look How Far I've Come Mother.