Throughout my travels I have met many non-British people who are fascinated (and often perplexed), in an anthropological kind of way, by the British class system as portrayed in novels, plays, films and exported television programmes.
Of course the last half century or so has seen big (though perhaps not big enough) changes in British society on that front as well as many others, but now and then one comes across a residue of old-fashioned attitudes one might have assumed were anachronistic in today’s global village – at least as far as their public expression is concerned.
Take a look at this recent exchange on Twitter – one form of truly global communication – between the Guardian’s Michael White and CiF Watch.
The choice of use of a phrase such as “My dear chap” is rather revealing in a tweedy “To the Manor Born” kind of way. It is the kind of condescending turn of phrase employed rhetorically to assert superiority of status and opinion rather than to convey affection or respect.
Interestingly, CiF Watch has not been the only recipient of such anachronistic Bullingdon Club-style language in White’s Tweets. Here he is responding to criticism from a woman who describes herself in her profile as a ‘post op transexual‘.
Twitter’s 140 character limitation makes White’s use of such unnecessary terms of phrase as ‘my dear chap’ and ‘old bean’ particularly interesting. After all, very few people actually talk like that these days unless they are auditioning for the part of Bertie Wooster in their local Amateur Dramatic Society’s latest production.
One wonders why White appears to consider the use of such specifically ethnocentric phrases appropriate on such a culturally diverse platform as Twitter.
Does he imagine that he can (in a passive-aggressive manner) get away with satisfying his own need to assert superiority in the face of criticism because the ‘chap’ at the other end will not be aware of the cultural context of his choice of words?
Or is this just the result of 40 years spent steeped in the anachronism of a Guardian environment practically impervious to criticism of its own failure to take certain kinds of bigotry seriously?