Pop-cultural wars on class and gender

Class and gender in Britpop and after, and why 'chav' is a feminist issue.


Why have both pop and politics in Britain become the preserve of an unrepresentative elite? From chav-pop pantomimes to retro-chauvinist ‘landfill indie’, the bland, homogenous and compromised nature of the current 'alternative' sector reflects the interests of a similarly complacent and privileged political establishment. In particular, political and media policing of female social and sexual autonomy, through the neglected but significant gendered dimensions of the discourse surrounding ‘chavs’, has been accompanied by a similar restriction and regulation of the expression of working-class femininity in music. This book traces the progress of this cultural clampdown over the past twenty years.

Listed on "Guardian Best Music Books of 2013"


"This is it. This is what cultural studies scholars should have been writing in the last ten years. Instead of walking away from discussions of the political economy or - even worse - becoming apologists (cheerleaders?) for the neoliberal reclamation of power after the Global Financial Crisis, cultural studies scholars should have got angry, got political and got busy to understand class, gender and race through the 2010s. [...] Jones investigates what has happened to working class women (and men) in and through popular culture in the last two decades. This is not a book about representation. This is a book about invisibility. " ~ Tara Brabazon,

Something I have been thinking about for some time in terms of stand up comedy, being quite aware of my comfortable background and looking around and wondering of the middle class have taken over comedy and dominated it with their values... I worry that Rhian is correct in saying we are increasingly informed that to discuss or research modern class issues and differences is deemed to be paranoid. ~ Robin Ince,

I think previous books on Britpop have tended to be either by people working as journalists at the time (John Harris), or by those who were involved in the music business (Luke Haines). People who were actually informed by that culture during their teenage years logically have a different take, one that is only now starting to emerge. In Ms Jones’s case she talks about the importance to her of Kenickie and Shampoo as signifiers of female agency. But there’s so many other points in the book: many of which just hadn’t occurred to me. I could argue with some of her conclusions, but then I was never a working class teenage girl in the 90s. It’s an essential text for anyone trying to make sense of that ludicrous era. ~ Dickon Edwards,

This refreshingly pungent polemic discusses the disappearance of dissident working-class voices in mass culture articulating resistance to the status quo - replaced by poverty-pantomimes of ersatz simulations perpetrated by relatively privileged 'artistes' which reinforce the prejudicial caricatures peddled by the rest of the chattering and political classes. Early chapters convincingly chart changing UK media representations of the lower-classes since the 1980s, focusing on now-universal 'chav' mythologies and the demonisation of rough femininity deployed to legimitise the withdrawal of welfare and related punitive neoliberal governance based on individualised moral judgement and disgust and the differentiation of an abject absolute 'other' justifying austerity for everyone except elites. Clampdown then recapitulates these developments in the cultural terrain of pop music - or, at least, that fraction involving 'indie' guitar bands who progressively lost sight of post-punk's grass-roots DIY ethos, yielding today's exceptionally anodyne corporate offerings exemplified by the execrable 'nu-folk' which, like most best-selling homegrown genres, is largely produced by comfortable children of the aforementioned elites. Exploring this trajectory, Jones sets the 1990s unravelling of explicit Thatcherite class-war against sympathy for Lady Di mobilised by New Labour in class-blind nationalist sentimentality. So 'Cool Britannia' counterposed the exaggerated swagger of Oasis against pretentious hipsters like Blur, but artistic 'substance' (such as it was) for all of their ilk lay in rehashing 1960s styles with minimal echoes of punk's raw anger to signify residual resonance with popular dissatisfaction. Throughout this postmodern masquerade implying political passivity and acceptance of the mainstream consensus, rebellious exceptions such as the Manic Street Preachers - and especially those expressing young women's perspectives, from the riot grrl phenomenon to indie outfits like Shampoo and Kenickie - were condescended to, patronised, recuperated or sidelined irrespective of mass appeal or sales. Meanwhile, superficial alternatives amenable to prevailing hegemonies, from Britpop to Spice Girls, flooded markets with New Lads and Barbies with 'girl power', domesticating or ironising stances otherwise associated with threats to capitalist order. The book's treatment of its chosen genre represents a compelling case study of dovetailing discourses accompanying epochal developments in political-economy with trends in cultural commodification. A particular strength is the incorporation of biographical reflections on the author's emotional investment since adolescence in both musical and intellectual journeys.* But this can also be a weakness, evidenced in even stronger final sections concerning the present conjuncture - necessarily broadening the scope to encompass popular culture as a whole while revealing significant limitations in the thematic thrust of the foregoing analysis. After all, isolated provincial white teens glued to the radio reading the NME scarcely captures the scenes, subcultures and innovations of collective youth culture - witness the arguably far deeper and potentially radical upheavals of hip-hop and techno mobilising millions who shunned the miserable grungy dirges favoured by student union tastemakers. Nevertheless, as a demonstration of how class composition and stratification - intrinsically riddled with gendered and (by omission, here) raced discriminations - is central to late-capitalism's social regulation, Clampdown is exemplary. ~ Tom Jennings,,

Jones offers a socialist-feminist critique of contemporary pop music with flair and wit. ~ Mike Cowley, The Citizen,

Online discourse about music is more politicised than ever, and blogger Rhian E Jones captures its flavour in Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender (Zero), a speedy polemic against the gentrification of indie-rock and simultaneous cultural hostility towards the working class, especially women. Essentially Chavs for feminist music fans, it celebrates not just the class-conscious 90s hits of Pulp and the Manic Street Preachers, but the vivid, unapologetic charisma of Kenickie and Shampoo, and leaves you craving similar voices today. ~ Dorian Lynskey, Guardian Best Music Books of 2013, Guardian Best Music Books of 2013

[A] cogent, damningly articulate, and troubling investigation of the problematic interaction between music, media and politics... Jones’s real talent is for the expression of complex ideological interaction in a single, pithy sentence. ~ Sasha Garwood, Marylebone Journal,

Amongst other things, Clampdown is a demand for more intersectional thinking, a larger dose of feminist analysis in mainstream leftist thinking, and a stronger recognition of class in feminist discussions... tremendously fun, combining the long, epithet-laded sentences of music journalism with the outrage and epithets of political polemic, and intercutting both with the language of social analysis... It has the same effect on me as reading Barbara Ehrenreich: I just want to get the pints in and demand “So what happened *then*?” ~ Jem Bloomfield,

[A] minimalist and heroically uncompromising powder keg of a book; a timely and single-minded exposition that seeks to lay bare, and ultimately skewer, the false prophets and unabashed hypocrisies of British pop culture post-Britpop. In much the same way that Burchill and Parsons picked over the rotting carcass of punk rock in their inflammatory 1978 call-to-arms The Boy Looked at Johnny (like Jones’s book, a slim publication in terms of its pages, yet a broad undertaking in the scope of its ambition), the author trains her sights upon the unseemly bastardisation of alt-pop culture via the twin cross-hairs of class and gender; in themselves, the motivation and inspiration for much of this nation’s greatest ever pop music output. ~ Craig Austin, Wales Arts Review,

The battle over the Nineties and the 00s continues in Clampdown, Rhian E Jones' prodigious, mordant take on the past twenty years cultural and political stagnation. Clampdown consolidates, synthesizes and extends on several recent-ish books both Zero (Capitalist Realism, One-Dimensional Woman, Uncommon, Folk Opposition) and non-Zero (Chavs, The Last Party, among others) while at the same time offering an extension of their concerns, by building up its own canon of the subversive and politically hopeful and by explicitly focusing on the construction of female identity and the discourse around the abject figure of the female Chav as a kind of Uber or Unter Chav, the very quintessence of Chavdom. What Clampdown admires is a messy, engaged, and enraged working class feminism that refuses to be disciplined by classed representations of femininity, a feminism that also refuses to be internally divided by those structures. Here actually I am struck by a moment in the film Made in Dagenham (briefly alluded to and worth a close analysis) in which the posh, frustrated middle class graduate goes round to the working class unionist's flat to tell her to keep fighting for the sake of all women. What Clampdown wants is a return to the notion, perfectly prominent up to the mid-nineties that working class women are the vanguard, culturally, politically. What's feared in the figure of the fat, baseball hatted, baggily track-suited, gobby female Chav on a big night out is the genderless and sexually liberated, non-neurotic and undisciplined female subject, object of horror, fascination and dismay and Clampdown flirts with, but doesn't quite fully engage with the radical possibilities therein. And in that sense it also opens up new vistas for speculation. Too many brilliant insights and witty asides to mention really, but I will say that these lines represent an early highlight. “In the slice of south Wales where I grew up, the most substantial attempts at economic regeneration seemed to be the daffodils planted along the M4 corridor to improve the view for commuters.” Yes, yes and a thousand times yes. ~ Carl Neville,

Clampdown then, is a celebration of the disposable, the ephemeral, the kitsch of Britpop, and a recovery of the political potential inherent in these values. When these largely working-class mores at the centre of British culture, something must be going right somewhere along the lines. The working-class cultural upsurge of the mid-'90s that was briefly epitomised in Britpop was widespread and profound. If its energy was quickly siphoned off by Cool Britannia, that shouldn't stop us from trying to recover something from the rubble. You must read this astonishing book. ~ Alex Niven,

What makes Jones’ angle very interesting is that she connects dots that very often aren’t put into context: The economic crisis, the demonisation of a new underclass and the appropriation of working class traditions and expressions. [...] The book is important for a variety of reasons: At one hand it represents a small crack in the monovoice driven cultural scene and looks at how pop culture has been manufactured in order to suppress its audience. On the other it is one of the signs that there is a new kind of engagement with the current status quo, challenging what many people see as ‘unchangeable’. ~ ,

A fierce and valuable book that charts the sell-out of pop culture since the 1980s ~ John Harris, The Guardian

"I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to side-step recollections and simplifications of their own youth or by into the legislated nostalgia of their elder peers, but actually approach history as a continuation and a continuum, and the rock-myth of monumental, moment-based events are in denial of the wider sweep of history. Or less wankily, if you want to know the other side to the media fairy-tale, this is where to look. In short, in a time when Britain is in a retro period, it’s a necessary purgative." ~ Kieron Gillen,

"Helped me understand the 90s I lived through." ~ Lauren Laverne

"Traces the links between politics and pop music in order to interpret why we are where we are, in terms of class, gender and representation and the wider grim political situation we find ourselves in. The book made me angry and a bit nostalgic, but probably nostalgic for something that was never fully realised." ~ Emmy-Kate Montrose, formerly of Kenickie

"Gets a lot of things absolutely right." ~ Simon Price, music writer

Rhian E. Jones
Rhian E. Jones Rhian E. Jones grew up in the south Wales Valleys. After studying History and Politics in London and Oxford, she began work as a shop assist...
Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher

Capitalist Realism

Mark Fisher

An analysis of the ways in which capitalism has presented itself as the only realistic political-economic system.

Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle

Kill All Normies

Angela Nagle

How internet subcultures are conquering the mainstream, from from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right.

Ghosts of My Life by Mark Fisher

Ghosts of My Life

Mark Fisher

Collected essays on popular culture by a major critic.

Meat Market by Laurie Penny

Meat Market

Laurie Penny

A feminist dissection of women's bodies as the fleshy fulcrum of capitalist cannibalism, whereby women are both consumers and consumed.

One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power

One Dimensional Woman

Nina Power

Exposes the dark heart of contemporary cultural life by examining pornography, consumer capitalism and the ideology of women's work.

Fear of Music by David Stubbs

Fear of Music

David Stubbs

An examination of why modern art can be easier to appreciate than modern music.

Sweetening the Pill by Holly Grigg-Spall

Sweetening the Pill

Holly Grigg-Spall

Is it really true? Has contraception liberated or oppressed women?

Rebel Rebel by Chris O'Leary

Rebel Rebel

Chris O'Leary

David Bowie: every single song. Everything you want to know, everything you didn't know.

Non-Stop Inertia by Ivor Southwood

Non-Stop Inertia

Ivor Southwood

A theoretical investigation into the culture of precarious work, digital consumption and personal flexibility, calling for a counter-discourse of resistance.

Babbling Corpse by Grafton Tanner

Babbling Corpse

Grafton Tanner

In the age of global capitalism, vaporwave celebrates and undermines the electronic ghosts haunting the nostalgia industry.