Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dean of the University

So, it seems that starting a University is easy. You just get a bunch of your famous mates to put their names to it, sponge off the resources of an established institution, offer the same courses as anywhere else, and charge double/triple fees compared to the norm. At least, that's what AC Grayling has supposedly done. It's not going too well, apparently.

Admittedly, I'm being rather fatuous. It's apparently not a university, it's a college offering University level education. It is part of the University of London, but it gets a bit confusing at this point. At first I thought it was akin to something like Queens College being part of Cambridge University, but now I'm guessing it's an 'independent' body which is part the confederal University of London. The University of Wales is a similar thing, it's a body which accredits and is made up of various institutions (and has a habit of validating pseudoscientific/bullshit courses, a fact which irks my patriotic side considerably and one which I've acted on before). I assume the New College of the Humanities is in a similar arrangement with the University of London. I could be all thorough and look this up, but that sounds boring. But if you really must know, feel free to go find out. I'll wait.

Back? OK, good.

It does strike me as a bit of a cash-making wheeze by some high profile ageing academics. But a lot of the concern surrounds the elitism of it, coupled with the frankly satirical fees they're charging. It's open to anyone, they say. But then it's not just anyone who has £18,000 a year to fritter away on an overhyped undergraduate course (in my humble opinion). The arguments about whether this is an acceptable move on the part of Grayling and his fellow famous academics are still going on. It seems to have met with wide condemnation, but that's possibly the result of the sources I rely on to get information, which may well be skewed away from the actual middle-ground. But that's not what I'm particularly interested in.

The point that perked my interest was; is it really that easy to set up a University/Higher Education institution? You just get yourself and some mates to promise to teach some courses, get a few facilities you can use, and charge people a ridiculous sum to listen to you waffle on about it? There's probably a lot more to it than this, but that's how it looks from the general articles I've read. So rather than protest the elitism and exploitative nature of the College of New Humanities via articles, blogs and dubious protests, why not fight fire with fire. They set up a profit making university that caters to the rich, I'll set up the exact opposite!

My University: Name

The New College of Humanities is seemingly dedicated to teaching the humanities. Well, the title suggests that is the case. I've not seen that stated anywhere on the actual website, but it seems a valid conclusion to come to. Some people (such as scientists like Richard Dawkins, disturbingly) have criticised the Humanities for not being that useful. Bit unfair, but that's smug scientists for you. But if I was paying double or triple the typical University fees, I'd expect to have a degree or qualification that would be so useful I'd have employers ringing me up in the middle of the night, begging me to work for them, offering vast sums and sexual favours if I'll even agree to a tour of their offices. But in my experience, the one University that everyone seems to improve your employability is the so-called University of life. It's a decent university in many ways, the skills it teaches you are essential and the curriculum is ridiculously varied. On the downside, you never stop paying the fees to attend, and the graduation ceremony is a depressing affair. However, these days there are seemingly more and more people who are failing at life. Check the number of 'fail' shout outs in any discussion online. You'd think that failing life would have terminal consequences, but apparently not. Arguably, it's a consequence of an increasingly complex and ever changing society. So what we need is an institution to teach people about this sort of thing.

So, I propose the 'College of Modern Life'. That's the name sorted, now we need someone to head it up.

My University: Head of School

AC Grayling is a famous, published academic who has a lot of powerful friends, and this makes him qualified to set up a higher-education institution, so we need someone to rival that. I've got my name on 2 academic
papers so far, this blog has been referenced by several big name scientists/skeptics (e.g. Ben Goldacre, PZ Myers, and so on), and Rhod Gilbert once said hello to me when he passed me in the street. That means I've got the qualifications to run this University, right? Doesn't matter if I don't, actually, as it's my idea. You want to set up your own? Go ahead, it'll be fun.

My University: The Professoriate

If we're really going to try and compete with the New College of the Humanities, we need one thing; famous people. Famous people who are qualified in the subject matter of the University itself. Luckily in this case, it being the University of Modern Life, that means we need famous people who are alive today, which opens the field up a bit. I was thinking of;

Admittedly, I've never met any of these people nor had any form of contact with them, with the possible exception of having passed Keith Harris on a Blackpool pier in the rain (a very poignant moment). But I'm hoping they'll agree to it based on the fact that they're a) just famous enough to qualify as 'celebrities', b) seemingly not doing much these days, c) could benefit from the publicity and kudos of being affiliated to an academic institution, and, most importantly, d) still alive. Hope it all works out. Obviously, these people will presumably have the same role as their New Humanities counterparts; lending their name to the institution, making some token teaching efforts, then have nothing to do with the whole enterprise. Day to day teaching duties will be undertaken by a more general staff who will be selected using the classic 'who's bored and fancies killing an hour?'. It's never let me down before.

My University: The courses

Obviously, the range of courses will be quite broad, given that it covers modern life. It will also be constantly changing, unless life stops for some reason, although in the event of that happening adjustments to a curriculum would be the least of our concerns. But so far, here are what the University will offer to teach prospective students.


Modules Include:

  • Underwear Exposure: How much is too much for the modern individual?
  • Ironic cross-class garment adoption: From low-cut vests to Burberry.
  • Sarah Jessica Parker awareness.
  • Social-Circle Jerks: Acceptable dress sense for potential friends of the fashion conscious.
  • Studied Nonchalance for beginners.
  • Is Bigger Better: Just how big can accessories be before you look like a tw*t?
  • Celebrity Uncertainty: Endorsed garments that are 'P Diddy' or 'MC Hammer'


Modules Include:

  • Txt Speek 4 L8 adoptors! J
  • Psychology of Blogging: How to deal with the realisation that nobody cares what you think
  • Troll spotting and maintenance.
  • Protest THIS!: preparing and constructing the ideal protest banner.
  • Advanced Political Bullshit.
  • "I'm not racist but…": Phrases to disguise your awful views
  • You're all Wrong!: An introduction to newspaper column writing.
  • "To BCC or not to BCC": Appropriate email etiquette for business communications
  • Celebrity Tweeters: Why they aren't actually your friends.
  • Wassuuupp?!?!: Annoying Catchphrases, past and present


Modules Include:

  • CAPS LOCK: It can be turned off
  • Smartphone Smugness: Why you're impressed by it, but nobody else gives a shit (some materials shared with 'Psychology of Blogging')
  • Basic Car Handling: From "Accelerate, granddad!" to "Zzzz: sleeping at the wheel without dying horribly"
  • Printer and Scanner combat: A guide to defeating the most enraging of devices
  • Advanced Remote Control Handling: Including 'What is aspect ratio?' and 'turning off the Spanish subtitles'
  • iWant!: The psychology behind your inexplicable desire for Steve Jobs' latest doohickey
  • Live Streaming: No, it doesn't involve canoes.


Modules Include:

  • Google Diagnosis: Why your doctor knows less than you.
  • Scientific Fields that don't require a white coat.
  • Acronyms Explained: Putting an end to those WTF moments.
  • Dissecting a relationship: Achieving success with the opposite sex while being a scientist
  • BOOM!: Which scientific field is most likely to destroy us all?
  • The McKeith Effect: Using science terminology while talking out of your arse.
  • Pseudo-Sci-Fi: A detailed study in the ridiculous things people actually believe are real.
  • Cox Studies: An in-depth investigation of that man off the telly, and his hair.


Modules Include

  • Anatomy of Women: Why 'Nuts' magazine has lied to you.
  • Lesbianism: It's a sexual orientation, not an automatic occurrence
  • Meeting the Parents: Introductions, relevant conversation, and escape routes
  • The Morning After: When is the best time to leave?
  • Effective Contraception: From prophylactics to porcelain dolls
  • Think About Your Mother!: Dealing with prematureness
  • Is this Normal?: A guide to acceptable fetishes, and when to bring them up.
  • 'They might be Gay, but you might be ugly': Dealing with rejection and severe denial


Modules Include

  • On a budget: Just how much law are you entitled to in your financial situation?
  • Slippery Ladders and Too Hot Coffee: Introduction to getting others to pay for your own idiocy.
  • A guide to Super-in[REDACTED]
  • Libel, Slander and Outright Fabrications: Which legally questionable procedure is right for you?
  • 'I thought of it first!': A guide to patent law and its abuses.
  • Pleading insanity: An investigation into the inaccurate law perpetuated by Hollywood movies
  • The Defence Rests: Legal procedures and processes that really aren't worth bothering with
  • Jack of Kent: Is any other legal resource actually necessary?

My University: The Resources

In order to offer as professional and slick a system as possible, this University shall exploit the already existing resources of other institutions and businesses. Lectures will take place in my nearby Starbucks, a Wetherspoons pub before it gets too busy (this is a logical venue as most students end up here anyway, sometimes instead of at lectures), the Library (if we keep our voices down) or in a car park, as long as those assembled are quick on their feet. Network access will be provided by a 'guess the wifi password' system, favouring smarter students and thus giving us the edge on technical competence in our student pool. Exams will be allocated based on how much scrap paper and free time I have to spend on the venture. To save time, exam results will be dependent largely on the 'most legible handwriting' marking scheme.

My University: Fees

You get what you pay for. Fees currently stand at 50p and a Kit Kat (or national generic confection equivalent for foreign students). Buying your lecturers a coffee/pint will be considered an attempt at bribery and will not e discouraged in the slightest.

So, who wants to sign up?

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Some of you might have heard already, but if you haven't, there's been a news story recently concerning Catholic doctors selling homeopathic 'remedies' for homosexuality [and I'll be honest, I'm worried that the inverted commas around 'remedies' in this context won't be able to contain the pressure of ridiculousness trying to escape].

Apparently I wasn't alone in ignoring this story when it was first flagged up on that there twitter and Facebook places. It's obviously a spoof, I thought. Apparently, it isn't. This is deeply worrying. It's not hard to see why some skeptics and rationalists have had a hard time believing this, it's wrong on so many levels. Overall, it's stating that Catholic doctors are recommending homeopathic treatments based on highly diluted platinum in order to treat homosexuality. This one sentence is completely mad on a rational, psychological, medical, chemical and ethical level.

For starters, it's always worrying when professional doctors start treating patients based on their religious beliefs rather than actual evidence-based medicine. My own thoughts on the whole 'homosexuality is an illness' thing have been stated quite clearly, but even if you do believe it's unnatural in some way, that's not really how being a doctor should work if we're honest. Then there's the whole homeopathy angle itself, which is essentially the go-to alt-med whenever a skeptic or rational person needs an easy target (I'm no exception to this sort of behaviour). As you probably know, homeopathic remedied via serial dilutions until there is none of the original substance left, and the water supposedly retains a memory of the original chemical. Whatever you think of this theory/belief/obvious fantasy, even if there was some merit in it, I'm pretty if I had to dissolve something in successive bodies of water water (or at some stage I think, alcohol), I imagine I'd struggle if I tried it with platinum, a metal prised for its chemical inertness. To even make a start with dissolving platinum, you need some incredibly powerful nitro-hydrochloric acid. Mere water is literally not going to put a dent in it (unless its applied via high-powered steam jet perhaps, but then dents aren't believed to have medicinal properties). And there's the whole belief that, even if homosexuality were some serious mental disorder (which it isn't), it could be treated with a few pills of some vague description. Treating mental processes with chemicals (actual ones) is still a very complex and poorly understood process, and certainly isn't a quick and easy one. The brain does not bow to simple molecules so easily.

But the one thing that occurred to me, when singing sensation Doctor Evan Harris flagged this up on the twitter under with "Catholic docs offer homeopathic 'treatment' for homosexuality", my first thought was 'what the hell are they diluting for that?' Now if you're like me, a) I'm deeply sorry, and b) when posed with that question, your mind probably went to a very dodgy place. As well as the ridiculous 'extreme dilution makes chemicals more powerful' notion, homeopathy also operates under the assumption 'like treats like', meaning patients should be treated with substances that cause the same symptoms that they're trying to alleviate. E.g. insomnia would be treated with caffeine, arsenic poisoning with arsenic, and so on. Thing is, here they're claiming they can treat homosexuality. So what substance which is associated with homosexuality would they dilute? Something readily available, something that a non-homosexual would not want to put in their bodies? I personally couldn't help but go down the 'gentlemen's reproductive emissions' route. But obviously, that isn't the case. And thankfully so, what if a heterosexual female accidentally took the remedy? She'd be shaving her head and burning her bra before you could say 'pointless placebo'.

I'd probably been too judgemental in my initial analysis. I know homosexuality occurs in both genders, but as these doctors were Catholics I was assuming that any illness afflicting a woman would be deemed irrelevant. But more fool me.

Anyway, I discovered that they were diluting platinum, and I'll be honest, if you asked me 'what substance would you associate with causing homosexuality?', platinum wouldn't be top of the list I'd come up with. Probably not even top 5. So I had to wonder what the rationale behind 'Platinum àHomosexual' was. In daily life, you're probably most likely to come into contact with platinum in jewellery. Stereotypically, gay men wear more jewellery than their non-gay counterparts (let's avoid the matter of where on their bodies they wear it), so is that the logic behind it? I'd say this pattern was more an effect than a cause, but that's just me.

But then it occurred to me, if they do genuinely classify homosexuality as a mental disorder, then one cause of mental disorders is heavy metal poisoning. So there is a certain logic to treating what may be caused my metal toxicity with metal. Admittedly, it's usually mercury and other metals that are associated with neurological damage, and I've never seen any indication that one of the symptoms of metal toxicity is 'an irrational sexual appreciation for members of your own gender', but come on! Given the context we're talking about here, that's still an impressively rational approach.

Admittedly, it might just be due to a misprint, where someone sent an email to the homeopath lab stating that 'homosexuality is a mental disorder' but dropped that important 'n' in the process. A remedy that 'contains' platinum is probably one that they can charge more for.

So it's platinum. Other possible homeopathic remedies for homosexuality suggested via the social networks include Cherry Coke and Village People CDs. Obviously people joking around with stereotypes, but is this any less sensible than the reality presented to us in the article itself?

But this got me thinking, if homeopathic remedies can apparently treat mental conditions that aren't actually mental conditions, why stop at homosexuality? (My reluctance to Google whether or not they already do is the only reason I assume homeopaths don't already do this, and I'm aware that I might be very wrong in this assumption). So, in case this is the start of a new trend, here's my suggestions for other homeopathic treatments based on the same logic (or lack thereof) shown above. The supposed disorder is referenced, and the possible treatments (i.e. what causes it that can be diluted to treat it) are listed. Feel free to contribute suggestions of your own in the comments. Any homeopath offering them from this point on can be threatened with copyright infringement.


Possible Treatments:

  • Alcohol (a widely known reducer of intellectual prowess. Note: sometimes the original substance to be diluted is dissolved in alcohol, so this should prove a bit of a quandary in preparation)
  • Silicon of Jordan
    (directly extracted from the mammary region of one of the UK's most influential sufferers)
  • Cowell's False Tan
    (similar to above, highly diluted epidermal sample of the man largely responsible for the spread of stupidity in the UK)
  • Pentapeptides (you know why)
  • Homeopathic remedies
    (should cause amusing confusion during the preparation/pseudoscientific explanation process)


Possible treatments

  • Essence of Littlejohn
    (bodily fluid extracted from the country's biggest, most celebrated racist c**t. Remedy also treats homophobia, sexism, elitism, inability to grasp logic and massive unsubstantiated persecution complexes)
  • Marmite
    (seems to seriously increase sense of national pride and resentment of foreigners, for some reason)
  • Marmalade
    (a similar-named preserve to above, but for different reasons)
  • BNP Literature
    (shredded and mashed into a fine pulp and diluted into oblivion. Won't treat anything, but any method of destroying that stuff is worth encouraging)
  • Melanin
    (innocent molecule which, logically, on many levels, is the cause of racism)
  • Growth Hormone
    (people apparently become more right wing as they grow older, so accelerating the process would make them more right wing, and therefore racist?)
  • Blood
    ('rivers of blood' is/are strongly associated with racism, extreme homeopathic dilution of blood is logically comparable to a river of blood)


Possible treatments

  • Aura of Moyles
    (Sterile water is stimulated by radio waves carrying a full-length Chris Moyles show, then diluted and sold. Also available in Gaunt, Westwood and Limbaugh for overseas customers)
  • Clegg's Promise (Normal water that Nick Clegg has promised will cure your illness)
  • Banker's Bonus (Used cheques/notes that were paid to bankers during the credit crunch. Note: Even using homeopathic logic, this isn't as potent as the real thing, use with caution)
  • Malik's Malady (A pointless, ineffective treatment that is constantly administered to you despite it being unwanted and unhelpful)
  • Cameron's concoction (Dilution of a compound of fluids gathered from the British Prime Minister, largely saliva emitted as he laughs uproariously at the plight of the poor)
  • Pentapeptides (again, you know why)
  • Laughing Cow cheese (Probably just me on this one)


Possible treatments

  • Hint of choirboy
    (You really need this explained?)
  • Uncontracepted (Water, but filtered through a permeable condom of some sort)
  • Orphan Child's sweets (Confection taken from a poor child and diluted pointlessly, to enhance the all-important guilt
  • Transubstantiated Substance
    (diluted bread and/or wine taken from the communion ceremony. Unique amongst homeopathic remedies as it genuinely does contain as much of the active compound (Body of Christ) as the original sample)

I might add more if I can think of them. But again, feel free to play along.

Email: humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Friday, 3 June 2011

Chavism: The new prejudice

Every now and again, I contribute to the Pod Delusion. Recently, I volunteered/was asked to do a piece on why I think the term 'Chav' is a form of class prejudice. Martin Robbins, celebrated Blogger and science journo is the one arguing that 'chav' is not an offensive term. The other side of the argument was my incompetent self. Arguably, this could be seen as yet another form of 'Chav' prejudice.

Anyway, this is the relevant episode of the Pod Delusion.

POD Delusion: Pro-'Chav' Rant

I didn't go to a posh school. There were over a thousand students in my school, but if you added up the A-level Chemistry, Biology and Physics classes, you got 7 students. 3 of those students were me. It was a poorly funded, oversubscribed school. Studying was something you did if you couldn't get a girlfriend. And yes, a lot of my fellow pupils would fall into the social and behavioural groups that many would label 'chavs'. They were from poor backgrounds, they smoked under age, they had little discipline, they all dressed in ways that they considered cool but others would consider stupid. I didn't think of them as 'chavs', though. I thought of them as 'teenagers'.

I was born and raised working class. I might still be working class, I'm not sure what the class criterion are any more. I didn't grow up in a cultured or well-to-do place; when I grew up we lived in a pub in a former Welsh mining valley where unemployment and heavy drinking was the norm. I did go through the usual teenage phase of rebelling against my dad, but seeing as my dad was a hard-fighting hard drinking landlord, my rebellion took the form of staying in and reading books, hence I ended up becoming the sort of person who contributes to the POD delusion. But whenever I see or hear someone described as a 'chav', I do get existentially irked as, in a parallel universe very close to our own, they're talking about me. That's my version 'there but for the grace of God..', by the way. It's a useful quantum/atheist version.

I grew up among so-called 'chavs'. I went to school with them. I imagine a lot of my family could be described as such. Not by me, obviously, they're members of my family. The names I call them are not something you could repeat in polite company.

I want to make it clear that I don't think the sort of people labelled 'chavs' are necessarily good people. They often aren't. But saying that, I'm not that nice a person myself on occasion. And I'm not saying everyone should be nice. Check out the blog of my good friend Ted Shiress. A stand-up comic, Cerebral Palsy sufferer, and he sometimes comes across as a decent bloke. He's not though, he's the most evil person ever made (haphazardly) by nature, and I've said so to his face. In public. Which makes me look bad. So this isn't an issue of me arguing about who I like and don't like, it's as impersonal I can make it.

Nor do I think that everyone who uses the term is being deliberately classist or offensive. But saying that, when I was in infant school I used the word 'Paki' quite often. I had no idea what it actually meant. Growing up in a very small, isolated British community in the 80's, in the context I'd heard it used I thought it was another way of saying 'daft person'. But despite my lack of negative intent, it is still clearly an offensive term, given its origins. And I feel, to a lesser extent maybe, the same can be said of the term 'chav'.

I'm sure Martin Robbins has presented a far more well researched and reasoned argument about why the term 'chav' is not classist or offensive. More so than one I will present anyway. I personally find it difficult to argue about the intent behind the label 'chav' because it seems to mean many things to the many different people I've asked. Some think it means someone who breaks the law, some think it means someone from a council estate who hangs around in bus stops, some seem to think the term applies to anyone with a Burberry cap and false tan. It's very hard to argue about the intent of people using the term when it's not certain what they mean exactly.

But the Wikipedia article for ''chav'' summarises as 'chav' as "aggressive teenagers, of working class background, who repeatedly engage in anti-social behaviour such as street drinking, drug abuse and rowdiness, or other forms of juvenile delinquency". Given the way Wikipedia operates, I'm going to assume enough people agree with this definition for it to be considered accurate.

It suggests that 'chavs' are from working class backgrounds. But obviously, not all working class people are 'chavs'. Apparently, a 'chav' has to engage in illegal, antisocial behaviour to truly be worthy of the label. It seems a 'chav' also has to be a young person.

But however you define it, it seems undeniable to me that the term 'chav' has given many people something they really like having; a convenient form of acceptable prejudice.

Prejudice is, unfortunately, something that is very easy to instill in humans. Check out the famous robbers cave experiment by Muzafer Sherif et al (1954), which took place at an American summer camp, where two groups of young boys, of the same ethnic and social backgrounds, met for the first time, became friends, and were then turned into bitter rivals to the point vicious accusations and attacks after just imposition of a few experimental variables. This wasn't the work of months or weeks, but a couple of days. People form prejudices quickly. It's likely to be an evolutionary consequence of humans living in tight-knit social groups, where other groups turning up were usually potential rivals for resources and living space. Whatever the reason, it happens a lot.

It even happened to me. I'm not afraid of 'chavs' or feral teens or whatever they're called. I went to school with them, I'm habituated to them. I've been unsuccessfully mugged by examples of such people on two separate occasions. Their strategy seemed to rely on me being automatically scared and deferential based on how they came across. I wasn't though, and they had no backup plan, and we just went our separate ways.

But when I went home recently, I was in a cafe and saw a bunch of Burberry clad teens in a bus stop nearby. One left the group and approached the cafe. My first instinct was to move toward the currently unguarded till, thinking I could hold him back from it long enough for someone to call the police (It was a small business). Said teen came into the cafe, went tot he counter, and asked for some more milk to the takeaway coffee under his hoodie, which he had legitimately paid for minutes before I turned up.

I'm the last person who should behave in this manner, but the social stereotyping had got to me in the end, and I didn't even realise it. Ergo, I think the term 'chav' is another form of prejudice. It's a term used to separate and denigrate others who are less fortunate than ones self. When someone calls someone a 'chav', they're not being complimentary. However you define it, the term 'chav' is never a compliment. But saying that, I've heard many arguments about why using the term 'chav' is acceptable.

It has been argued that 'chavs' are self identifying, and as such it's ok to call them that. I admit, I knew many kids who would fit the description of 'chav' in my school. Thing is, I didn't hear the term 'chav' until I got to University. In Cardiff, capital city. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but 'chav' was very much a label imposed on that particular social group, not one they sought out for themselves, and even if they have become accustomed to it and now use it willingly, that doesn't automatically make it OK. Other countries became accustomed to the British Empire, but that doesn't mean they'd prefer not to have been brutally conquered in the first place.

By using the 'self-identifying' argument, it suggests that being a 'chav' is a conscious and thought out choice on behalf of the individual. But 'chavs' are, apparently, young people from deprived backgrounds who are poorly educated and shunned by wider society. In such circumstances, peer pressure and your immediate social groups are all you can rely on, so it's hardly any wonder that they conform. Saying it's a conscious decision suggests that there is an element of choice, but choice requires options, and in certain deprived backgrounds this isn't necessarily the case.

It has been argued that 'chavs' and similar people are just as insulting towards the upper classes when they use terms like Toff, hooray Henry, snob and so on. And that may well be the case, but I don't see how this justifies anything. I've encountered many men who say that feminism means women are just as sexist as men these days, so that effectively cancels their own misogyny out. But I believe that logic is exactly what it seems to be; a flimsy rationalisation for bad behaviour.

Similarly, a class prejudice is not an equivalent two way thing. A working class prejudice to posh people means the latter might think twice before parking their expensive cars in areas they'd never go to anyway. An upper class prejudice to working class people can lead to massive cuts in the public sector

Perhaps that is rather melodramatic, but the underlying reality is that, when one form of prejudice has genuine consequences for the victims and the other does not, they can't be said to be equal at all.

The strongest argument is that 'chavs' are usually criminals, and criminals don't deserve respect. A slightly right-wing argument, but one that rings true for many people. It's a valid point, but not one limited to working class people. The term 'chav' has seemingly moved beyond the criminal arena and moved on to any working class group of youths who like that. Hanging around in a bus stop, wearing too much foundation and drinking white cider, these aren't crimes, but enough to get you labelled a 'chav'. Using other people's money in vast sums in risky, self-gratifying ventures that eventually will threaten the foundations of the world's economy, this is a morally reprehensible action far beyond vandalising a phone box, but it doesn't get you labelled a 'chav'. So being a 'chav' is not necessarily a criminal act.

To summarise, you and your friends can smash up a public establishment. If you're thought of as 'chavs', you'll probably end up with a criminal record or ASBO. If you're in the Bullingdon club, you'll probably end up running the country. You might think the latter accusation is just based on anecdotal evidence. I would argue that the same is true for the former.

All things being equal, there are many things that get someone labelled a 'chav'. Being disrespectful of authority, publicly disruptive, expecting others to provide for them, damaging property of others, antagonising others in large groups, yes these are all the hallmarks of 'chavs'. Thing is, I've heard people refer to the noble UK Uncut movement in exactly the same terms. And the student protests. And many others. None of these are 'chavs', as they have a decent education and political awareness.

I'm not saying the people referred to as 'chavs' are pleasant people. They're generally not, the clichés around them are there for a reason, and it's arguably true that they have no respect for civilised society. But society has never shown any respect for them, and rather than do something to change the situation, society has decided to ridicule and condemn them. I would rather they didn't behave in the way they did, but that goes for people of all classes. But only those of a working class background warrant their own disparaging term, 'chav'. The ones who are least able to alter their situations and behaviour are the ones most condemned for refusing to do so. These people are also the ones least able to retaliate in any appreciable way. The propagation of the word 'chav' is, to me, an example of 'blame the victim' culture writ large.

You may disagree with this entire analysis, and it's your right to do so. After all, 'chavs' are acceptable targets, and nobody wants to lose a useful whipping boy if they can avoid it.

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

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