The phrase guilty pleasure pops up a lot when we discuss pop culture. It’s an odd phrase, as its intended meaning suggests something that one enjoys, but feels as if they shouldn’t. Whether it’s a pompous muso secretly liking a Miley Cyrus track, or a cinephile binge-watching the Transformers series, a guilty pleasure supposedly involves enjoyment and shame is equal measure. I don’t really agree with the phrase. Unless your pleasure involves bringing harm to others, why should you feel guilty about it? You can like Eastenders if you want, just don’t be Josef Fritzl.
Nevertheless, the phrase is so pervasive that it does spring to mind when I end up watching, or at least listening to as I’m cooking dinner, Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys. And dammit, despite the fact that he’s a former Tory cabinet minister, it’s a wholly entertaining show, full of interesting titbits and off-the-beaten track locations. And who doesn’t like travelling by train anyway? So, I’m not going to feel guilty about enjoying Portillo’s dulcet-toned narration of meandering journeys across Britain and further afield, despite his political allegiance.
That being said, a phrase he used yesterday struck me and sent me off on one of most frequently travelled mental trails, that of how subtle language is used to manipulate us. While travelling through Yorkshire, he talked about the time that chief parasite George V visited the region, in an attempt to quell threatened strike action from the miners, who were demanding a minimum wage. How this was phrased by Portillo was “…. meet with the working classes….”
I was momentarily taken aback, thinking to myself that something wasn’t quite right about the phrase. Then it hit me. He said ‘working classes‘, not ‘working class’. A tiny distinction, but tells us a whole lot about the mentality of the person saying it. There is a working class. One working class. All the people who are neither big business owners, nor working in bullshit jobs are the working class. One could argue too that is effectively defined by anybody who is not upper class, since the middle class is currently slowly being eroded away, so that we are heading back to 19th century-style social strata. Or we could define the working class of everybody who does actual work, not for their own great benefit, but in order to make tax-dodging corporations, shareholders, investments bankers, and vulture landlords richer.
In the end, the working class is one body. By making it plural, as Portillo did, it is suggested that there are many different factions within the working class, that it is not one block of people from the same socioeconomic background. This subtle language is the embodiment of divide and conquer, turning people in the working class against one another so that they won’t pay attention to who is really fucking them over. The tabloid press is great at this, pitting people against immigrants, travellers, the unemployed, those of different racial or religious background, etc. Classic tactics from the ruling elite. Did Portillo consciously and deliberately say this, or is it simply so ingrained in his ideology that the statement was automatic?
It does work of course. The working class is forever divided. If everybody were to band together, those at the heart of the corrupt and skewed system under which we live would be terrified, and real change could be enacted. But the powerful use the media (primarily owned by the white upper class) to maintain the status quo, and attempt to demonise anyone who attempts to rock their boat. Just as our PM here in Ireland has attempted to do with the striking nurses. Thankfully, this time it has backfired, and the strike is getting support from the majority of the population.
The nurses industrial action could be used as an example or how we should all be organised, to stand up when we are being walked over. Be it by rapacious corporations, manipulative politicians, or slum landlords. The working class should be just that, a single, powerful, entity, to which those in offices of state are answerable to, not vice versa. As long we are fractured, like the Tories, Fine Gael, and every other right and ‘centre’ right* party desire us to be, things won’t improve for the majority of us. Everyone should get involved, unionise, organise. You might not be interested in politics, but politics is certainly interested in you.
Up the workers!
*right wing, but with better PR