As I Like It.
A Clockwork Orange is a strange book. Imagine gangs of fifteen-year-olds dressed in strange fashions, roaming the badly-maintained streets and occasionally delighting in acts of impulsive violence, or spur-of-the-moment vandalism. Once in a while, they will cruise into another strangely-titled gang, and somebody gets their feathers ruffled. As the ambulance arrives, the melee will disperse, and they will retire to some safe drinking-hole before the merriment can begin anew. The elderly fear them. Business-owners loathe them. Rival gangs abhor them. To put it mildly, nobody likes them.
Consider the case of the chav. For those of you not acquainted with this term, you may be familiar with such diverse and complimentary titles as pikey, ned, wigger, ah beng, bogan, spide, ars, greasers or naco. For those of you still puzzled by as to just who I am naming, I'll give you a rundown of their common traits and specialities, and no doubt if you are a human being who has lived on planet earth during the last twenty years or so, you'll know who I mean.
These kids are the ones who generate fear. They have a certain tendency to mass in large groups; usually largely comprised of males, but don't be surprised to see the fairer sex amidst their number. No doubt your eyes will be immediately drawn to their clothing; fake designer brands, gaudy jewellery and Blackshirt-like regimentation in their uniform. You probably know them as the kids who hang around anywhere nobody else tends to go; the council estate, the back-alleys, the slums and the run-down drinking holes. And by the consensus of whatever society you may live in, these people are beyond redemption. They do no work, drain money off the state and do nothing save cause grief to decent people like yourselves.
Nor is their pre-despondency towards crime and anti-social behaviour evidence of a greater goal or more discerning criminal mind; no, there are no Moriarties-in-miniature hiding here. Any wit or wordplay they might make has already been tried and tested by a number of their peers, no doubt involving some poor sod's dear old mother. Their taunting is usually restricted to one word, and they seemingly have no capacity for argument or discourse. Should anyone reply in a manner indecipherable by their intellectual standards, then that is christened as "trying to be clever", and worthy of an elbow to the face. And it within this field that they are seemingly all-powerful; say what you will about these kids, but they can pack a good right hook.
If one were to compare this mode of gang-life to any political or ideological system which has been viewed in action over the past century, then they might quickly make comparisons with fascism. The same regimentation is there; the same eager desire to find a place within a hierarchy; the same mistrust of outsiders; the same fear of the threat of intelligent discussion; the same dull similarity in cultural tastes; the same inflated self-importance. And yet, when viewed through a different glass, they may very well display shades of socialism; both are formed on a desire for equality within class; both laud heroes of the working classes; both are born from camaraderie and a hatred of the diverse injustices of capitalism. But again, the kaleidoscope turns, and we see that they are anarchists, born to follow a code of misrule and to denounce the egotistical sadism of authority; to ridicule those who would seek to govern them and live their lives just as they see fit. Attempts to find a political label for this diverse and easily-demonised group are next to impossible.
It would also be futile to try and find an origin for the culture of the chavs, as if they were an unknown and non-existent entity until some point in our recent history, at which point they sprouted entirely independently from everyone else. It would be wiser to think of them as not a new-born social minority, but rather a new mutation in the long and revered chain which has run throughout society for god-knows how many years.
It wouldn't be entirely wrong to link the birth of the chav phenomenon with the Teddy Boys; the post-war youth gangs of trussed-up young men, bedecked in drape jackets and drainpipe trousers. Often regarded as the first significant youth culture, the Teddy Boys were also associated with gang violence and anti-social behaviour. They are also credited with being one of the first groups to demonstrate the rising financial clout held by young people after the Second World War; they were the first generation of kids who didn't have to dress up like their parents, or only get smartened up on Sundays. The post-Teddy ballooning and fractalisation of youth groups is pretty much well-known, with imports eagerly heading in from across the Atlantic; the Mods; the Rockers; the Greasers; the Beatniks; the Hippies; the Skinheads; the Punks; the New Romantics etc. As a social devil and moral panic, the chavs are, at least within certain boundaries, nothing new. Every generation for the past sixty years has had someone they can sneer at, be they hirsute substance-abusers, leather-clad motorcyclists or eyeshadow-painted angst-onauts. Regardless of where you played, there were always people your mother pointed out and ordered you not to end up like.
Therefore, chav-ism (if there is such a term; and if there isn't, I just invented it) cannot be held up as an example of some sort of moral decay in our modern society, through which self-appointed guardians - usually readers of the estimable Daily Mail - can poke the finger at all sort of social ills. Chav culture and chav lifestyle cannot be utilised as the chain through which the causes of missing fathers, young mothers and reliance on social welfare etc. can be immediately and directly linked to the effects of teenage pregnancy, under-aged alcoholism and drug abuse. Irresponsible parents and economic "scrounging" have always been around; it would be unfair to judge any particular class or society responsible for such problems.
But the sneering is nevertheless rife and abundant. Chavs have had every single aspect of their group lifestyle prodded, satirised, derided, insulted, torn apart, anthropologically examined and generally crucified over the past few years. Frequent-referenced websites like are a perfect example of chavaphobia (yet another term which I'm not sure exists), and are often derided in turn by social commentators as being somehow classist or an example of snobbishness. However, as the makers of the site are usually keen to point out, the phenomenon of the chav is not strictly linked to class; mega-celebrities such as David Beckham, Jade Goody and Jordan (yes, I'm aware I'm extending the term "celebrity" a bit here)have all been accused of chavish tendencies. Even members of the Royal Family have faced the over-hanging rubber-stamp of chavishness; a categorisation barely avoided as they run about in gold-edged carriages and endless amounts of bling, living entirely off the state and doing nothing for it. Hatred towards chavs is not, therefore, based on their coming from a lower class - even though the vast majority of chavs are born to the working classes, or Britain's feared and reviled underclass. This in turn then beggars the question - why? What is it that makes chavs such a target of bile and reprehension?
One of the main things we need to keep in mind about counter-chav activities is their largely anonymous and sealed-off nature, usually performed from a vantage point of relative safety. It will usually take the form of websites, t-shirts, badges, stickers, posters, self-made films, handwritten songs/poems or even everyday conversation. But one thing I can almost guarantee is that none of these things will ever put the webmaster, wearer, film-maker or song-writer in any real danger; the nearest chav will either be several hundreds of yards away, behind a nice safe brick wall or in too precarious a situation to do anything about it. For as I mentioned earlier on; those chavs have a mean right hook.
Consider it thus; any t-shirts, badges or stickers worn will be displayed on the high street, where anti-chavs will be among friends and large masses of people - not to mention policemen. Otherwise, the badges and stickers will be on schoolbags, in an atmosphere where the headmaster is ready to expel anyone who so much as raises a fist. Songs, poems and videos (as well as the obvious option of websites) will be placed on the internet and distributed among friends - a handy safety blanket for all those who wish to ridicule chavs without fear of violent reprisal. And any conversational statements one may make concerning chavs and how they should all be shot, stabbed, drowned in acid or any other form of mass extermination; let's just say no Reebok-flanked gangsta-boi will be privy to it. The fifteen-year old who wears the "Keep Britain Tidy - Kill a Chav" t-shirt will not be wearing it through the local council estate, or past the dingy, concrete-block pub. This method of attack has seen criticism from both chav and non-chav alike on grounds of sneakiness, and general lack of good sport.
However, can we really blame these kids for opting to counter chavs in the way they do? I myself, throughout my adolescent years, heard numerous horror-stories of poor individuals walking in the wrong neighbourhood at the wrong time while wearing the wrong item of clothing. Big coat? In chav ideology, that deserves a kick to the face, preferably while grounded. Make-up? Worthy of being beaten unconscious. Whether or not you see any aesthetic pleasure in such things is irrelevant; the fact remains you're not immediately granted the power to do someone some serious damage. Dislike and disagreement is all well and good, but violence is completely unpardonable.
This then brings me to the second reason (or reasons) why chavs are lampooned; herd- mindedness and ignorance. However, before I address this particular issue, I would like to draw the reader's attention to that intriguing few, who - at least during my adolescent years - were the nemeses of chavs nationwide: those lovely people known as goths.
For many people nowadays, the word "goth" conjures an instant link to the musical assortments of Marilyn Manson, Cradle of Filth, Children of Bodom et al. However, the origins of the goth subculture have surprisingly little to do with modern heavy metal, instead branching off from the post-punk scene, and collecting influences from the nu-romantics on the way. Original goth-music came from a decidedly more sombre and slow-paced area; bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, The Damned etc. However, as a subculture the goth scene is now hugely varied, incorporating industrial metal, rave, punk, indie and glam rock into an ever-splitting social grouping, which nevertheless remains under a strangely unified banner.
Myths abound where these darkly clad, pensive people are concerned; Satanic rituals, church-burnings, nihilistic hedonism and other nasty charges. Whilst I don't doubt that some goths practise such things, the vast majority of them (at least in my experience) are genuinely nice people. Rather than thinking of Satanism when they think of goths - or indeed any kind of religious tendencies (or lack thereof) people should instead cast an eye over goth aestheticism, and the multitude of weird and wonderful contributions which can be spotted in gothic aesthetics; Bela Lugosi; Cologne cathedral; Plan 9 From Outer Space; Lord Byron; the Victorians; Sir Christopher Lee; The Crow; Edgar Alan Poe; German expressionism; David Bowie; the list is a fantastic compilation of influences centuries old and foresights years into the future - Dante Alighieri meets H.R Giger in a dimly-lit, Regency-era brothel.
Indeed, we could claim that goths are the antithesis to chavs, representing polar opposites to everything which chav culture prides. Chavs don't allow an awful lot of choice; everything stems from the vaguely hip-hop fashions of the early nineties, with a similar emphasis on sports clothing. Musical tastes are restricted to dance, gangsta rap and R+B; and even with such a potentially large list of influences available, things tend to be restricted to the same core of artists. And a chav's taste in television and film will be similarly confined; The Fast and the Furious, Pimp My Ride, MTV Bass et al.
This minimum of diversity carries through into group-mindedness. Anyone without the latest imitation designer gear or car alteration will be lambasted for their inability to keep up and run the risk of being ostracised from the group. By complete contrast, the gothic subculture is founded on variance and an individual's personal tastes. Their cultural inspirations are drawn from a whole range of different sources, each of them adding further eclecticism to an already-diverse ideal. Chavs, meanwhile, give you a choice of tracksuits. Therefore, an instant line is drawn between the two camps; open-mindedness and artistic creativity stand as direct opposites to lack of choice and adherence to group protocol. Naturally, the two methods of self-definition are incompatible, and thus disciples on either side of the divide naturally become enemies.
And so, friction springs forth. This in its turn leads to mutual dislike, and eventually translates into brutal violence and highbrow mockery. We cannot damn those who poke fun at chavs without realising that this dislike is born out of genuine fear; that given half a chance, these people would boot you in the teeth simply because of your taste in music, fashion etc., and so they must be condemned. Such a mindset is, after all, unjustifiable.
Likewise, the same logic can be applied to the aggressive chav mindset; these people embrace foreign influences from outside your group, and are also gladly prepared to mock you - along with everyone you know and love - due to your tastes in music, fashion etc. You cannot beat them through civilised discourse or debate, as you simply haven't been socialised to see merit in such things. This is evidenced by any number of complaints to websites such as chavscum, where everything is essentially poorly-worded, written in "txt" and relies on the (noble-yet-over-used) argument that people should respect one another's differences; before casting aspersions towards the web-master's possible Marilyn Manson-loving, Satan-worshipping, vampiric goth nature.
The only real option left available to the chav is physical violence, and so they use it for all they're worth. What else are they going to do? Lie in the earth and let their adversaries gloat, or jump up and punch them?
This, unfortunately, is probably their sole resort - which is made all the worse by its insidious brutality and tendency to demean the perpetrators in the eyes of society. As Aristotle once said, "It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs." This of course would be the most basic answer to chav aggression. If they can meet their critics on an intellectual level, then they will be just as justified in their cultural tastes as any other group. However, this would also include the loss of the outright closed-mindedness integral to chavism. And of course, I can quote Aristotle all I want, but if I tried to preach it to anyone bedecked in bling and piloting a heavily-modified car, I'd get a thick ear.