Will everyone with Class please stand up?

Class. Pretty much every culture in history has had a notion of class; the standing of people in society in relation to others. Britain historically has (had?) three classes; working (or lower), middle and upper. These days, the lines, in socio-political1 terms, are not so well defined.

So, what makes you upper class, middle class or working class? Is it your job, where you live, who you associate with, all of the above? Or, like “cool”, is it a quality that anyone can have? To my mind, cool and class are merely two public faces of the same inner quality. But, where cool can have many interpretations, class is defined more clearly2.

We all know class when we see it. Someone with class stands out in the crowd, head and shoulders above everyone else; their inestimable quality written in every gesture, every word.
I just watched the final of Celebrity Big Brother 4, which was won by Shilpa Shetty, who was the subject of some pretty nasty treatment during her stay in the house.

She and Germain Jackson were not the last two people in the house by accident. Out of the whole cadre, those two had more class than the rest of them put together. Indeed, it was for this reason that the rift between the – OK, I’ll say it – lower class elements (reality TV mutant creation Jade Goody, ex-pop star Jo O’Meara and disgraced ex-Miss UK Danielle Lloyd) and Shilpa existed. The knew class when they saw it and they realised they had none. Germaine, legend and sage, summed it up thus; “You can’t mix class and no class”.

Now, Shilpa and Germaine are legends in their respective countries; Shilpa as a Bollywood superstar and Germaine as part of the Jackson Five. They are used to the finer things in life; they are therefore classifiable as upper class. Is it by accident that these two were the two classiest people in the house?

Not to boil it down to a word; well, precisely to boil it down to a word, its about filters. It’s the difference between what you could do or say, and what you do do or say. From the debatable “wealth” of reality TV to which we have been subjected over the years, those of higher class have more filters in place than those of lower classes.

This is precisely why, when classes collide (as they did in Big Brother), those higher class individuals are charged with being “fake”, for not saying what they think. But, where lower class people see this as a fault, a betrayal of their own values, higher class people do not understand, as it is this reserve, this non-verbalisation that makes them higher class.

The arguments that occur between people from different classes always center about the different sets of filters each employ. Lower class people will say what is on their mind, despite the net effect of the words, whereas higher class people are more mindful of the impact their words could have. The actions of lower class people tend to the unstable, the disruptive (public affray and drunkenness), where higher class people seek to stabilise, to soothe, to return to a state of order3.

I would call myself middle class and, as such, I know most about middle class. Also, I have had occasion to spend time with working class guys on a building site and I have spent time with Lords and Earls in castles. As with any demographics, within their boundaries, in their comfort zones, any human being, regardless of class, is a pleasant and reasonable thing.

When the two extremes are forced to mix, that’s when it gets messy. And that is when class shows itself. People with class don’t have to respond. Class says it all for them.

1 Like I have the first clue about what that means…
2 I am in no way equating Upper class with having class. Some working class people have class in the same way that some upper class people have no class. Look at Paris Hilton, for goodness sake…
3 There’s something deeper here, but I haven’t got time or space at this point.

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