cultural politics/"real" politics

Jim heartfield Jim at
Tue May 5 01:49:38 PDT 1998

In message <l03130319b173a79a8c27@[]>, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> writes
>Jim heartfield wrote:
>>What I am reacting against is the mood that sees working class
>>consumption as profligacy and waste, but middle class consumption as an
>>earnest and imaginative investigation of desire.
>>Hence my attitude to the car.
>I'm not sure how you're class-angling the car Jim. "Middle class" people,
>whoever they are exactly, drive more vehicle miles than poor people. All
>those suburbanites in their sport utility vehicles - suburban assault
>vehicles, as they say - aren't investigating their desire, they're fouling
>the air.

The objection to cars is their mass character. If cars were the preserve of the rich (as they were, for example in the early century) then there would be no anti-car movement. In Britain there are 22 million car owners, which out of a population of sixty million is pretty impressive penetration. In no sense is a car a luxury item in England, and, given petrol prices, I find it very hard to believe that the same is not true of the US.

The class character of the anti-car movement here is written in their home county accents. It is entirely characteristic that forms of working class mobility should be the subject of middle class panics. A hundred years ago outrage surrounded the bicycling gangs of 'East End Scorchers'. Nowadays, mass tourism, travelling football (that's soccer to you) fans and the car are the subject of upper class distaste.

Also any student of moral panics could tell you that the metaphor of pollution that you are drawn to is characteristic of anti-working class sentiment. In nineteenth century England middle class reformers preoccupied with the 'miasma' they thought was rising up off of working class districts built the Victoria Park as a 'fire-break' against the East End. The fear the ordinary folks are befouling the beautiful countryside is the prejudice of the landed gentry.

By any objective measure - that is as opposed to the subjective distaste at the preponderance of flatbacks and recreational vehicles - levels of air pollution in America and Europe have been falling for the last forty years. -- Jim heartfield

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