Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

White Van Man: Class Warfare on the Roads

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

White Van Man: Class Warfare on the Roads

Article excerpt

There is a new game circulating for free on the internet, called White Van Man. Using your arrow and shift keys, you have to drive a Ford transit van through the city, ramming other vehicles while avoiding police cars and roadworks. Meanwhile, various choice insults ("ponce", "muppet", "wanker") fly out of the driver's window, along with two-fingered salutes and clenched fists.

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But where does the term "white van man" come from? The etymology is fuzzy, but it was popularised by the Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy in the 1990s. The white van is the small firm's vehicle of choice: it is usually sold in that colour, and the self-employed do not usually want the hassle of painting it. White van man is a road menace who tailgates, never signals, overtakes and hurls abuse at his fellow road users. Or may be not. According to the Sun's "White van man of the week" column, which ran for several years, he is also the archetypal good bloke, a successor to the London cabbie as the plain-speaking voice of the white working class.

White van man entered our modern folklore around the same time as the pop-sociological phenomenon of "road rage". In How Emotions Work, the social psychologist Jack Katz identifies two contradictory traits of Los Angeles motorists who experience road rage. The first is their "routine production of incredulity". Angry motorists are permanently surprised at other people's useless driving ("Can you believe that guy? …

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