Class v culture: are we penalising the posh?


In a surprise move James Blunt has stirred up some controversy this week while gaining himself a few credibility points. Shadow culture minister Chris Bryant name checked Blunt in an interview in the Guardian criticising the number of high profile performers who come from privileged backgrounds.

In response to the interview Blunt replied with an open letter to Bryant calling him a “classist gimp” and arguing that he was actually laughed at by people at his boarding school when he suggested he wanted a career in the music industry and were absolutely no bloody help at all. Blunt made it to the top of the chart by first making it big in America, who, apparently don’t see the class thing at all. I think what he means is, they don’t really understand the intricacies of our class system in much the same way we don’t really get theirs, but what they do understand is that they like posh Brits. The US loves the royal family so no wonder they thought Blunt was great; during his military career he was one of the pall bearers for the Queen Mother’s coffin. He’s practically one of them, or at least he’s posh enough to pass.

I’m not saying Blunt doesn’t have any talent (I mean, he knows four whole chords and when he opens his mouth noises come out and everything), but that’s not really the point. He’s alright-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing-I-guess, but not exactly a cultural phenomenon. If he disappeared tomorrow, few people would take to the streets, rending their garments and forsaking a God who could be so cruel, he’s not really that special. There’s that Ed Sheeran guy and those Coldplay people who could probably shuffle up and absorb the fans left floundering. Perhaps I misunderstand the genre of light indie pop that your Nan wouldn’t object to, but it’s not especially ground breaking stuff that people will be talking about and referencing years from now. At least not without a fair amount of sarcasm, or irony if they’re trying to be clever.

The point is that while Blunt might not have had much help on the way up, having resources is certainly helpful for some. Perhaps he just worked super hard and got a bit lucky, but it doesn’t seem like it was simply a case of talent rightly being recognised, what with him being shit at worst and mediocre at best. Yeah, ok, maybe really talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds will break through (if they word hard enough), but it seems obviously unfair that all the spots for mediocre famous people are taken up by people who went to private school. They’re already running the country after all.

In his letter, Blunt made the point that in the UK music industry, it’s actually a bit of a pain in the arse to be posh. This is evidenced by the fact that he changed his surname from Blount because it sounds too much like the name of an Earl in Downton Abbey who has gout and an interest in eugenics. Maybe he’s right, perhaps it was actually harder for him to make his way to the top of the charts (as horrifying as that thought is) than someone from a council estate in Rowley Regis, but it seems unlikely. It’s a little more than reminiscent of other posh, rich famous people who made themselves momentarily less popular by having a bit of a whinge about how fucking difficult their lives were. Like Helena Bonham Carter complaining that not being “trendily working class” (and also too pretty, which must be a right ball ache for her) made it difficult to find work, or Benedict Cumberbatch (Bendydick Crumblepatch, to give him his real name) whining that “being a posh actor in England, you can’t escape class-typing”.

Perhaps occasionally being posh will make life a little bit more difficult. But we all have our cross to bear, and if yours is that sometimes people bring attention to the school your parents paid for you to go to, or suggest perhaps you aren’t best fit to play a bricklayer from Dagenham, then I can’t find that much time to spend giving a shit about it.

If you liked this, follow me on Twitter @SallyWJones. You might also like my blog about dead famous people.

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