Published on January 30, 2014 | by Dorothy Spencer


Down and out in Hackney

Dorothy Spencer year 3 BA Journalism student

Spencer wonders why young people dismiss their privileged backgrounds [Andy Flyles]

There’s nothing new about the desire to rebel against middle class roots, and politicians are particularly keen to associate themselves with the lower classes.

They always feel the need to proclaim their ‘normal state education,’ and the fact they come from ‘real’ families, as opposed to, you know, the mirage families that the upper classes inserted into society in order to keep a distance between themselves and the lower echelons.

George Orwell was at it years ago, slumming it in the filth of Paris and London despite having a stately home to return to.

In a sort of reverse illusion of grandeur, the young middle class kids of today prefer to move to a more ‘authentic’ part of the city, such as Hackney, Homerton, Peckham and the like in an effort to acquire some ‘real life experience’ and perhaps an actual encounter with a crackhead or two.

Fresh out of the cotton wool they’ve grown up in, they embark on a journey of discovery in the less salubrious parts of town, it’s incredibly easy to spot these pretenders; dirty Reebok classics; clothes that have been bought with holes already in them.

The great irony being that truly working class kids aspire to box-fresh trainers, visible labels, and outward signs of wealth, while those who have it are busy trying to dispel any whiff of money they may have about them.

It’s quite understandable for politicians, who are eager to convince us that we’re all in this together, to try and convince us that they aren’t in fact Eton bigwigs born with a boarding pass for the gravy train to Downing Street.

We can understand the logic there. But why young people are so keen to dismiss their privileged backgrounds as if it were an original sin is a little more elusive. It just does nothing for your persona these days, being ruddy cheeked and wadded up.


While the working classes are mythologised as warm, family orientated and honourable, values particularly aspirational for those who wish to gain public trust, they also seem to be in possession of more ‘coolness.’ It’s much more current to be down and out, even though half of us don’t have any choice in the matter.

Since the recession it’s become a more pressing matter, distancing yourself from the well-off. Anyone with too much money is to be distrusted in warped envy and undirected anger. No one wishes to be associated with the strata responsible for the financial crisis, and everyone wants a bit of the victimhood.

Journalists, social commentators, and celebrities are all desperate for a bit of poor pie, while an anecdote about how you had to eat beans for a week on end because your old dear couldn’t afford any meat is one of the sexiest PR titbits around.

No one wishes to be associated with the strata responsible for the financial crisis, and everyone wants a bit of the victimhood.

It’s an irritating song but Jarvis Cocker put it best when he sang Common People (‘you’ll never be like common people…if you called your daddy you could stop it all’) because money only matters when you don’t have any.

It’s all quite alright to pretend for a while when you’re safe in the knowledge of a stack of money at home, waiting out until your parents kindly pop their clogs. But when you don’t have it, when you really need it, it becomes a fixation you see in your minds eye at night, the mere whiff of fresh notes enough to leave you salivating.

Aptly enough, Common People is supposedly about a girl who ‘studies sculpture at St Martins College.’ Art students having a particular skill for summoning up problems, but then you gotta have problems in the art world baby.


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