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Culture now more important than class?

“We have become keener on being individuals, or at most small tribes in our communities. When we are asked directly about which class we belong to, we reply politely, but wearily, and play the game for old times’ sake. The whole thing is now a bit of a charade. Snobbery still exists, but it is comical or pathetic and no longer has a cutting edge. I would argue that we are now a nation of cultures rather than a nation of classes. If we look at the passion with which people describe what they do in their leisure time, you have a truer picture of our society today. That’s where the energy is; that’s who we are now.”

Melvyn Bragg.

For the benefit of non-Brits, I should point out that Bragg is one of those fixtures of the UK media/culture scene who has been around since forever on TV programmes such as the South Bank Show; he was a pal of some of the New Labour types in the 90s and Noughties; he has been a novelist, TV personality and part of the “Great and Good” who play a role in the state-backed arts world. Definitely not a Samizdata sort of guy, although he does say some perceptive things in the article I link to here.

15 comments to Culture now more important than class?

  • RAB

    I think Bragg is talking rose tinted twaddle myself, Johnathan.

  • RRS

    Britain is sooo fortunate to have such insightful presentations which revive Mathew Arnold (see, Culture and Anarchy– 1869).

    However, it does appear that this presentation will acknowledge (as reconfirmed by the work of Douglas North, et al.) that societies generate “class” structures (with varying degrees of access) as their organizations evolve.

    Perhaps the presentation will associate becoming

    “keener on being individuals”

    with what Jacques Barzun identified as self-consciousness (The Culture We Deserve, 1989).

  • This is just a sales presentation for his television program.

  • Adrian

    The man does ‘insufferably pompous’ to the point of an art form.

    My favourite Melvyn Bragg moment was when he was on Dame Edna.

    She asked him how many books he had written. ‘Twelve’ he answered sniffily.

    Dame E then turned to the audience and asked them if any of them had ever read one.

    Not a single hand went up.

    To which Dame E said ‘slow down Mel, we can’t keep up…’

  • RAB

    Poor old Melvyn has spent his life aspiring, and now wishes to affirm that his life in the “Arts” has had some meaning. That he has made a difference to British life and culture if you like.

    He has not. He believes he has spread Culture more widely, when he has perhaps, at best, dumbed it down.

    Class still exists irrespective of education and tastes. Indeed we have imported an invisible new version of it. How do immigrant Indians of different Castes relate to each other when on our soil? Has anyone done a study? Not to my knowledge. Or indeed different immigrant groups to each other as to worth and status between themselves, let alone to the indiginous population,

    He is a Grammar School kiddie (like me) who seems to hate the Public Schools (though I don’t), which Grammar Schools are/were, a mirror image, minus the Tuck shop, midnight feasts and pillow fights in the Dorm.

    He seems in short to be utterly fuckin confused about who he is, what he is and why he is, as this article conveys only too well.


  • Hmm

    I agree wholeheartedly with RAB; Melvyn Bragg always struck me as someone desperate to be be seen as “one of the great and good”. The poor guy always comes across as someone who has mistaken intellectualism for intelligence while at school, and knows he has made a mistake, but can never quite figure out where he is wrong.

    If I was a teacher I’d fail him, but at the same time I’d give him 2 bonus points for trying.

    PS. Adrian, Good one! – dear ol’ Dame Edna! “She” can be such a b*tch. 🙂

  • Samsung

    Anyone who tells you there isn’t a class system any more in Britain is full of shit.

    The class system in Britain isn’t diminishing, on the contrary, it’s expanding. Now we have a new addition to the social strata of our society, it’s called the Underclass.

    And to top it off, social mobility in Britain is in decline. Now-a-days, if you are born wealthy the chances are you will die wealthy. And again if you are born poor, you will probably die poor. No class system in Britain my arse. Melvyn Bragg is a limousine liberal living in the Westminster bubble.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Melvyn sounds like he is in a class of his own.
    As for culture, Australia has more culture than a vial of penecillin! So says Les Patterson, a ‘friend’ of the ‘Dame’.

  • Stephen Willmer

    There was a tuck shop at my grammar, RAB, but that was in the beautiful south.

    As to class, it’s still a nation of the upper ten thousand. Beneath them are the leisured rentiers of the welfare class and beneath them are the working class, people like me who, er, work. And that’s even before we consider the unconfined joy that are the classes and snobberies are recent immigrants.

  • PaulM

    I always thought he had an apt surname.

  • Kevin B

    There was no tuck shop in my southern grammar school, but there was a nearby little shop that catered to schoolboy needs. Including selling individual Player’s Weights*. I seem to recall they were about tuppence each.

    Imagine the uproar if such a thing were to happen today.

    *Player’s Weights, for those who are too old or foreign to know, were a small type of cigarette, rather than an exotic piece of sporting kit.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “more than half the land is still in the hands of the ancient looters…”

    Whereas Bragg, of course, would prefer it to be in the hands of the modern looters, the State, of which he is such a prominent ornament.

    Same old same old.

    It is, as someone says above, just a puff piece for his TV show.

  • Dave Walker

    I’m surprised that nobody has yet mentioned that Bragg is, as of a few years ago, Baron Bragg of Wigton. As a former Grammar School boy, has he changed class by being ennobled?

    I’d like to think Bragg has either hit the nail on the head with this statement, or it is at worst a few years ahead of its time in terms of general applicability. I can comfortably confirm and deny various “tribal affiliations” as described, but in terms of class, I can only say that my circumstances are such that I’m not Upper Class as I have no hereditary title, but “everything else is open to interpretation”.

    Looking at a few of the articles which have been published over the years regarding “how to determine one’s class”, many of the questions don’t even apply to me.

    Cue the Frost Report “Class Sketch” :-).

  • The bouffant one is an arsehole. I first realized this when I saw a bit of a TV adaption of “A Time to Dance” which is almost impossible to see other than in terms of it’s author’s own masturbatory journal. Bored middle-aged bloke shags a young Dervla Kirwan up a hill in the Lake District…

    Pathetic as is the (is it defunct?) South Bank Show upon which Bragg pontificated tiresomely we all knew ITV only showed it as it’s token pretence to the arts and kept the wanker in Brylcreme. Oddly enough in the UK today you want arts stuff on TV Sky Arts 1 & 2 knock the pompous self-frigger into a cocked hat showing things like proper opera and stuff and not the Adventures of Baron Wankenstein. God knows what they enobled him for – services to Mandelson’s cock most likely. ITV has for many years now given-up it is anything but prole-feed. It’s fucking chronic. And don’t get me started on the BBC… Some OK stuff on BBC4. But Jebus the science stuff on 1 or 2 is cock or rather Cox. Brian-fucking-Cox staring wistfully into the middle-distance – “In’t the Universe fuckin’ brilliant our kid.” Mop-topped Manc cunt.

    Things can only get better though.

    ITV1 are interested in my format, “Celebrity Donkey Punch Bingo – on Ice!!!” with Ant & Dec. I’ll be able to get to meet Louis Walsh and drown the deranged fucker in a toilet.

  • Alisa

    Nick, I’m seriously considering forgiving the BBC everything because of “Sherlock”. Well, not really seriously, but it did cross my mind…Then, I found out that I can’t buy it here. WTF?