Pulp's message of social voyeurism is as relevant as it ever was.Flickr: Kmeron

"I want to live like common people, I want to do whatever common people do."

Common People, the biggest hit by nineties band Pulp, captures one of the most swept-under-the-rug issues of our generation in a single lyric. It epitomises the problem of class tourism, or social voyeurism: in simpler terms, the glamorisation of poverty. And it’s everywhere.

The message of Pulp’s Common People is just as relevant and pertinent today as it was in the nineties. As the rich-poor gap grows ever deeper and inequality becomes ever starker, class tourism and its implications becomes more and more obvious.

For $82, those wanting to truly “experience poverty” without the incumbent add-ons such as disease, crime and poor sanitation, can stay in a mock slum in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Built of mock shacks made up of a variety of scrap materials, it claims to be “the only Shanty Town in the world with under-floor heating and wireless internet access!”. It even has a “long-drop” toilet for a more authentic experience.

Of course, the best way to actually experience poverty would be the very opposite of paying around half of an average South African worker’s monthly wage to stay somewhere that most are praying and struggling to claw their way out of. Even if people are trying to appreciate the realities of other people’s experiences, they are doing so in a way that trivialises them, making them into almost an enjoyable experience. The dark irony here is cruelly symbolic of a much wider issue in the UK’s highly class-driven society.

This may seem like an extreme example, but the realities of class tourism are closer to home. Take the mass gentrification of London, for example. Places that were generally poorer areas occupied by the working class or BMEs are now being taken over by rich white people. Places like Hackney and Brixton are becoming more and more monopolised by the middle class, with the influx of wealth causing rent prices to rise, thereby pushing the original inhabitants out. This means that the area becomes ‘edgy’ and popular, but at the expense of entire communities and their culture.

The issue here is not dissimilar from that of cultural appropriation: it’s a sort-of “class appropriation”. The middle and upper classes are borrowing from the working class – be it their slang, fashion or traditional territory – and therefore taking the aspects that they like, without acknowledging the realities of working class struggles.

A classic example is accents. It’s easy to laugh at rich kids pretending to talk like Dot Cotton and Danny Dyer when they grew up in Surrey, but the reality is that negative assumptions, due to accents associated with being working class, can be a pretty significant burden. Those who speak in dulcet RP tones will never truly understand the anguish at trying (and probably failing) to sound like Kate Middleton in a job interview, to avoid being judged as less intelligent on the basis of a regional dialect. Even in preparation for my Cambridge interview, I was told to iron out my fairly obvious Essex accent because I “sound a bit like a chav.”

A lot of the time, the culture, style and art that has come from the working class actually has a basis in oppression that comes from the class system itself. This is exemplified particularly by genres of music such as grime, which has a lot of its roots in the black working class. As a result, much of the material is centred around the struggles faced by the artists, which, a lot of the time, include poverty and racism.

Of course, anyone can like grime, and it does even more damage to totally compartmentalise music and art on the basis of class and race. The issue here is the tendency to totally erase its cultural origins and identity, whilst enjoying the benefits of the damage that the class system has inflicted.

The adoption of working class culture without any acknowledgement of the struggle that comes with certain aspects of it is inherently damaging: making a mockery of class strife. Yes, it’s fine to borrow from and enjoy working class culture, but in the same way as with cultural appropriation, this 'borrowing' needs to be done respectfully, and with a recognition of where it’s come from. And it needs to come with an understanding that, just like the antagonist in Common People, “you’ll never get it right, because when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall, if you call your Dad he could stop it all.”