May 2015 is a landmark in modern British culture, and it just so happens to coincide with a general election where, more and more, being seen as ‘one of us’ is adjudged more important than actually helping us. Next month, it will have two whole decades since the original release of Pulp’s tragically timeless ‘Common People’. The song — which is broadly recognised as one of the defining anthems of Britpop, reached number 2 in the charts 20 years ago — was kept from the supposedly prestigious top spot by the caterwauling Robson-and-bloody-Jerome.
But while Unchained Melody limped on for another 5 years thanks to a cringing Gareth Gates cover, only Pulp’s music can truly be said to have stood the test of time; misinterpreted as it is to this very day by the crowd of preening, self-obsessed hipsters who regularly grace St Benedict’s Street on a Saturday night. And I have to ask before I get bogged down in polemic, if any of our readers might happen to be amongst the number whooping and prancing about in the Birdcage to this, how can you not see that this song is a howling stab of rage directed at poverty tourists like you?
Have you quaffed so much craft ale that the world is just a tweed-patterned blur at this stage, or is your fashionably unkempt lumberjack beard just growing upwards into your brain?
Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics chart a conversation he had with a young woman whilst at St Martin’s College of Art and Design, where he was studying film. Whilst he was attracted to her, the young Jarvis explained to Radio 5 Live listeners in 2012 that he found certain aspects of her personality deeply undesirable — particularly when she expressed a wish to “move to Hackney and live like the common people.” And that, in essence, is why it remains so bitingly relevant, even now.
20 years on, it is this unhealthy, unpalatable romanticisation of poverty that still seems to afflict the children of the upwardly mobile — as they spread like bindweed over the dwindling flowerbed of post-Thatcher working class life, suffocating those they idolise with the cruellest of ironies, commodifying what little the poor still possess in the name of ‘authenticity’, and destroying the life they seek to emulate in the process.
No area of ‘common’ life is sacred from this tedious process of gentrification. From the gradual economic cleansing of London where ordinary people are gradually being priced out of town, to the cancerous spread of ‘real ale brew houses’ throughout Norwich, nowhere is safe from the creeping clutches of this hand-crafted, pauper-shafting, dish-water pedalling homogeneity.
No area of ‘common’ life is sacred from this tedious process of gentrification.
A homogeneity where the infamous dive-bar Delaneys makes way for the predictably tame St Andrews Brew House. A homogeneity which masquerades as diversity by promising us 50 varieties of unaffordable artisan crap from every available outlet, instead of one or two passable products I can consume to ease my proletarian suffering without going through the ordeal of a credit-check first. But what the hell is it about our miserable, dingy existence that’s so irresistible?
The wealth gap in the country, as we’re told day after day, year after year, has never been bigger. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen by being nice. Whilst being rich has its perks, life amongst the elite is highly acidic — understandably so, considering most of them make their millions by disdainfully crushing the spirits of millions of employees in order to ramp up their profits. So, the young already-up-and-still-coming folk often opt for a bit of downward mobility, so they can ‘find themselves’ away from the distractions of wealth, amongst us mere mortals.
Common people’s suffering is therefore routinely packaged off in bite sized chunks to alleviate the existential crises of the middle classes — like some kind of sordid affair taking place on board Titanic. And it is just as temporary and superficial as that, with the Rose De Witts of this world fleeing the impending iceberg, to take up a stable job in accounting, once they’ve had enough of ‘slumming it’ with the flea-bitten masses — leaving us with a certain sinking feeling, stranded without lifeboats.
Common people’s suffering is therefore routinely packaged off in bite sized chunks to alleviate the existential crises of the middle classes — like some kind of sordid affair taking place on board Titanic.
And of course, the political scene is no stranger to this shameless repackaging of ‘commonality’ for personal gain. We’re being used to validate mainstream politics’ abandonment of… us, and we have been for years. For generations, American elections have been fought on the lines of which candidate most punters would prefer to host a barbecue, whilst at the height of Blair-mania, cocaine socialists fought to be seen as an ‘everyman’ sans the policies that every man (woman and or non-binary person) might benefit from. This election is no different, from the prelude revolving around how to eat bacon sandwiches, to the continuing dialogue surrounding Ed Miliband’s supposed ‘irregularity’ being used to determine whether voters should back him.
One of the most shocking, and frankly enraging moments of this year’s election coverage revolved around this, with the predictably high-brow Sun reaching for the noted intellects of TOWIE ‘stars’ Amy Childs and Joey Essex to denounce Miliband — who was being too soft on “scroungers” and not “normal” enough. The irony seems to have been, perhaps understandably, lost on the pair. Not only the irony that these grinning, tan-drenched buffoons thought themselves qualified to pontificate on the nature of normality, but also that people essentially paid to pretend to be themselves on TV for a not insubstantial wage could argue the disabled have got it ‘easy’.
But as much as we sneer at those that grace the pages of The Sun or the schedules of backwater Freeview channels, they are essentially part of the same great con as the party leaders and spin-doctors. From the hotdog-gobbling Cameron, to the cigar-sucking Farage, the aim is to define themselves as ‘one of us’ for their own gain, without ever really being, or caring about any of us. We can’t afford to fall for that lame trick any longer — the vacuous shift rightwards, of content substituted for presentation, has to come to a head now.
In an era where every scrap of our dignity is threatened with privatisation, where even the sacred NHS is on the brink of oblivion, we cannot allow any politician or person a perceived legitimacy just because they seem like someone you’d meet down the Dog and Duck.
But as much as we sneer at those that grace the pages of The Sun or the schedules of backwater Freeview channels, they are essentially part of the same great con as the party leaders and spin-doctors.
This election must serve as a wakeup call then — and beyond this vote, it is up to us all to forge a real grass-roots alternative to the mainstream political equivalents of craft ale breweries in time for 2020. Two decades after Common People‘s prophetic release, we must remind ourselves that a poverty voyeur trying in vain to emulate our situation from the safe position of entrenched wealth, is no substitute for somebody trying to help us improve that situation.
Indeed, they have no interest in doing so. Because, “they’ll never live like common people, they’ll never do whatever common people do. They’ll never fail like common people, they’ll never watch their lives slide out of view.”