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An understanding of class

Written By: - Date published: 9:20 am, October 17th, 2010 - 50 comments
Categories: capitalism, class, class war, humour, tv - Tags: , ,

Here’s John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in the classic “An Understanding of Class”, a lovely commentary on one of the pillars of capitalism.

Since the abandonment of class rhetoric by Labour a few decades ago, we no longer have a lot of class consciousness in New Zealand.

Which is a bit ironic really, considering class boundaries have become ever more defined with decades of successive neo-liberal governments.


50 comments on “An understanding of class”

  1. comedy 1

    Comic geniuses…………. RIP big Ronnie

  2. Santi 2

    You said: we no longer have a lot of class consciousness in New Zealand.

    Correct, and there is no need to have any. Class warfare (and communism) are dead!

    • Ari 2.2

      Class warfare is alive and well, it’s just that the upper classes are winning while they desperately say it’s done with.

      • mcflock 2.2.1

        yeah – in the late ’80s they made the “mission accomplished” speech. So much for that one…

    • millsy 2.3

      Tell that to John Key and Mr L(h)aws, who reckon we need to be bowing and scraping to those because they have a bit more money than us.

      Quite frankly, they can go and get fucked.

      • M 2.3.1

        ‘Quite frankly, they can go and get fucked.’

        My sentiments exactly. I will never ever bow to someone who has more money than me. I am a product of the working class and proud of it. In the 70s there was an upper working class who had enough money through careful management to send their kids to private schools – I, along with four siblings, were one of those lucky kids. When it came time to leave school all the kids from my school got jobs and this was during the tough early 80s so I think my parents’ money was well spent. I have retained my left leanings as you cannot have a decent society where many suffer at the hands of a few and at the most basic level it’s just plain unfair.

        Unfortunately the dumbed down masses have been hoodwinked into thinking that National cares for them because they have received a feeble tax cut and cannot see the whole picture where there is more to life than a damned tax cut. I would rather forgo a tax cut and have decent hospitals, free doctors’ visits and people receiving state help, care for the environment, decent social policy and massive investment in public transport.

        Where I work I’m in a sea of RWNJs who are degreed up to the eyeballs but at the end of the day are maths morons (“educated” but with no common sense) because they cannot for the life of them see or even begin to understand the destruction that right’s agendas cause to people and the environment.

        Case in point this week at work with a woman ten years younger than me with all the trappings of the supposed good life: hubby with good paying job, she with a well-paid freelance job as well as the income from where I work, two flash cars in the garage of the under ten year old home (brick and tile of course) and all the accoutrements, two kids who do lots of high-priced extra-curricular activities etc and who I know will weep and gnash her teeth when the house of cards comes crashing down with our imploding economy. This is a fairly intelligent person but she is so politically unaware I almost feel bitchy when I have to remind her of things she seems to forget all the time.

        For example, she believes that the unemployment in NZ and the current economic woes were caused by Labour when in fact it hadn’t been for the very conservative financial stewardship of Michael Cullen who wouldn’t allow ridiculous tax cuts we’d be in a worse state then Greece, a fact that she eventually conceded. When I said that the UK was a basket case because they had spent their golden egg of North Sea oil and were now importers of the black stuff and vulnerable because of PO I’m sure she had made a mental note to have me put on a list somewhere. She was also against Helen Clark because she thought she promoted the nanny state but after the earthquake recently with legislation enacted that virtually allows rule by decree and is more nanny than Helen could ever be how can she have been so naïve as to miss this?

        I think Helen was much maligned because she has a formidable intellect, was no Palinesque beauty queen and cared about people on Struggle Street and actually did something about it. I was saddened when Helen didn’t get a fourth term and now we have this completely venal and colourless ex-money trader who is driving the country and poor to the wall and whose default response is to smile and wave as he has no backbone.

        • millsy

          I always find the worse ones are the ones that pulled themselves up from poverty only to turn their back on their roots.

          Rather like Paula Bennett, who got her 2% housing corp loan, DPB, Family Benefit and award wages.

          • Draco T Bastard

            And don’t forget Jonkey who got massive state subsidies in housing and education. All of which he seems now to be removing as fast as possible to give tax cuts to himself and his rich mates.

          • M

            Yes millsy, she should hang her head in shame but like the jackal she is she doesn’t have the capacity to feel it – she’s too busy living off the the fat of her new gentrified life.

          • Richard

            I always find the worse ones are the ones that pulled themselves up from poverty…

            Me too.

            Welcome to rule by the vulgar.

        • bbfloyd

          Well said M. I doff my hat to you.

  3. Warren Buffett 80 year old exploiter is so confident of his class that he can say:
    “There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
    Any of the RWNJs here have a track record one tenth that of Buffett? Not only their deep pockets but their brain sockets?

  4. SHG 4

    NZ doesn’t have an upper class.

    • if you take class to refer to distinct social groups with enduring differences in power, then of course we do.
      your willing blindness doesn’t make their existence any less real 😆

      • SHG 4.1.1

        The video linked was a commentary on the English and European class system, which NZ just doesn’t have. NZ does not have an upper class. There are some very rich and influential people, yes, but their influence is a result of their wealth. If your influence is a result of your wealth, a European would describe you as middle class – because being a member of the aristocracy has nothing to do with having money.

        Put it this way: if people would think less of you if you lost everything you owned and ended up without a penny to your name, then you’re not upper class.

        • mcflock

          Assuming your analysis is correct, would you prefer the term “stratospheric middle class”?

    • bbfloyd 4.2

      SHG..you’ve left your sleeping mask on too long grasshopper.

    • No, NZ has a professional political class, on both sides of the divide. Brought up through universities, nurtured on the one side in unions and on the other in jobs-for-the-boys-and-girls professional firms for a few years and on both sides in Ministerial and party offices, then parachuted into safe seats and/or high list places.

      People with no idea what it’s like to be a worker or to own a small business; to be answerable to an unreasonable boss or the voracious tax man; to stand or fall on your ability and not your connections.

      Put that class into the Cleese role – including it’s utter contempt and feelings of superiority toward the middle and working class – and you’ve got NZ, circa 2010.

    • Vicky32 4.4

      Of course it jolly well does! (I remember in the 1990s, when I was on the DPB, talking to a woman also on the DPB, whose background was ‘better’ than mine – and she sighed, literally and said “don’t you just long to get back in to the middle classes?” When I recovered from laughing I said to her “No, I never was in the middle classes, how could I ever get back there?)
      Then a few years later, I took my son to a sunday school/pre-school play group, and got snubbed by a particular woman, who followed me home a few years after that, from the school her kids attended with mine – to apologise… She had failed to realise that any married woman is only “one husband away from welfare” as the Americans say, and was now on the DPB. The rapid descent from upper class to state paid whore (as a NAT polly of the time put it), had shocked her to the core!
      She was a good woman, her apology for her previous attitude to me was wholly sincere. Pity it took her husband leaving her for his secretary, to make her realise we DPB mums were not all lower class prosties!

      • prism 4.4.1

        Reading that Deb it sounds like the Fay Weldon book The Heart of the Country. That book was about woman happily being lower upper class in Brit, and her husband runs off with a beauty queen, empties out the bank accounts and the so and so also swipes everything from her jewellery box. The kids have to go to a state school, she loses car house and has to walk down country lanes getting splashed by beamers instead of driving in them. The children can’t stand it and go back to Dad and his new woman and the lovely money he’s got. She remains low class and finds some gold there.

        • Vicky32

          Yes, that’s exactly the situation! The woman I am speaking of got thoroughly shafted, and was very hurt and surprised…
          I have even worse stories, sadly, all true. Women who are ex-wives, even DPB women are in my experience, far more the victims than the villains! As far as I know, this woman’s children stayed with her – well, at this time, they were very young!

          • prism

            Vicky 32
            “She had failed to realise that any married woman is only “one husband away from welfare” as the Americans say, and was now on the DPB.”

            True and that is why it is important for women to get training and keep up with work skills. Going on the DPB immediately sends you down a peg, even if you have gone through the class rise thing and gone to uni and got a good job. If you have to step out of the job and look after children, or your care arrangements break down it is back to reliance on DPB. Your past experience and work skills will assist with looking for a better part-time job but if WINZ get tough on work requirements, then you will have to take anything that is vaguely suitable.

            There is no class respect or kudos for being a parent, the upper classes may even escape the whole rigmarole by sending their children to boarding school. Let the school deal with their daily nurturing.

            • Vicky32

              That’s all true – but even so, it is my strong belief that women ought to be allowed to be at home with their kids when those kids are young! That woman had 6 year old twin girls and a baby son, I had a 6 year old son… It’s even more important for little kids to have their mum at home when she is their only parent..
              My ex happily ignored us all my son’s life. I worked when he was 6 and 7, and gave it up when I saw how it upset them, that the middle-class kiddies had mum there on sports day, and *his* mum was at work…
              How hard I had to try to get a job after being on the DPB years later, was another story. I had a woman at an employment agency opine that I must fill in the gaps in my CV, and that looking after children would be taken as a cover for a prison sentence, as ‘no one’ stays home with children these days (that was 2004).
              I often think we women can’t win for losing!

              • Bill

                Funny how the DPB mother is chastised and viewed with suspicion while the DPB father is considered heroic and deserving of whatever good things come his way, innit?

                I’d suspect that a DPB father who went to a job interview would be far more likely to get the job (with flexible arrangements that aided and abetted his child caring thrown in), than would a DPB mother.

                ‘Course, I’ve no evidence that that’s the case. Just that living in a patriarchy where males (or male mind sets) tend to dominate the coordinator or managerial class…and bearing in mind that many tend to empathise more with people who in some way remind them of themselves or possible selves…

                • Vicky32

                  Bill, I agree with you absolutely! Back in the 1980s, in Welly, I was visiting my sister, who had a daughter AJ, and AJ’s best friend was called Renee, they were both 4 or 5 at the time. Renee’s father was a newly-become solo Daddy. He had the house, he had the kids (including his wife’s children by her previous husband, and he had a parade of housewives including my sister, taking him casseroles and giving him free baby-sitting practically 24-7 if he required it. Renee’s mother had “walked out” I was told – and I warned my sister to be a bit more wary about believing what the guy said… (He had the same name as my ex who had walked out on me a year before, coincidentally.) Well, the story developed that Margaret, Renee’s mother, had cancer – and had with Ross’ encouragement, left to go to Tauranga to live with her mum, temporarily – while having chemo. As soon as she had left, her husband had gone to court and claimed that she had left without warning, and got an ex parte order giving him the children, and the house to bring them up in! It wasn’t until then, when Margaret came back to find out that she was labelled a deserter and had lost her children, that the Desperate Housewives of Nappy Valley (including my sister) stopped feeding this man and his kids and looking after them for him! I saw all this from the domestic point of view but I have no doubt at all that you’re right – that the managerial classes were bending over backwards to help him – saying “poor guy, he isn’t a shiftless solo mother, he deserves our help”… 🙁

  5. comedy 5

    Another on the same meme.. fuck they were good.

  6. Nick C 6

    So there wasnt an upper class in the Soviet Union?

    • felix 6.1

      I assume you are trying to present the phrase “one of the pillars of capitalism” as if it contained some inherent inaccuracy.

      Do you also have a problem with the phrase “eggs, one of the ingredients of a cake“?

      After all, there are other foods which also contain eggs.

      • Nick C 6.1.1

        “I assume you are trying to present the phrase “one of the pillars of capitalism” as if it contained some inherent inaccuracy.”


        Im saying that all economic systems contain inequality.

        • the sprout

          obviously nick, that would be a truism.
          some systems however, have more inequality than others.

        • millsy

          I actually agree with you Nick. There was inequality in the USSR. Party bosses would guzzle wine and caviar in their Crimean dachas while the regulars would queue for hours for a mouldy old loaf of bread.

          But I dont recall their been any homelessness or the likes in the USSR…

          • Richard

            Undoubtedly, there was homelessness of one sort or another in the USSR. And there was lots of things that were shitty for lots of people.


            The USSR is no great model for the Great Left Utopia. Aspects of it might be, but the totality was not a success. Aspects of modern capitalism are quite nice too.

          • RedLogix

            Oh dear the usual old misinformation…. actually for the average person in the USSR life was ok. At least by the 70’s most people had work, reasonable food, warm apartments, access to good health care and an excellent education system. This despite a wide-spread, endemic distrust of government and authorities.

            It should be remembered that the Russian people had never known any form of ‘social democratic tradition’. While much of the rest of Europe had undergone social revolutionary transformations of one sort or another, Russia even by 1918 was still locked into a feudal autocracy of the worst kind. The long overdue reaction swung the pendulum wildly and uncontrollably to the other extreme, into another form of totalitarian nightmare.

            By the 60’s however the worst of those days had receded. And while us Westerners might deplore the degree of political freedoms in the USSR, by the measure of the Russian history, the average person actually enjoyed an unprecedented security and prosperity. Still short of the wealth in a USA at the peak of it’s post-war supremacy, but not a lot different to that enjoyed in much of the rest of the First world, or even here in NZ at the time.

            Life in the Russian climate is always tough, but it had bred a remarkably resilient and interesting peoples… it’s not helpful to get locked into narrow ideas derived from decades of Western media misrepresenting them.

            • Richard

              Oh dear the usual old misinformation…. actually for the average person in the USSR life was ok.

              Sure. Although equally it was a bit shit for some people too.

              The point is that it doesn’t really matter one way or another. No one claims that we should be replicating the USSR.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.2

      Of course there was – the USSR was state capitalist.

  7. Jum 7

    Now, can someone tell me where to find the link to the two Ronnies’ ballet skit?

  8. roger nome 9

    There’s also a lack of any class consciousness in popular media. You generally have to go to underground music for any mention of it. Here’s a goodun –

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