The English term “chav” is almost a compliment when you compare it to the violent, class based abhorrence suggested by our use of the word “scumbag.” Go on, roll it around on your tongue there, spit it out and hear the spite contained within. Let’s just take a minute to breakdown the stereotype and look at where its coming from.
Mostly it’s directed against track-suited youth with thick Dublin accents. Sure some pass it off to describe particular behaviours, you know, like being a scally on the Luas and rolling spliffs in front of old women. That sort of thing. That’s the excuse but the term goes much further and it’s dropped in a willy-nilly fashion to describe a whole part of Irish society.
What does this term say about the deep divisions here? And who’s responsible for perpetuating these stereotypes about our working class young people?
Let’s put it this way, when was the last time you heard a broad Dublin accent on the airwaves or on RTE? Think about it. When working-class or marginalised accents are heard it is often in the form of comic relief – one of last years most popular songs, The Rubberbandits’ “Horse Outside” relies hugely on the abuse of the Limerick accent and its association with marginalised communities like Moyross for its humour.
In shows like Fair City and Love/Hate, the Dublin working class accent is only used by characters portraying ruthless gangland criminals. The same accent is used to play “thick” characters in comedy sketches like Republic of Telly’s pathetic Damo and Ivor sketches. In their grotesque “big box, little box” representation of dance culture, they frown snidely upon the popularity of hard-house among Dublin youth. A few years ago there was furore over an Eircom phone watch ad where the burglars had working-class Dublin accents.
So while this might sound like pissant average media analysis, the consequences are far-reaching. The sort of humour that dominants our national broadcaster (or should that be national disgrace?) RTE speaks volumes on class divisions. It unveils who is pushed out and marginalised from national discussion.
Laughing is boundary forming, you are either in on the joke or you are the butt of it – imagine if it was your accent that the country associated with being automatically thick and criminal?
Dubin is a city where the tone of your voice carries the acute clarity of class discrimination.
rabble talked to a Dublin community media practitioner and found out how deep the scars went.
While working on an audio project involving a swathe of Dublin community groups, he found out how much these portrayals were internalised.
“We’d listen back after making a recording and older people would refer to their accents as “common.” Among younger people, they would say something like “I sound like a junkie or a scumbag.” It was really hard to get beyond this.” How many stories do you know of people who’ve had run ins with the cops and then were let off lightly because they were a “well spoken lad” or “respectable”?
In a world where Fade St and The Hills masquerade as reality TV, we need to deliver a sharp kick up the hole to the lifestyle choices and cultural values purporting to represent common lived experiences on RTE.
The consequences are real.