Fuzzy - not just a name, a way of life

Sunday, July 20, 2008

When Aristocracy is a Brand

There's a thread running through The Guardian at the moment about the term chav. Is it derogatory? (almost certainly). Is it discriminatory? (almost certainly). Do the "poor chavs" deserve a more PC epithet, such as "consumption-challenged over-Burberried recently-rich-but-that's-OK". This led to a discussion over dinner, where I expressed my concern that any form of censorship is bad (language is just sound waves, which in themselves really can't be considered insulting), but which saw quite reasonable arguments made that some language causes grief and/or mental harm (e.g. insults over race, gender, etc). I acknowledge that, while still insisting that censorship is bad. And really, my beef is more about words considered "crass" or swearing, though often there's no convenient line between them, as what today might be a swear word may have begun 100 years ago as a form of verbal discrimination. I guess that leaves me in the "allow then punish" camp, rather than the "forbid outright" camp.

Anyway, getting back to the idea of the evening. If you consider the aristocracy as a business enterprise, then their centuries-old linguistic denigration of those they consider "lower" than them can be framed in modern economic terms. Fundamentally, if the core competency of the aristocracy is unattainable exclusivity (with the trappings that follow), then from a purely economic/competitive standpoint, they must protect that position through differentiation and other business defences. Thus, should anyone approach their position through acquiring or mimicking one of their competencies - say, wealth, or impeccable diction - then the core competency, and thus the business, needs to be defended.

A classic economic retort is to differentiate, and this is what I suggested the aristocracy do linguistically, when confronted with those attempting to move in on their territory. Own a few Bentleys and a Georgian mansion thanks to a lottery win? Well, one must be "new money", then. Daddy made his money working? Good heavens, what does that do to ones manicure? "New money" again. And in this day and age? Well, if one can buy all the (fake) Burberry, Louis Vuitton and La Croix one desires, but one mixes and matches said masstege with Adidas and and a bad David Beckham haircut, then one must be a chav. Voila! We have differentiation, a value proposition that the competition can't duplicate, and a business model that's good for another few centuries.


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