The Jack Pack: Mark & Sophie
Mark and Sophie, 26-year-old insurance company underwriter and 25-year-old admin assistant respectively, are snobs and they don’t care who knows it. In fact, they want everyone to know it. “I hate going on buses!” Sophie loudly declares on the odd occasions she has to catch one in town. “They smell!” “Let’s have a laugh at the chavs!” said Mark when they went to Cancun last year – feeling safely superior because they were staying in a friend’s parents’ timeshare penthouse-style apartment rather than a hotel. It’s all sort of tongue-in-cheek and yet not; they do consider themselves aspirational, and enjoy paying a bit extra in order to feel they’re getting a better deal than the masses.
They co-own a flat, that they really stretched to buy, in a new-build block on the edge of a town, which itself is on the edge of a large conurbation. The block is really handy for the link road and the motorway, which allows them to commute to work in the cars (her: Vauxhall Corsa; him: Audi A3 bought at an auction) that they pay for on finance schemes. They drive a lot; another advantage of the block is that it is five minutes from the town-edge retail park with a Tesco, a Sports Direct, Nandos and multiplex cinema, Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Chiquito and Ask. (Their parents say the park is “soulless”; Mark and Sophie laugh, and say they don’t know what their mums and dads are talking about.)
Seriously into their logos and branding, they have decorated the flat in a similar style to their friends, i.e huge telly, (they watch a lot of TV, particularly American dramas with intriguing lead characters who tend to be called Jack) and IKEA furniture, though they believe their choice and combination of items to be wittily original (Sophie would like to be an interior designer, but never gets round to enrolling on a course). The décor is typical of Mark and Sophie’s taste, in that they feel most comfortable with things that have an element of edginess and individualism, but which won’t make them feel vulnerable to mockery. Their clothes, for example, tend to have that distinctive modern style of High Street Underground. They wear things that reference high style or alternative cultures rather than actually belonging to them (Mark’s Gio-Goi rave T-shirts, Sophie’s fabulous counterfeit handbags) and their favoured brands imitate fashion houses or genuine independent streetwear. Grooming will be similar to that of a Channel 4 presenter.
Unlike many other middle-class tribes, the Jack Pack are simply not all that bothered about authenticity. V Festival, for example, is fine – Glastonbury looks too difficult and too expensive, and with V, you can go clubbing in town afterwards. At weekends they’ll sometimes hit the leisure park at weekends, but they also like a big night out in town, mainly going to large superclubs and chain-owned bars and pubs like Wetherspoon’s and Revolution. Sophie likes All Bar One; Mark thinks it’s “up itself”. They’ll often do separate bar crawls of their favourite pubs with groups of their mates and then meet in their favourite club at the end of the night in order to share a taxi and a kebab. Sundays are spent recovering in front of the TV.
Mark and Sophie are often compelled to do things because they know other people who have (they first went to V because Sophie’s sister and her friends had gone, and one of them ended up going for a snog in the VIP section with a touring member from Scouting for Girls). Secretly, they are often bored after 15 minutes of whatever it is, just as they are often bored with their purchases by the time they get home. They don’t actually like the “thing”, so much as the kudos that partaking in that “thing” will confer. This is why they and their friends are constantly updating their Facebook status. It is quite possible that “Sophie is about to walk down the aisle” could appear on her page on her wedding day.
They do enjoy special experiences that indulge their elitist fantasies though; Sophie likes to make a big show of being a snooty, materialistic, luxe-obsessed fashionista princess, and Mark entertains the same wealth-as-fantasy scenarios, though for him it’s a bit less individually aggressive. Sophie would like to be Mariah Carey; Mark would like to be in the Rat Pack, or one of those guy-gang movies set in Vegas. Mark loves Vegas – it is his favourite place, and he’s been twice – and in some ways the popularity of the new Vegas during their youth tells you a lot about the culture that influenced them. A theme-park world dedicated to high-rolling and the idea of limitless, unworked-for cash; Las Vegas was in many ways a fantasy version of the United Kingdom in which the Jack Pack grew up.
Mark and Sophie came of age in boom-time Britain, studying (Mark studied business management, Sophie did tourism at a vocational university) and then entering the job market in the early Noughties when money and jobs were plentiful. In those days if you were willing to turn up for Uni and then do as you were told at work, you ended up with a good salary and seemingly solid prospects.
Times were good, and with no money worries, Mark and Sophie and their mates instinctively felt the most important thing was to seem happy and confident, and to appear as if you were on the up, successful and independent.
Sophie used to love dancing to Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman, and it still reminds her of when she started working – the song summed it all up, really. In an age of easy credit, they spent and borrowed freely; switching credit cards and banks was a form of entertainment for them, a miniature version of the bankers’ deals in the City.
It wasn’t just about having money, but about having the feeling that having money was supposed to give you. True, they were never sure what that feeling was, but they acted as if they had it, assuming that that would make it come. This is why they didn’t like to question whether luxury products and brands were really worth it (when Mark bought the +HD TV, he actually used the wrong cable for a month at first; he and Sophie still watched it insisting that it looked amazing). Even now, when declaring how happy and up for it they are, they sometimes seem to be in competition with each other. Ask how Mark is, and he’ll say something like, “Topping, fella, topping, bang up for it tonight!” A bit like Vernon Kaye. Sophie likewise will not tell you she is “fine” but “really, really good”.
In many ways, they were really, really good. Children of Blair, they were comfortable in their own country, and at ease when it came to issues that bothered some of their parents’ generation. Their social circles included peers of various ethnicities; they didn’t worry about jobs for life and security too much; they couldn’t care less who was or was not gay or straight.
And yet, internally, this upbeat, finger-snapping happiness always masked an uncertainty as to what would actually constitute genuine contentment; they assumed it would be a decent car, nice holidays and good clothes, and when the car, holidays and clothes were not working, they assumed that they needed flashier and more expensive ones. It is easy to criticise this, but equally it is important to remember they were being told that the age of boom and bust
was over, that shopping was a sort of patriotic duty, and that with ambition, the world was your Fine de Claire oyster.
However, in the past two years this thinking has been challenged by what is happening to friends who went to Uni and are still stuck in fast-food jobs. With no memories of the 1970s and 1980s, or even early 1990s, the idea of a recession feels as strange and puzzling as an alien invasion. Having assumed that the income and services would always be there, the Jack Pack are beginning to worry, and wonder if they might need to ask their equally hard-pressed mums and dads for a loan.