Chav Barbie Tulisa : Down with the Doll
Tulisa. Ah, my beautiful Tula.
Much has been written in the aftermath of the Sun’s sterling investigation. I bet it took them months if not years to devise such an amazing plan. You know, go to a club and ask a young person if anyone they know can get hold of drugs. How about asking that lovely Cara Delevingne who was caught dropping a small packet of ‘mysterious white powder’? Or how about going into any nightclub and asking anyone? No, plotting the downfall of a celebrity chav is much more exciting.
A point I want to make, is that this episode isn’t just classist, or misogynistic (get back in your place girl) it’s got a strong racial element too. I won’t mention the ‘intersectionality’ word today and start those debates. Instead I want to briefly touch upon whiteness, and how the figure of Tulisa acts as a useful tool to govern and regulate females.
Race is constructed, and whiteness is a particularly slippery fellow. The boundaries of whiteness are fragile and vulnerable, in the U.S labels were created to reward European immigrants with the ‘wages of whiteness’. Think of how the Irish ‘became white’. Labels given to classify workers were “becoming white”, “conditionally white”, “off white” and “temporary negroes” (Roediger, 2008, p.140). Nayak adds that whiteness was used as a race currency to pay-off those employees seen as embodying white morals and values (Nayak, 2007, p.739).
In contrast then, are those not having such values. Those deemed criminal, degenerate, dangerous, contagious, corrupting are constructed as deviants. Whiteness distances itself from that which is visibly different.
Tulisa is an interesting example in many ways. Her wealthy Greek family means she is often thought of as a ‘plastic gangster’, a ‘faux chav’ in many respects. But the label chav is given to her to put distance between her, and white middle-class respectability. ‘Chav’ is the UK equivalent of ‘white trash’. It is used to vilify white working class communities who do not perform whiteness in a middle-class Daily Mail fashion.
Tulisa is the daughter of an Irish mother and a Greek father, and her band N-Dubz was situated in a Black music genre.
David Starkey infamously quoted: “The whites have become black”. You must watch this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14513517
‘Black culture’ is blamed for the deterioration of ‘whiteness’ and society. Those who are ‘not quite white’ are perceived as threatening. The figure of Tulisa is aligned with these dangers (Ahmed, 2004). As Owen Jones said, Starkey is equating Blackness with criminality.
These conflations and labels serve to depoliticize the chav. Lock them up and throw away the key! Protect the nation against this scum.
Tulisa has been constructed as a dangerous, feckless, criminal member of the underclass. You only have a take a brief google search of the punitive sentencing of the UK 2011 riots to understand how ‘chav’ crime fuels the caricature and solidifies their place as undeserving, disgusting and a threat to decency.
Boundary markers such as chav, underclass, white trash, act as “cognitive short-cuts… quick understanding without having to expand much thought” (Wray, 2008, p.8).
We all know what it means. We can conjure the image and understand the properties.
Whiteness is invisible, we don’t question it. It is those who fall outside of middle-class values of whiteness who are marked as defective and highlighted. The chav is excessive, vulgar, grotesque. The chav is hyper-visible, with improper consumption habits and lack of cultural capital (Hayward & Yar, 2006, p.24). Look at the stories of Tulisa in Marbella. Most young women at Ocean Club champagne parties wear a bikini with heels. But Tulisa is marked as trashy, tacky and excessive. Her Louboutins and designer bikini, not to mention £25,000 watch, are mocked and deemed out-of-place and ‘cheap’.
Disgust is an effective response. It enables us to repel because it relies on public acknowledgement and recognition (Skeggs, 2005, p.970). Disgust creates a collective reaction against the chav. Tulisa is slated, and few object, after all, look at her… chav.
Despite the fact Tulisa has worked since she was a child,is a self-made millionaire and independent, much is made of her love life. The private video she made with then-boyfriend Justin Edwards was deliberately leaked by him. Instead of being seen as a gross violation of Tulisa, it was held as evidence that she is dirty, slutty, easy. Shame on her that her hyper-visible body had now seeped out into the public sphere. The good white middle-class woman is demure and modest. The pop star, glamour model and lap dancer are dirty and unable to perform femininity properly.
As Tyler & Bennett put it: “Celebrity chavs are cited as evidence of the moral delinquency of white working class girls” (2010, p.376).
After Tulisa landed her X Factor contract, the tabloids have been desperate the put her back in her place.
Daily Mail at its finest:
“Louis Walsh recently branded his X Factor co-judge Tulisa Contostavlos a ‘chav in a tracksuit’ – and he wasn’t wrong.
The singer was seen out in London on Wednesday night doing her supermarket shop dressed head to toe in adidas sports gear.
She also wore her hair scraped back ‘Vicky Pollard’ style into a high ponytail for the late night trip to Tesco, and just to top the look off, had a fierce-looking dog in tow”.
Tulisa has been called Chav Barbie, Council Estate Barbie, and just Chav at every turn. From her hair, her clothes, her dog, her jewellery, her tan, her friends, her drinking, her sex life, she is demonised over and over.
The female chav body is presented as hyper-sexual and as posing a risk of contagion. The celebrity chav provides an opportunity to frame the excessive dress and sexuality (Skeggs, 2005, p.966).
Rhian E. Jones says “The female ‘chav’ fits into narratives of slut-shaming and taste-policing, implying unladylike promiscuity, lack of restraint, and vulgarity in dress, speech and behaviour” (2013, p.21).
I could write about Tulisa all day, she is a scapegoat to regulate female behaviour in the press. The treatment of Tulisa represents the utter misogyny of the right wing media.
If you wish to contact me, please do, I love getting feedback. Either comment on here, or at twitter @princessjack Thank you for reading. x
Ahmed, S (2004) The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press
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Hayward, K & Yar, M (2006) ‘The ‘chav’ phenomenon: Consumption, media and the construction of a new underclass’, Crime Media Culture, 2006, pp. 9-28
Jones, R. E (2013) Clampdown Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender, London: Zed Books
Jones, O (2011) Chavs The Demonization Of The Working Class, London: Verso
Jones, R (2011) ‘Is ‘chav’ a Feminist Issue?’, Bad Reputation, Available at: http://www.badreputation.org.uk/2011/08/30/is-chav-a-feminist-issue/ [Accessed: 3rd November 2011]
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Wray, M & Newitz, A (eds) (1997) White Trash Race and Class in America, London: Routledge