Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Guest Post by Stephen Foster: The Working Class Hero and Why There are No More of Them
Even in the north there will come a point in your early life when some starchy adult will make you aware that you can be looked down upon. This knowledge will come in the form of a chance remark overheard in a conversation between a churchgoer and a Freemason at a bus-stop, a remark that refers to 'people like them', or to 'people from over there,' over there being where you live. Here is the defining moment. You will look at the dull churchgoing Freemason and you will wonder what exactly it is that they have to feel so superior about. More importantly you will form an instant hatred for them and for people like them. In this moment they have created for you a world of 'us and them,' and for the rest of your life, wherever you go, you will always be able to find an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ You take another look at the churchgoing Freemasons. Beyond the fact that you can see nothing to justify their attitude, there emerges another much more salient fact: it is you who are better than they, because you do not look down on others - you are a genuine, authentic individual who believes all people to be equal.
You are equal to all others, but, by dint of this overheard conversation, you have been made aware that you are somehow different. You have become, in some way, an outsider. This is a definition you rather like; you are off down to the library in a flash to seek out a copy of L’Etranger. It is left-field cultural output that nourishes your new sense of self, but to fully motivate the nugget of outrage that you picked up at the bus-stop, you need to live in an industrial setting, one that is on the slide and under attack. Because, living in a landscape of a large workforce faced with its imminent redundancy, you can easily identify your tribe, your ‘us,’ those whom it is your duty to defend. What singles you out as the hero is that you are aspiring to get out of it by exploiting your status as a refusnik individualist, by declining to become redundant, by never getting a factory job in the first place. In this, you are seeking to escape all that with which you principally (yet already vicariously) identify. You read the readable political tracts, Orwell specifically, to put you in the picture, and, of course, you align yourself with the political left without ever actually becoming active, because political meetings and political types are, as it turns out, exceptionally boring, and for you the whole question of being has become a matter of attitude. Attitude may have substance, but attitude also concerns itself with matters of style, flair and posture. In order to survive and flourish, attitude needs to travel the world and to make money, while never, of course, abandoning its roots.
Five Working Class Heroes
Five Not Working Class Heroes
Stephen Foster is the author of a book of short stories, two novels, two books about owning beloved Salukis (Lurchers to the world at large), two books about following Stoke City (the second of which is shortly to appear), a book of Football Lists (to which I was a proud contributor), and - most pertinently here - of From Working Class Hero to Absolute Disgrace, a book handsomely reviewed in handsome places, and in which he briefly recalls me teaching Robert Frost's marvellous 'Home Burial' to the class he was in at the art school. His two dog books were best sellers too. I want to write about his book here soon, but first I wanted him to offer a definition of 'working class hero'.