This song, from popular English band Pulp’s album entitled Different Class and written by lead singer Jarvis Cocker, is a perfect example of modern class relations. Though it is not American, the situation discussed in the song does occur in this country though it is not as recognized as it is in the UK.
The song tells of Jarvis Cocker’s encounter with a rich Greek girl in a bar. She is very well educated in the fine arts, but it is in a working class bar trying to live like a “common person.” His attitude in the song progresses from interest to near anger as he tries to explain that someone raised in a wealthy family can never know what the working class life is like. He is upset that she is engaging in a sort of class tourism, trying to experience life from the other side.
In the first verse of the song, Cocker takes the girl to a supermarket to begin showing her how common people live. She laughs off his advice to not act wealthy, and does not seem at all to understand the seriousness of the difference between their classes. He remarks that if she were to try to live life from a working class perspective, her dad could return her to the capitalist class with one phone call.
Cocker goes on to say that she will never live like common people because it is not the novelty she sees it to be. She can join them and laugh and drink, but they are laughing at people like her for wanting to live like them. In one of the last verses, he writes:
“Look out they'll tear your insides out
'cos everybody hates a tourist
especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh
yeah and the chip stain's grease will come out in the bath
You will never understand how it feels to live your life
with no meaning or control and with nowhere left to go.”
He is condemning the fad of class tourism, as it is disrespectful.
The song also touches on the idea that education seems to mark one of the many differences between the classes. The girl in the song studied fine arts at Central St. Martin’s College, a very reputable school with a very wealthy student body. Her education may have made her aware of other classes and of class tourism.
The man tells her while in the supermarket to pretend that she never went to school. This is a very important lyric as it marks a distinction between him and her. Because she went to such a high class school, she will never be able to understand the working class. She will continue to see it as a novel way to live, but will always look at it from the outside. The girl is presented as being above the listener in class, but below the listener and lyricist in intellect regardless of her education. Jarvis Cocker conveys the attitude that poor has become “cool” to everyone who is not poor.
The lines about how the rich girl will never watch her “life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw” are crucial. To many listeners, this may seem as if the poor are partying because there is “nothing else to do,” as Cocker writes. This points out a clear difference between the rich girl’s view of the good life and Cocker’s working class view of the same. While dancing, drinking, and screwing sounds like fun, he is pointing out that the working class does this to keep their sanity, not because they have the leisure time to spare.
His language includes the use of slang, such as the word “fag” for cigarettes.
While Cocker is no scholar of class systems, he does provide his own definition of class based mainly on envy. While he does not envy her position in society, she envies his, which seems counterintuitive. The attitude toward class tourism is serious: he hates that she wants to live like the poorer classes just to “do whatever common people do.” This type of disrespect is only seen from the working class. The rich girl sees it as fascinating, and the people she wishes to emulate are struggling every day against people like her and her family.
Cocker’s definition of class is based on economics and culture. She is rich, and although she wants to get away from her wealth at least for a time, Cocker points out that she can never accomplish this. His class structure has very limited mobility, and he seems to want it to remain limited. Class is very important to Cocker, as it unfortunately is to much of the English nation.