There is a new series of episodes of the Poirot character. I watch very little drama but do enjoy these. The accents and following the plot provide a bit of a challenge but ‘who dun it’ is not my primary interest. What attracts me is the portrayal of the ambiance and values of the times.
While watching the show yesterday, it occurred to me that most everyone, to some extent, seemed to be wrapped up in their social status or lack thereof. It is true enough that England has always been a class society but those values are not confined to that country. It is just more visible there.
I suspect that this anxiety started somewhere in the later part of the nineteenth century when stature became more identified with fortune rather than peerage. Prior to that you were either of the gentry or just another peasant.
The social status anxiety lasted up through the fifties. Even then, folks would dress to go to the grocery store. But by the sixties it was just about gone and people growing up since then will have no recollection of any of it.
There is some residue, though, and it is seen as a bellicose attitude common to what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘working class’. These folks generally seem to be of the opinion that there is some kind of conspiracy intended to dominate and deprive them of their rightful status. There is also a sense of pride and some humor as well expressed through the ‘redneck’ jokes and identification.
But, now-a-days, there really are no more fixed classes. People more up and even down. And what class you are in more of a self image or degree of awareness than it is of personal wealth. There are plenty of scholars and artists as well as many jobless middle class people that are shy on funds these days. They are not characteristically ‘working class’. (Is there a better name?) On the other hand, there are some relatively ‘successful’ folks that have chosen to identify themselves in this way. It gets complicated.
Perhaps some day these fuzzy distinctions will all be in the history books if not forgotten.