Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me Keith Waterhouse can lay claim to inventing the art of identifying the modern social stereotype. Others might disagree, of course. Some might say that Osbert Lancaster deserves the mantle, although he really only did houses. Some might say we should look no further than Tom Wolfe, but then he took the art and turned it into a genre on a much grander, more resonant level.

In the Eighties there seemed to be a new socio-economic subcult every week– so many that I even invented a few myself, Pastafarians (Italian rastas) and Mashers (smartly dressed boulevardiers who in hindsight all looked like Russell Brand) among them.

But it was Waterhouse who invented Lee Gibb (a pseudonym) and it was Gibb who in the early Sixties wrote the two defining volumes of social stereotypes, The Joneses – How To Keep Up With Them and The Higher Jones. These slight volumes of black and white cartoons charted the battle of wits between the freshly minted, urbane middle-class Jones and the hapless suburbanite Robinson. If you were Jones you were a beatnik. If you were Robinson you were a teddy boy. If you were Jones you drank Cuba Libres. If you were Robinson you drank rum and Cokes.

To wit: "There is a cocktail party for 80 people being held in a room measuring seven feet by ten. Which is Jones? Seventy of the guests are drinkless, hot and bored. Nine people, however, have got themselves into an alcove and are listening with respect to the political views of a man who, although a total stranger in the house, has managed to get hold of a trayful of dry martinis. That (in spite of the fact that Joneses are rarely total strangers anywhere) is Jones."

Less to do with class than aspiration, the difference between Jones and Robinson is the difference these days between a Toyota and a Ford Focus, between a pair of chisel-toed brogues and a pair of duckbilled platypus loafers, between ordering Rioja Reserva and "a nice bottle of merlot", and much less about money and far more about taste.

Does your mistress look like Eva Green or the local barmaid? Does your teenage son dress like Mark Ronson or a hoodie? And who are you going to vote for at the next Election?

Now are you Jones? Or are you Robinson?

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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