One of my three favorite stories from yesterday’s papers was the one in the (London) Daily Telegraph about how Kate Winslet, in an interview with Marie Claire magazine, is all in a huff about being thought of as middle-class. Not that anyone has actually called her middle-class, at least not since she was a teenager at an audition where a director accused her of falsely claiming to be from Reading — a then (partly) working-class, now (largely) bedroom community between London and Oxford — because she spoke proper, which is to say "middle-class" English instead of the Cockney growl that was then the common currency of the theatrical world because it was supposed to bespeak authenticity. Now, having won an Oscar for The Reader and a Golden Globe for Revolutionary Road, she thinks it necessary to stake her claim to that presumptive authenticity as if it were as great an accolade than either of her glittering prizes.
In today’s Telegraph, columnist James Delingpole heaps scorn upon this claim:
If Kate’s working class, then I’m most definitely working class. And so, in all likelihood, are you. Why should any of us desire this? For the same reason Kate does, I would imagine. You see, the thing about working-class people is that they’re earthy and real. They’re the engine room of the economy. Their wit is pungent. Their language coarse yet marvellously poetic. They live — like Mellors the gamekeeper — in a world of pure feeling and intense emotion untrammelled by the prissy dishonesty of their supposed social betters. They are the wellspring of all that is meaningful and true.
All this is true, as is the fact (which Mr Delingpole also points out) that the genuine working class — as opposed to those who claim to belong to it — scarcely exists in Britain anymore. But there is another answer to his question of why the beautiful people are desperate to proclaim their proletarian origins. It is because the class model of society bequeathed to us by Marx and others fits better with the favored historical narrative of the media culture. That world of good guys and bad guys in the class struggle also fits in with the moralization of political differences to which the media and their adjunct, the acting profession, are also devoted.
To such people, being "real" — a word that is often in their mouths — means to be living on an intuitive level, in touch with one’s feelings, as the saying goes, and therefore non-"repressed" like the middle classes of old. For of course today’s middle classes are quite as non-repressed as what remains of the working classes — which in Britain would be better described as the non-working classes. But that old and now long-obsolete class division is preserved in the media and theatrical imagination — partly on account of nostalgia and partly because they need it as something to define themselves by. They imagine that there is still an official culture, a culture of repression and stiff-upper lips and sexual continence and so forth because they still need something to rebel against, if we are to enjoy that cachet of the declassé rebel, like Che Guevera who, in spite of being a thug and a murderer has just had yet another movie made of his life.
My other two favorite stories in the paper were the one about the man who had a grizzly bear as best man at his wedding to the actress Missi Pyle and the one about how Catherine Zeta-Jones, a woman with a serious claim to be the most beautiful in the world wants to play Susan Boyle in the movie that is to be made about the homely Scottish songbird. I can’t help thinking that there must be a connection between the plight of American newspapers and the fact that I didn’t see any of these stories in any of the several domestic papers I perused yesterday. Yet they are all "familiar matter of today" — as Wordsworth said of his own Highland lass’s ravishing song — and therefore doubtless all over the Internet. As I so often find myself saying these days, it’s the media’s world; we’re only living in it. That’s what makes it odd that so many in the media themselves are not.