Note: to my UK or UK-savvy friends – prepare for “duh” cultural assessment by naive American. Had to do research for this.
I first heard about Lady Sovereign, oddly, on NPR. I was half-listening when I heard the phrase “Lady Sovereign is the female, British Eminem.” In fact she gets pissed off at this comparison, but it did make me look her up and find the song “Love Me or Hate Me.” I immediately fell in love with Britain’s biggest midget, feeling stupid that she pulls up 1.8 million Google hits and I’d never heard of her before. Cheeky little midget, she is. I like how her dead hamster stalks her in the video, too.
Her “I’m awesome but occasionally struggle and by the way, you’re a douchebag” lyrics have become my new mantra. Ok, I wish I was cool enough for that. I’m too sensitive and I can’t spit hot grime rhymes very well.
Soon I realized that I had pretty much missed the boat on Lady Sovereign, breezing happily through her drunk arrest in Australia, breakdown on stage in New York (she said “Fuck America. I’m being serious”), alleged antidepressant overdose and lukewarm reception of her 2009 album, Jigsaw. I discovered a few days ago that she’s joined the cast of Celebrity Big Brother UK. Nooooooo, S.O.V! Don’t do it! And with Sisqo? Really? Ugh.
So then I tour some blogs and hear people calling her a “chav.” Eh, guv’nor? Had to look it up. Wow, people really hate chavs, who defined nicely are working class British kids with questionable fashion sense and an affinity for hip hop. Let’s say, the equivalent of the rather offensive American term “wigger.” Middle and upper class kids have “chav parties” where they dress up like these poor kids (who oddly enough love Burberry? Well, that’s that I guess) and get crunk or something; the guys wear track suits and the girls wear miniskirts and babies.
The debate rages as to whether chav-haters are classist or just basically right. Either way, working class Brits are caught in a cycle of underachievement and low expectations – and look what happens when one breaks the cycle. She ends up on Celebrity Big Brother UK with Sisqo and some other people my American ass has never heard of. Trust me – I am not a fan of “chav culture,” “chav fashion” or “chav names” (all this and more is explained matter-of-factly here). I am also not a fan of ridiculing an uneducated, destitute underclass relegated to sub-human status by the majority of society.
Not only am I not British, I have never been to the UK or studied its history and politics apart from reading the Bronte sisters and Slammerkin, the main character of which might have been the original chav. However, the US also struggles with this particular set of social issues, but we don’t seem to mock the urban poor as thoroughly as England does – or at least not in public anyway. Why is that? Is the US simply more hell-bent on political correctness, or are we lacking a subset of people to make fun of that won’t make us racist? Wait, I live in the South – why have I never been to a Redneck Party? I don’t know, maybe my friends somehow happen to have a few ounces of class. Or maybe geographic removal is the key – the farther away from a redneck you are, the easier it is to laugh at them.
Chavs are known for their affinity for welfare. Rednecks are known to plant their feet and say “I ain’t never took charity in my whole life” as they’re getting evicted from their home. The comparison here is lacking though, since rural rednecks and urban chavs have little in common other than their economic status and education level. But as a white person myself, how could I compare chavs to working class African-Americans? Kristine, throw that potato to the person on your left. Bill Cosby can’t even talk about it.
You know, I’m really pulling for Lady Sovereign. She’s a genuine wordsmith who conquered race, class and gender barriers in her rise to fame. Even if she does end up filing for bankruptcy and having Sisqo’s baby, she’s still made out better than most American starlets – and looked cooler doing it, too.