In my relentless desire to avoid doing any constructive work (I’m up for a lifetime award on this) I happened to see this ‘class calculator’ on the BBC site (part of my South African heritage that refuses to leave. Australians may trust a news source. South Africans learn there is no truth, just lies from different interest groups. So we read and disbelieve all of them. The Beeb and Guardian (who swap a lot of staff) are the UK ‘left’. Neither of them rely on selling their product to survive.)
Now ‘class’ is an interesting social construct, both for society, and writers. It’s like most uniforms, tells people what they think they need to know without having to bother with all that tedious judging on merit. It’s of vast importance to losers, who have little else to commend them. It’s sort of like the ‘aym a New Yawk Taimes Bestseller’ (because my publisher gamed the system and bulk bought) resort of ‘important’ authors who are being out-sold from here to breakfast by some scruffy oik who was turned down by New York publishing. In other words it is very important to people who aren’t very important to society but feel they ought to be. This is quite amusingly visible in the stats on who took the test. I did of course, because that is me, perfectly. I have been working on the constipated look too. It does things for me (last time I was showing people how important I was, I got no less than three offers of a trip to the ER, and one recommendation for Preparation H, and the nick-name of Choo-choo train).
Still, it’s very important to the left because you know class is bad (well, except obviously for them) and the working class are oppressed. I am delighted to report that I am according to their calculator ‘traditional working class’ (typically Lorry drivers, cleaners and electricians) and prob’ly entitled to an official victim card (which they can shove up the place where the sun don’t shine. Sideways. It’ll help them to walk important) and to say ‘wot abaht t’werkas’ on all social occasions, a privilege I intend to revel in. I’m also amused to find my average age is 66. Actually, I suspect going through the average ages and picking one closest to yours is nearly as accurate as the rest of their metrics. But it’s those metrics and their impact on writers and, of course, your target audience that is relevant to us.
What I found interesting was not so much the questions they didn’t ask as the ones they did. For instance they asked about your income after tax – not your disposable income. I know very well the two can be almost wholly unrelated, from successfully wasting my time on another article about what the average Australian spends on what (it’s always vital to find out how much what they use, as we are nearing peak-what. The price of what can only go up, as the what-mines play out, and it’ll take years to bring the deep-what projects on line). Disposable income is a lot more relevant, especially to writers. You can dispose of some of it my way, anytime. As a serious aside, one of the most important things any writer needs to learn is to keep your regular monthly expenses (rent/mortgage, electricity, medical etc.) as far down as possible, because you don’t have a regular paycheck. Likewise the savings need to exist, because sure as death, your publisher will be late, probably a lot more often than your girlfriend is, but with the same sort of unpleasant grimace and “Ooosh…!” Being an indy eases this but doesn’t kill it. They asked about renting – but they didn’t ask about paying rent to the principle owner of your home –AKA the bank. If I’d had to draw a class-line it wouldn’t have been so much about how valuable the house is or whether the occupant lives in Sydney (very expensive) and rents, or ‘Oobroughtthebeeralonga-out-beyond-the-blackstump (much more desirable location, trust me) and owns, as to whether they own it or owe it.
The next part, the social contacts – as a writer, and a resident on a small island, in a bit of Australia which is still savagely egalitarian and meritocratic I found amusing. Writers- being solitary workers and often targeting a broad audience… well, I’m not aware of knowing any office managers or solicitors (does that count ladies of negotiable virtue?), but I have friends and readers who own their own businesses, are cleaners, are scientists, are farmers… many of the preconceived biases of the Beeb’s sociologists show up very clearly. But in the internet era, says very little about people. My primary interest is do you read… or don’t you?
Which brings me on to their last determinant of class –‘culture’. I have several in my freezer, for cheese, yoghurt and Salami. And to be honest, they’re more reliable indicators of class than whether I watch sport or go to the theater, watch ballet or dance, or hip-hop (none. I participate in certain field and danger-sports, but I’m a terrible spectator, and theater isn’t a frequent thing on remote islands. We’ve had the oily cart out here of course. And you could call the feller slipping on the result ‘ballet’ in the Spandau sense, I suppose. That was great, I’d pay to watch that again, if he recovers.) But the curious thing for me, as a writer, and a reader… was that reading didn’t come into it. Not how much or what.
Weird! If I was going to reach a snap judgment about whether I was likely to get on with someone – feel at ease with them, feel they were part of my group, whether they listened to Jazz or Classical music or went to gigs is MUCH less important than what they read. Is this only me? And haven’t these pretentious poncy Beeb bastards heard of Irish and Scots folk? Or the pub? But the meme (me… me… meeee… or as Ori explained it) is that classical music is highbrow.
(yes, the picture is a link)
The other thing I found fascinating in all this is that education doesn’t even get touched on. Well, except in the fact they conclude that a lot of the elite went to private schools and elite universities. Odd. I’d have said that was a major determinant and reason why so many people end up with vast debt for degrees which are very valuable if you run out of bum-fodder. I keep mine in the ‘loo with a sign that says: ‘in case of emergencies, break glass.’
So: I hear a great deal about the middle class in the US and how it is being destroyed, but little about how it affects reading. Does it? Does it affect what we write, and who we write it for?
And what will be the situation by ’49?
On another subject entirely: part of being a sf writer is being predictive (and sometimes hoping you’ll get it all wrong) but a while back on this site I said that what publishers needed to do was to harness the advertising power of their authors to send readers to purchase from their site directly. I said the only way to do this was as Amazon Associates does: to pay a percentage on every sale to the referrer – the author. I said I suspected the publishers were too arrogant in their expectation of something for nothing to be prepared to pay for such referrals, that it was their expectation that us serfs would tug our forelocks and continue to try and do more to keep them afloat.
I was wrong. It is worth noting that that’s ‘Of net’ showing they’re still up to their tricks.
Now we await Amazon’s next move in reply.