All in the best possible taste – my thoughts on the class system

Yep, I spent a lot of time looking at Grayson Perry’s tapestries and thinking about the class system.

I finally came to the conclusion that I have no idea about it and don’t even know if it exists.

Class, to a lot of people seems to be about the objects we own. One task for Uni is to photograph objects (decorations) in my home and talk about class from them. I looked and realised… I don’t have any.

Sad? No, I don’t think so.

I don’t have ornaments on my bookshelf, Not one single ornament. I know! and not only that, I don’t even have Christmas decorations. I’m going to be flogged for lowering morale.

I watched the channel 4 documentaries ‘All in the best possible taste’ and noticed one thing that struck a cord. The lower/working classes had art and expensive tastes, but not hung on the wall. Men and boys had cars with thousands of pounds worth of alterations while tattoos costing hundreds adorned arms and backs. What they did have was objects and art that gave pleasure and a sense of being. They didn’t care that the tattoo wasn’t done by a famous painter, but it was the reason and story behind each image that made it priceless.

The Upper classes had tradition and antiques. Financially some of them seemed poor, but they were happy, at least they seemed happy. Comfortable in who they were, it didn’t matter that they slept in a bed older than themselves, again, the story and meaning behind the objects they owned meant everything.

It was the middle classes that concerned me.

Uncomfortable in their skin. Grayson, who claimed to be middle class kept mentioning his use of the word ‘pot’ instead of ceramic (or maybe the tutor at Uni kept repeating his words) It was a sense of not wanting to be who you were, instead claiming lower class words to feel a sense of wanting to belong.

One woman in the second documentary had bought the show home complete with furniture and décor. Not one item held a special memory or meaning, instead it was the need to be seen as fitting in.

I had the chance to spend Christmas day with what I would consider to be a middle class family. A great opportunity to see the middle classes at bay.

I apologise if the family discover this blog and find my words upsetting.

Christmas dinner was four courses, timed to perfection (food was also perfect) Second course finished on time and we all moved into the living room to watch the Queens speech (I do love the Royals but videoed it). One that was over we moved back into the dinning room for the rest of the meal.

All very proper, but what really made it for me was tea. Christmas cake served the mother asked the son whether he was going to be Yorkshire and have cheese with his cake. This was followed by a discussion on what cheese does one have, what is the proper cheese for Christmas cake?

I thought to myself one has whatever cheese one likes.

The point is, it wasn’t about whether a person likes cake on it’s own, with butter or cheese (or both!) it was more a case of what is proper, what is expected.

For a while after that I looked at the idea that there was no such thing as class, just two groups of people, those happy in their skin and those not happy.

Maybe there are just two classes, Upper and Lower, and everyone else is in a worrying process of wanting to be in one and not in the other. The real challenge is being who you are, even if that is someone who eats cake cheese-less.

Okay, so I don’t live in an empty shell, I have stuff (enough to be classed as a hoarder). I don’t see ornaments on my shelves but I collect dolls – never thought of them as objects before.

So in celebration of me finally summing up my Grayson Perry and class system project here are three dolls from my collection…

Barbie – The class system dolls.

The working class Barbie, complete with pink sunglasses (plastic so must be fake) cardboard handbag, dangling earrings and the must have item, a pink mobile.

My middle class Barbie, wearing Georgio Armani, gotta wear a label.

Finally the Upper class Barbie. Comes with stockings, lace underwear, properly made handbag that’ll last years, hat box, plus mine is porcelain (so no, she doesn’t come out of the box.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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