Symbol & Subtext



Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

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49 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This post is much better than mine.

    I am in the same boat and I suspect that it is because I am American. I get it but the emotional heat is still going way over my head and I need to replace the images with stuff that is more provocative to get close to the emotions.

    Though I did read that Emily Thornberry did grow up in a council-flat/working-class household and is not from the Middle Class originally.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The council-flat thing was part of her response: “I’d never seen flags covering a whole house. I grew up in a council-flat, and I never saw that,” or something to that effect (I forget which of the many articles I read that in, as I tried to figure out what the hell this was about). I think people took that sort of like the Hillary “We were poor” comment.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Ah, here it is:

        ‘It had three huge flags covering the whole house. I thought it was remarkable. I’ve never seen a house completely covered in flags.’

        When pressed that flying flags was commons, she said: ‘I was brought up in a council house and I’ve never seen anything like it.’


  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I should add this: I may have been somewhat dishonest in the post. I knew, from discussion of the St. George Flag during the World Cup, that the national flag of England was seen as racist by many, and had become a symbol of the growing nationalist movement in England. Even with that, I still looked at that photo and thought, “Soccer fans who live in an apartment and drive a van. Why is that so bad?”Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      So, I found some surveys that suggest that:

      28% of Americans think the Confederate flag is racist

      25% of English think the St. George’s flag is racistReport

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Wow, that is… I would not have expected that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I think it was Glyph who originally told me about this:!

        At the Saturday show, Morrissey wrapped himself in a Union Jack flag, attracting a group of right-wing types to gather close to the stage. This controversy ended up garnering more attention than the re-union of Madness.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Yeah, I thought about bringing that up, but thought it might muddle things more than needed, since that was A.) the Union Jack, not St. George’s Cross, and B.) at that time Morrissey had already come under fire for other questionable things (the songs “Bengali in Platforms” and “National Front Disco”; as well as using photos of skinheads as his stage backdrop, all of which were taken together with the UJ imagery as problematic).

        Obviously the Who and the Jam had previously used the UJ flag prominently, but they weren’t seen to be flirting with racism/xenophobia the way Morrissey was seen to be (going all the way back to his “burn down the disco/hang the DJ” lines in Smiths, or his interview statement that “all reggae is vile”, which some interpreted as racist).Report

  3. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I know it’s lazy of me but I wish someone could come up with an analogous image that would have been controversial in America. Part of the problem is that I don’t have a sense for how specific each of these images are; is the image of a white van intrinsically linked with classism? Are flags?

    The closest I could come up with is someone like DeBlasio tweeting this photo with the caption “Visiting #Tennessee”. But I still can’t imagine him resigning over it. Though based on what I’ve seen from The Thick of It, British MPs seem to resign all the time.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      is the image of a white van intrinsically linked with classism?

      From the OP (with a handy link too):

      “In the UK there’s a well-known “White Van Man” stereotype that has come to represent negative attitudes toward the working class in general.”

      I don’t know if we have a flag here that would quite get at it, but if Hillary tweeted a photo of a big pickup truck parked in front of a trailer home that had a Gadsden hanging on it (“#Alabama”), I could see the same sort of kerfuffle.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        Yeah, I saw the link but I was wondering more about how likely the average person is to make such a connection. I saw in the other thread you posted the statistics around 25%, so it’s clearly a much more common symbol than I thought.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Well, there was good ol’ Harold Ford, saying how much he didn’t mind folks flying the Confederate Flag…Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        It really is, from what I can tell, all three pieces tied together: Labour’s less than stellar reputation among the working class, combined with the use of the flag by the working class as a symbol of specifically working class nationalism, and on top of that, the van. Repeatedly on Twitter I saw, “It’s the van. It’s about the van.”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Put it in front of a single wide mobile home and I think you’re close to there.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, I was trying to think of something that, in combination with a mobile home, would by itself symbolize snobbery.

        I can imagine that a Louisville or Lexington politician, especially a Democrat, tweeting a picture of a run-down Appalachian single or double-wide with a car on the lawn on blocks with the words, “Image from #Pikeville,” might get some heat.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:


        It’s worth noting that she didn’t resign her post as MP. She just left the shadow cabinet–and the shadow cabinet doesn’t really have a US equivalent. The closest thing to a US equivalent I can think of is that of a politician who’d been nominated to a post but not confirmed withdrawing their name–and that’s certainly something I can see happening after an equivalent gaffe in the US.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Or just any leadership position in either government or the party (e.g. minority whip, congressional campaign committee chair)Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I’m not sure I can come up with a simple analogous situation in the U.S. Liberal snobbery is directed at the working class is an issue in this country, certainly, and I’m sure there are some conservatives here who can think of some examples of liberal politicians or pundits saying extremely snobbish stuff about the working class, but I’m not sure it’s easy to find examples of bare subtext when you’re so embedded in it.Report

  4. Avatar Michael M. says:

    My obviously outdated impression of Islington is so different. Back when I lived in London in the mid-80s, Islington was generally regarded among my friends as working-class, rough-around-the-edges and quasi-affordable. Of the areas that weren’t out of everyone’s price range, it was considered more-or-less desirable because, while not necessarily an exciting or interesting place to be, it was fairly central (i.e., not too far from places that were exciting or interesting). It was perceived as being a lot safer than areas like Brixton, and it was a lot closer to central London. I had a friend who lived there, but I only went to his place once and never spent much time in Islington. (I lived in Earl’s Court — he and I worked together at Selfridges.) I guess Islington had all the ingredients for gentrification and I guess it has gentrified.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      It could only be part (the southern part?) that’s thoroughly gentrified. My knowledge of London neighborhoods is based entirely on their football teams and a little reading I did this morning.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      I would liken it to how Hells Kitchen in NYC became Chelsea.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea are nowhere near each other. Chelsea is in the West 20s and ends well before Penn Station. Hell’s Kitchen is in the West 40s and 50s. Last I checked, this was true and I was in New York in January 2013 last.

        A better example might be how Bushwick became East Williamsburg or how people move to South Slope to be near Park Slope but have a more affordable apartment. Or they used to be able to do this.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Well, I was under that impression, so thank you for righting my thoughts!Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it, I can’t say.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Have you heard the Bing and Ella version of that? I love Ms. Fitzgerald, but talk a about taking the air out of a tune.Report

      • Avatar Michael M. says:

        @aaron-david and @saul-degraw

        I think what Aaron is reaching for is “Clinton,” not Chelsea. Sometime in the 1990s or thereabouts there was an effort to rebrand Hell’s Kitchen as Clinton. IIRC, the name Clinton wasn’t just pulled out of thin air — I think it was some kind of official designation for the neighborhood, albeit one no one used. I lived in Chelsea from about 1987 through 2005 and for many of those years I subscribed to the neighborhood paper, The Chelsea-Clinton News (which became an amusing name during the Clinton Administration). The paper covered both hoods and was the product of a merger between two separate papers. I don’t think the Clinton paper was ever called the Hell’s Kitchen Gazette or similar, it was always “Clinton” something.

        I don’t know too much about the development of Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton, except that it was always working class or poor, which is pretty obvious from the abundance of tenement-style buildings. It’s most notorious for being crime-ridden, a hot-bed of organized crime, and an immigrant melting pot. It was heavily Irish and heavily Italian at different times. I believe it was heavily Latino in the 1980s, but I couldn’t tell you if it was more Dominican or Puerto Rican. It began gentrifying in earnest in the mid-1990s, as a lot of mostly white gay men got priced out of Chelsea. (Just as Chelsea began gentrifying in earnest in the mid-1980s as a lot of mostly white gay men got priced out of the West Village.)

        The name Chelsea comes from Chelsea Farm, the sale of which paved the way for the hood’s development. Chelsea Farm was, in turn, name after the Moore (no relation, alas) family farm in England. Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote ’Twas the Night Before Christmas inherited the farm and decided to sell, I think in the 1870s or 1880s or thereabouts. He partnered with developer John Gay and the two set out to build a respectable family neighborhood the middle-class could afford — hence, the abundance of charming but relatively modest brick townhouses. The one exception was along both sides of West 23rd between 9th & 10th Avenues. They built grander stone townhouses with more ornate finishings for wealthier people. The buildings were painted white because the block was supposed to recall Belgravia in London, and it was named London Terrace, but informally it was known as “Millionaire’s Row.” During the Depression, the buildings on the north side were torn down and the WPA funded the construction of a large apartment complex that covers the entire block between W23rd & W24th Streets & 9th & 10th Avenues. Because this building was designed to look like it would fit right in in London’s Knightsbridge neighborhood, it simply kept the name London Terrace. It has been a very desirable property for decades.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        That makes sense. There was an early governor of New York named DeWitt Clinton. His ancestral home could have been in that area. The Clintons were an old New York family.

        Hell’s Kitchen is where the Irish poor lived for many generations and then it went through becoming a neighborhood for other poor communities.

        Realtors always try and rebrand a neighborhood that butts up against an expensive one. Bushwick was bombed out place of real poverty for most of my life but around 2005-2006, realtors began to call it “East Williamsburg” to attract people who wanted to live in Williamsburg but could not afford it. It takes being a native to realize that East Williamsburg is not a real neighborhood name.

        My current SF neighborhood is safe but for most of the post-War era, it was one of the most violent neighborhoods in San Francisco. A place where you were not supposed to tread. The realtors gave it the moniker NOPA to make it more attractive to yuppie types who might know about the old history.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        His uncle George Clinton was also governor of New York and served as VP under both Jefferson and Madison, as well as being a member of Parliament.Report

      • Avatar Michael M. says:


        An acquaintance of mine worked in historic preservation in Detroit (of all places!) in the 1990s. He was working on a presentation for some conference about the urban dynamics that frequently result in a neighborhood influx of lesbians and gay men leading to broader gentrification. It’s a pattern that repeated itself in various neighborhoods in various cities from the 1970s – 2000s, including Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Park Slope in New York, Back Bay in Boston, Boystown in Chicago, the Castro and the Mission in San Francisco, Capitol Hill in Seattle and (to a little lesser extent) the Hawthorne District here in Portland.

        For quite a while, this pattern wasn’t much noticed by heterosexuals who weren’t directly impacted by the influx, but he told me a story about two friends of his who went to look at an apartment in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, which was already becoming known as an area popular with lesbians and gay men. They said that realtors were advertising available units heavily in the gay press and the realtor showing the apartment had every k.d. lang album on shuffle. So sometimes the effort to rebrand a neighborhood starts not with a new name, but with appeals to particular sub-culture and a lot of “Constant Craving.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Your phrasing of that is impeccable.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I understand the gentrification of Park Slope as not being part of an LGBT crowd moving in. Park Slope, Boreum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carrol Gardens were the parts of Brownstone Brooklyn that got broken up into working class apartments during the 1920s-1960s and were largely inhabited by Italian and Irish working class families that fled during the 50s and 60s. A lot of Jane Jacobs fans started buying houses in the late 60s and early 70s because you could get an entire brownstone (that needed significant work) for 20,000 dollars. Now they go for several million. Park Slope was really early gentrification but it did not really take off until the 80s and 90s.Report

      • Avatar Michael M. says:

        @saul-degraw , Park Slope became very popular with lesbians in the early-1980s, though as I understood it most were buying or renting apartments rather than whole townhouses. When I moved back to New York in 1986, many of my peers (college grads from the early-to-mid ’80s were) actively looking in and/or moving to Park Slope — women especially, whether gay or not, because it generally felt safer than the East Village, where other more intrepid peers were flocking. But you’re right that over time the biggest trend across various Brooklyn neighborhoods were people buying townhouses, fixing them up and selling them for a hefty profit.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I don’t get the Rochester part. Is the van a Maxwell?Report

  6. Avatar Notme says:

    It nice to see that liberal condescension transcends national boundaries.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      Its not condescension. We simply rare having an honest discussion about the pathology in working class white culture that keeps them on the Republic Party plantation.

      Instead of blaming all their dysfunction on liberal elites and urban people, maybe they would be able to rise above their situation by wearing shirts with sleeves, stop smoking meth and molesting their sisters, eating dirt, and spending all their money on pickup trucks and guns.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        How come they can call each other rednecks and it’s funny, but when I call them a redneck I’m a jerk?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        If that’s sarcasm, A+.

        If not, I’m with Chris.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m relatively certain that was tongue-in-cheek.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        Yeah, Jaybird got the spirit.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I got it as well, but what’s interesting is that he has to go far enough over the top for it to be obvious and work.

        I’d like to say that by the time he got to the sister-molesting, the point had been clearly reached, but frankly I hear that kind of stuff all the time from people who are dead ‘serious’. I mean they may act like they aren’t, but they kind of are. It wasn’t until we got to dirt-eating that I could be sure.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        That’s because LWA is a traitor who’s bent on the destruction of our way of life.

        You know that was sarcasm because it’s me, but at Fox or WND, or from the mouth of Ted Cruz. that would entirely sincere and even relatively mild.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I figured, but given that I actually hear stuff like that regularly enough (renecks, hillbillies, and “white trash, along with the French, are some of the few remaining groups it is socially acceptable to insult), though perhaps not in such concentrated form, I wasn’t sure. I got the point (if we talk about this group the way people talk about this other group), just wasn’t sure the content wasn’t believed. The meth and the inbreeding I hear pretty much anytime I talk about the mountains back home. Pretty sure that’s all some people “know”of Appalachia.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        This is why I just keep it to mocking the Irish. Irish people are drunk, Irish people are lazy, Irish people love money… it’s all good.

        The only thing you have to worry about is the fact that Irish people have a mean temper.Report

  7. Avatar James Hanley says:

    That the wine-and-cheese set come to define the “Labour” Party is an amusing commentary on labels.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan are probably rolling in their graves! Or it shoes how successful the New Labor push was by Blair.

      My guess though is that your average Labor backbencher is still further to the Left than your average Democratic Congressperson.

      Why can’t we have cool terms like backbencher?Report