How Casual Classism Has Resurrected on TikTok
The latest ‘chav check’ trend on the social media app has blown-up over the past several months, reintroducing casual classism against the working class not only in the UK, but across the world.
Since the early 2000’s, television and social media has highlighted the working class stereotype of ‘chavs’. Comedy sketches such as Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard, to Catherine Tate’s Lauren along with reality shows such as Jeremy Kyle, The X Factor and Big Brother have all profited from demonising the working class, as for years, it was popular to do so. Now in 2020, the popular social media app, TikTok, has reintroduced the mass ridicule of working class stereotypes.
Users on the app have been applying heavy make-up, drawing on thick eyebrows, wearing puffy coats and acting in an aggressive manner in order to poke fun at and act like a ‘chav’. The videos are mainly accompanied with music by grime artist Millie B who has been heavily ridiculed after appearing in a documentary about regional grime, mostly made by white working class people.
Seemingly harmless, the ‘chav check’ trend also involves users filming working class people themselves or even trying to mimic ‘chavs’, especially women, in school. Many of the streets filmed in these videos, by users who don’t actually live there, are taunted at and labelled ‘benefit street’. The trend has blown up across the TikTok app, and now, even users in America and beyond are copying this and making fun of ‘chavs’. American users will again put on heavy makeup and tag the videos ‘#britishchav.’
The word ‘chav’ comes from the Romany word ‘chavi’ which means childish. The term ‘chav’ mainly spread through the use of the internet, though first being used in the south east of England. In 2004 it was Oxford Dictionary’s first word of the year and was heavily promoted resulting in even more media coverage and use of the term across the country. Though the term does not come from it, the acronym ‘council housed and violent’ is also associated with it. This results in the classist idea that working class people who live in council houses are violent people, or those who dress or act in a certain way are assumed to be of the lower class and poor-shamed.
People are made fun of if they live in a certain area, or if there house looks a certain way. This is the same for if they have to buy cheap perfume or makeup. If users on TikTok fit the stereotype of a ‘chav’, the word is thrown at the relentlessly in comments of their videos. Young working class people, especially women who are ridiculed more so than their male peers, are demonised on the app as users make fun of their attitude, makeup and hair. Those same users also preach about not hating on women and mental health.
The term ‘chav’ is used for lower-class people across the country; however, it is mostly associated with the north of England. One American user of the TikTok app filmed a video where they compared American influencers and where she thought they would be from in the UK. She pointed out that one female user would be “a chav from Liverpool.” Again, this not only highlights the classism working-class people face if they look a certain way, but the misogynistic trend that if a woman wears more makeup or is loud she is demonised.
TikTok users will perpetuate the classist stereotypes about the north of England. The north faces a lot of class based discrimination as in the past the majority of people in the north were working class and worked in industrial settings. They were then were crippled financially when their workplaces were de-industrialised. TikTok users who make fun of ‘chavs’ will primarily use a regional northern accent in their videos and label northern cities as the ‘chaviest places in the UK.’
The trend of making fun of the lower-class was reintroduced on TikTok by middle and upper-class young people who wanted to make humorous videos about the people they saw around them. Professor of Criminology at Lancaster University, Majid Yar, says that, “For today’s teens, too young to have encountered the first ‘wave’ of such representations in the early/mid 2000s, this is something new and ‘humorous’.”
He believes the ‘chav’ stereotype has returned as the nature of TikTok is to create humorous skits, but also because “this kind of mockery is never far from the surface in societies that equate class-based culture with social worth.”
“There’s little doubt in my mind that mockery of particular social groups – especially those who already experience marginality and a lack of opportunity – simply reinforces a culture of class-based discrimination,” says Yar.
“It equates specific ways of dressing, speaking, and consuming with a lack of value to society, and replaces recognition of people’s worth with derision.”
For the majority of the users that poke-fun at ‘chavs’, they say that it isn’t done with the intention to cause harm, or be classist, but to just make people laugh. “I can see why people could interpret my videos as classist, but that’s never my intention. I just make relatable videos of the type of people we go to school with” says Mariam, a TikToker.
TikTok has provided young people with a platform to share their activism. Young people have been raising awareness about urgent political issues, so why has class based discrimination not been advocated against, and more so, subtly encouraged? Whatever the intentions are behind the ‘chav’ trend, though most are harmless, we can learn from the early 2000’s demonisation of the working class that these jokes can cause real problems and lead to even more discrimination towards the working class.