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April 15, 2009 6:16 AM   Subscribe

The Atlantic takes a look at the American Class System: a look at Paul Fussell's Class 25 years later. Of particular interest is the movement of Class 'X' from outside the system to the core of the status-obsessed center.

Not that I'd know anything about it, of course, I'm too busy riding my fixie around Portland twittering for my ecopreneur gig.
posted by leotrotsky (157 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know if it's the changing Zeitgeist or her maturation as a writer, but it's good to see Sandra Tsing Loh nailing her targets hard. Her earlier stuff always struck me as too bombastic for its narrow frame.
posted by felix betachat at 6:41 AM on April 15, 2009


Wow. I caused the economic collapse by being an individual. Better not tell you about the obscure band I listen to. I don't want to collapse the gold standard.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nailing her targets? Doesn't she totally accept everything the guy said and elaborate on the changes in those classes?
posted by XMLicious at 6:50 AM on April 15, 2009


Nailing her targets?

I think the targets in this case, as always, are hipsters.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:54 AM on April 15, 2009


Updating someone else's account requires more than dropping a bunch of contemporary references in a scatter-brained article.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:55 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Of particular interest is the movement of Class 'X' from outside the system to the core of the status-obsessed center.

Wasn't that always kind of the punchline?
posted by enn at 6:55 AM on April 15, 2009


How utterly exhausting it must be to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your identity under the constraints of ethnic stereotyping and brand loyalty. "I'm this so I buy that," etc.

If someone tells you about what they own, tell them that it bores you. If someone tells you where they went to school, ask them what they learned, and then tell them "oh, that's what everyone says." If someone tells you their ethnicity, pick the most embarrassing or horrifying counterexample of that group, and casually compare them to that person ("Well, I'm Jewish, so-" "Oh, like David Berkowitz?"). If they tell you an idea they had, tell them you've heard it so many times you assumed everyone knew it already.

Whenever someone tells you something unsolicited that amounts to transmitting a social code, make it clear that you understood the code but hold it in contempt. You are not a member of the status system. You are not the intended recipient of the social code, you are the spy who has intercepted it. You are an agent of history infiltrating the class system, sent here on a mission to destroy it.

But like any good spy, you have to turn some insiders. Demand that they tell you something that they would be ashamed to tell others in their group. If their want to see your world of art, music and ideas that would frighten, challenge them, and mature them, they first have to tell you that they can't live another minute in mass-production product-differentiated designer world, where even people's most intimate thoughts are cribbed retail from cable-TV soft-core pornography. You are an agent of a world of risk, magic, passion and heartbreak, but you can't show it to them until they hit rock bottom and are willing to leave it behind forever. If they want to join your world, they have to say the magic words:

"I want out."
posted by Pastabagel at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2009 [61 favorites]


If it is truly based on taste, I am a member of at least five of the nine social classes. I also fit much of the framework of the "X" class. Only I don't seem to have access to many of the perks of "X". And that is very disconcerting.

If our place in society is truly marked by where we live and what we consume then the whole shooting match is all but lost. The economic crisis we face now will crack the facade of every social class and we will be left with no way to identify ourselves (via the identification of others) or judge the quality of our lives. The collective envy with which we have built so much of our industry will shatter and leave us scrambling for the shiniest and sharpest pieces. Class, like glass, will break and we will all become bit players in a Marxist fantasy. All of us equal in the qualities we have sought to shirk for much of the twentieth century. We will all be poor, educated, under-stimulated, and ordinary.

Welcome to Russia in the 1980's. Enjoy your endless search for black market blue jeans and Coca-cola. Bread lines form to the right.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 7:02 AM on April 15, 2009


FWIW, Paul Fussell makes a few (unnamed) cameo appearances in his son Samuel's memoir Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. He, Paul, comes across as a bit of a snob himself.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:02 AM on April 15, 2009


From the article: "To be sure, Fussell’s universe is somewhat passé...".
Undeniably so - BUT Fussell's writing is not (as the article also says).

Even when he's being arch & slightly insufferable, Fussell was a brilliant observer & huge fun.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:06 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sounds like she despises public radio but listens to it "like any obedient dog" because she's desperately afraid of not having laundry lists of second-hand trends to write contemptuously about.
posted by blucevalo at 7:08 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn! I'll bet Pastabagel is a hoot at parties!
posted by Floydd at 7:12 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


To FWIW--he is indeed snobbish. I know a bit about him, having been at the same college where he taught. But that said, his big accomplishment in CLASS is to let us know that American has always prided itself on being classless--democracy--but that is hardly the case at all.

Fussell, though, is at his very best when he writes about war and the infantryman. He served in WWII, got seriously wounded when very young, and is very knowledgeable. He began as a specialist in 18th Cent lit and moved into many other interesting areas. A very good writer and scholar, his books are always illuminating and fun to read.

The X Class is really for those who are able to take an ironic view of the "other" classes and be "above" them. Nice to be in that grouping, if you can. Will it all change? Sure. As soon as we have a classless society. Just wait and see.
posted by Postroad at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Certainly, well-educated Americans see themselves as worldly, nuanced, and comfortable with difference. Education also should make us curious about—even eager to hear—different political points of view. But it doesn’t. The more educated Americans become—and the richer—the less likely they are to discuss politics with those who have different points of view.... In 2000, the research of Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, showed that the correlation between the health of civic culture and the affluence of the local economy was actually negative; the highest-tech cities tended to have the lowest rate of civic connections.
If I were a modern-day Fussell, I think I'd write something about how it is a mark of the middle class intellectuals to wring their hands about "civic participation" while not actually doing anything about it themselves or explaining why the specific kind of "civic participation" they believe "counts" is so important compared to the communities that people choose for themselves to participate in.

I'm also surprised that Sandra Tsing Loh didn't draw a parallel between Fussell's "Class X" and "Stuff White People Like."
posted by deanc at 7:19 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Roger that. Even today, I think one’s relation to one’s alma mater is fraught with haute-bourgeois peril. In descending order of coolness are:

1. Dropped out of prestigious college;

2. Graduated from prestigious school, never bring it up unless asked—then as joke;

3. Graduated from prestigious school with honors, bring up quickly, no irony;

4. Graduated, have become garish, cheerful head of alumni booster committee.


Obviously, being The Atlantic, this article is meant to be read by a certain class. See if you can guess which one. The one that went to a prestigious college, maybe?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


If our place in society is truly marked by where we live and what we consume then the whole shooting match is all but lost. The economic crisis we face now will crack the facade of every social class and we will be left with no way to identify ourselves (via the identification of others) or judge the quality of our lives.

How exactly would that work? An economic crisis does not level the playing field for everyone, if anything it broadens the gap between rich and poor. At any rate there will always be rich people who live in [trendy exclusive costal town] and drink [exorbitantly expensive wine], middle class people who live in [suburb of major city] and buy [popular consumer electronics device], and poor people who live in [anywhere they can afford] and shop at [cheap big box store].

But that said, his big accomplishment in CLASS is to let us know that American has always prided itself on being classless--democracy--but that is hardly the case at all.

But that was obvious to anyone who bothered to look already. The Great Gatsby for example has the exact same message and had been embraced as a classic for over fifty years by the time CLASS was written.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:31 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


On the flip side you really shouldn't talk about America having a British Class system until you have spent some time in Britain and London doesn't really count.
posted by srboisvert at 7:34 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved Class when I first read it years ago and recommend everyone take a look at it. I had the privilege of interviewing Fussell once. He's irascible as you might expect. I wanted to ask him about the "X" class b/c I felt it was a cop out. (I didn't, which was my own cop out). To my mind, he was talking about academics (not hipsters) and therefore sounded a little to "above it all" for my tastes. Not to mention that he was wrong: I'm an academic now and you've never met a more status conscious, rule-bound group in your life (but I'm sure you knew that).

I was just talking to my wife about the way academic status consciousness is creeping into everything. It used to be the very bright, ambitious kid from the moderately sized mid-western town went to the local U. Now all they can think about is getting into a "good school." (BTW, I live in Iowa.) Once they are done, they want a "good job" (banking) in a "hip city" (NYC, SF, perhaps Chicago). Perhaps I should be glad these people leave. I suspect they will be back once they grow out of their puerile status-anxiety (I came back).

All this suggests to me that we are becoming France, with a kind of informal governing class that stridently denies it is a class b/c "everybody gets where they are by merit alone." Interestingly, the formation of such a governing class-that-denies-its-existence is the regular result of all meritocratic systems. Wealth, connections and intelligence are highly heritable. And people are going to marry people like themselves and favor their children. In the beginning, meritocracy increases class mobility; in the end, it serves as the ideology of the merit-bearing class.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:37 AM on April 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


"Whenever someone tells you something unsolicited that amounts to transmitting a social code, make it clear that you understood the code but hold it in contempt. You are not a member of the status system. You are not the intended recipient of the social code, you are the spy who has intercepted it. You are an agent of history infiltrating the class system, sent here on a mission to destroy it."

Aren't you ever so clever, authentic, and bright.
posted by oddman at 7:38 AM on April 15, 2009 [23 favorites]


...Whenever someone tells you something unsolicited that amounts to transmitting a social code, make it clear that you understood the code but hold it in contempt. You are not a member of the status system. You are not the intended recipient of the social code, you are the spy who has intercepted it. You are an agent of history infiltrating the class system, sent here on a mission to destroy it.

But like any good spy, you have to turn some insiders. Demand that they tell you something that they would be ashamed to tell others in their group. If their want to see your world of art, music and ideas that would frighten, challenge them, and mature them, they first have to tell you that they can't live another minute in mass-production product-differentiated designer world, where even people's most intimate thoughts are cribbed retail from cable-TV soft-core pornography. You are an agent of a world of risk, magic, passion and heartbreak, but you can't show it to them until they hit rock bottom and are willing to leave it behind forever. If they want to join your world, they have to say the magic words:

"I want out."


The world of art, music and ideas is being totally hoovered by every cool hunting consultant group that ever flaneured down the boulevard, I assume you are being ironic--since that is the self description of the ideal consumer monad--the single rugged outsider gazing with benign contempt at the rat racing fools. The person who is not a tourist but a traveler. The early adopter. Corporate target numero uno of the 21st Century.

You are an agent of history infiltrating the class system, sent here on a mission to destroy it.

Oh, wow, man, dig it--that is just too high: that is the special snowflake's mission statement non pareil.
posted by y2karl at 7:41 AM on April 15, 2009 [38 favorites]


FSM deliver us from article writers desperate to fill up space between ads with one... more... attempt to classify social groups with the cross-eyed avidity of an entomologist peering at the genitalia of some rain-forest beetle with a ginormous magnifying glass. I'm familiar with Loh through three sources:

1) This thing.

2) The one where she claims to be jealous of a bed-deathed lesbian couple that she knows because they've given up on sex in favor of stuffing themselves with Doritos and pizza while they watch movies at home.

3) That This American Life story where she finds out that her dad is a hipster icon for doing naked handstands on the beach.

You'll never guess which one of these is worth paying attention to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:43 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


MarshallPoe: Right, but what's the alternative? A formal governing class? Even in more strict meritocratic systems advantages tend to accrue over time, sure, but at least there is the possibility of mobility based on merit. I don't know if we've got any better options out there...

A flatter society perhaps? Sweden?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:43 AM on April 15, 2009


1. Dropped out of prestigious college;
PJ O'Rourke had a riff on this in "Modern Manners". It went something like "it's so impressive to say, 'I flunked out of Harvard.' But if you say, 'I got straight A's at Wayne State,' who cares?"
Obviously, being The Atlantic, this article is meant to be read by a certain class. See if you can guess which one. The one that went to a prestigious college, maybe?
You're missing the subtlety. Here's what I think Fussell would say: it's not just the class of people who went to a prestigious college-- it's the class of people (or the crowd of people someone hangs out in) for whom going to a prestigious college was not the norm and thus perhaps something one failed at or is self-deprecating about in order to avoid coming across as "uppity." Or -- even better -- the class of people who read the Atlantic is the class of people whose ambition is to live in the way they perceive those who went to a prestigious college live. The sort of upper middle class and upper class group for whom going to a prestigious college is the norm would fall into #3. The ambitious middle class -- the most garish -- would be #4.

Reading Fussell's book is so perversely enjoyable and annoying because you start to plug these sort of scenarios into his framework.
posted by deanc at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2009


Updating someone else's account requires more than dropping a bunch of contemporary references in a scatter-brained article.

This.

"Here is something someone wrote 25 years ago. iPhones!"

Also the people that she is talking about represent what? 1 to 5% of Americans? Do they really need this much attention? I suppose they are the people that read The Atlantic and so they want to read about themselves, even if it is in a negative light, but still. I don't care if someone wants to have little pads and pencils for brainstorming poised on a renewable-bamboo table or children named Asia and Lennon. I could not give less of a fuck. This entire article is an example of the absolute waste of time that magazine writing represents. It is all just filler to stick in between the ads.

Also, to all the kids out there, no do not do this:

If someone tells you their ethnicity, pick the most embarrassing or horrifying counterexample of that group, and casually compare them to that person ("Well, I'm Jewish, so-" "Oh, like David Berkowitz?").

I don't know what that guy's problem is, but don't do that. If someone is obnoxious, you can always choose not to spend time with them.
posted by ND¢ at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


The world of art, music and ideas is being totally hoovered by every cool hunting consultant group that ever flaneured down the boulevard, I assume you are being ironic--since that is the self description of the ideal consumer monad--the single rugged outsider gazing with benign contempt at the rat racing fools. The person who is not a tourist but a traveler. The early adopter. Corporate target numero uno of the 21st Century.

Spot on. Pastabagel's solution is the one everyone picks--and as it turns out, a million people ironically detached from their neighbors' consumption choices end up having very similar consumption choices themselves. Revolt is "always already" coopted.

The only real way out is total Unabomber-style isolation, but few people are willing to go that route. The other alternative is to open yourself up to the commercialization of your identity. I don't like obscure music because I'm a rebel against the system, I like it because I enjoy projecting an image of myself as a person who listens to obscure music. And so on with everything else--clothes, books, ideas. (I like reading Hipster Runoff because it exemplifies this attitude.) If you can't fight it, just accept it. Being a rebel is just another pose, the ultimate pose.
posted by nasreddin at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


There was a lot of bullshit in the article, but it still hit home.
posted by afu at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Look, 14 people favorited Pastabagel's comment! Radical rebels against the system, every single one!
posted by nasreddin at 7:58 AM on April 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yeah I can't even put myself into the hypothetical mindset of someone to whom that comment does not look like utter and complete bullshit.
posted by ND¢ at 8:01 AM on April 15, 2009


The idea of "what you buy is what you are." is so ingrained, unavoidable, and profitable, that we just swim in it like fish.
posted by The Whelk at 8:03 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whenever someone tells you something unsolicited that amounts to transmitting a social code, make it clear that you understood the code but hold it in contempt.

Ha.
posted by enn at 8:06 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


IM IN UR CLASS UNDRMINING oh fuck it, this is all getting so tiresome

All of you! Outside! It's April and there's gay-ron-teed some crazy-ass weather going on.
posted by everichon at 8:08 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


If their want to see your world of art, music and ideas that would frighten, challenge them, and mature them

You had some good advice up to this point on how to deflate blowhards and not get yourself invited back to places, but then you blew it. I've read enough of your posts to be not at all convinced that you're being ironic here.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:09 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


What Fussell really nails in Class, I think, is the insecurity and desperation of the class-conscious, the constant measurement and minute up-and-down movement and whatnot. Where he really fails, I think, is with Class X (this is admittedly a change in my thinking from when I first read Class in high school--at that point, I think I felt kinda like Pastabagel). Fussell's discussion of Class X makes it clear that it's the only way out, and he saves it for last (and then talks about, like, rich hippies and shit). I think his publishers pushed for a happy ending.
posted by box at 8:13 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I want out."
Oh Pastabagel, you class X scamp!
The truth is of course that you cannot "get out", why? Because wanting to get out is a trait that others share, often these others will have come to their desire to escape from the class system in the same way that you have. They may even want to date others who "get it". Oh dear, a semi-endogamous group with identifiable characteristics? That's a social class right there.

I wanted to ask him about the "X" class b/c I felt it was a cop out.
It totally is. It's like "Oh, but not you dear reader! Not you and I. We're birds of a feather, aren't we? *Our* shared tastes transcend the vulgarities of the class system. You are free to laugh at the Other depicted in this book"
posted by atrazine at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


All this suggests to me that we are becoming France, with a kind of informal governing class that stridently denies it is a class b/c "everybody gets where they are by merit alone." Interestingly, the formation of such a governing class-that-denies-its-existence is the regular result of all meritocratic systems. Wealth, connections and intelligence are highly heritable. And people are going to marry people like themselves and favor their children. In the beginning, meritocracy increases class mobility; in the end, it serves as the ideology of the merit-bearing class.

That's a fascinating take on France. Got any links to articles that talk about it further?
posted by afu at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2009


Maybe it's because I'm cynical or maybe it's because I've spent my life thus far living below the Mason-Dixon line (and quite possibly both), but I don't see a lot of evidence that the old--and I do mean old--markers of class status and privilege have really gone away. Buying local produce in a thrift store t-shirt does not negate your trust fund. The most outspoken proponents of a class-free society were my fellow classmates (no pun intended) at boarding school. There are still far too many places in the U.S. where a lot of the big decisions, political, economic, social or otherwise are made by some variation of an old boy network over glasses of single malt. Just because you shed the external skin of your privilege in order to appear cooler or more progressive doesn't mean you don't enjoy the myriad opportunities your background has afforded you.
posted by thivaia at 8:22 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's too much focus on 'cool' and not enough focus on 'right'.

Also, there is stupid in every class. It tends to decrease with education.
posted by kldickson at 8:25 AM on April 15, 2009


Could she be any more self-important? Yes, America has classes. Duh. Part of the process of identifying with a class is choosing to believe that there is something inherently worthy about that class, something that sets it apart from others in a desirable way. So, Class X treasures their perceived individuality; Upper treasures their exclusivity. This stuff is blindingly obvious and boringly WASP-centric.
posted by notashroom at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2009


Spot on. Pastabagel's solution is the one everyone picks--and as it turns out, a million people ironically detached from their neighbors' consumption choices end up having very similar consumption choices themselves. Revolt is "always already" coopted.

The only real way out is total Unabomber-style isolation, but few people are willing to go that route. The other alternative is to open yourself up to the commercialization of your identity


Pointless revolt is co-opted, certainly. But I'm not talking about rebellion. You don't choose to be a rebel because being a rebel defines you. You try to study and learn things that give you insight about the world. Whether those things are taken as symbols by advertisers or marketers is irrelevant, because they aren't your identity. You identity is who you are and how you choose to behave based on the model of the world you have constructed using pre-existing ideas and cultural artifacts as inputs. It isn't about buying a leather jacket because you want to be thought of as a rebel. That's silly. It's about realizing that you have to do what you think is right and sensible even if everyone else isn't doing that thing, and even when it means you are likely to be ignored because of it.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:31 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pointless revolt is co-opted, certainly. But I'm not talking about rebellion. You don't choose to be a rebel because being a rebel defines you. You try to study and learn things that give you insight about the world. Whether those things are taken as symbols by advertisers or marketers is irrelevant, because they aren't your identity. You identity is who you are and how you choose to behave based on the model of the world you have constructed using pre-existing ideas and cultural artifacts as inputs. It isn't about buying a leather jacket because you want to be thought of as a rebel. That's silly. It's about realizing that you have to do what you think is right and sensible even if everyone else isn't doing that thing, and even when it means you are likely to be ignored because of it.

So you go through life assuming that you're the only one who does what he thinks is right and sensible?
posted by nasreddin at 8:35 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


nasreddin - "I don't like obscure music because I'm a rebel against the system, I like it because I enjoy projecting an image of myself as a person who listens to obscure music. "

Can't anyone ever enjoy anything because, well, they like it? They think its pretty, or harmonious, or makes them look taller (and they always wanted to be taller, because their Aunt whom they love is tall)? I wear clothes that are comfortable, listen to music that makes me smile, and put art on my walls that I think is attractive...should I care what 'image' that projects?

I suppose I am projecting an image, but unconciously. Does that mean I'm a stupid person? A 'sheeple'? Do I have to study everything I like (or think I like, because apparantly I don't actually like anything because I like it, its all a pose or indoctrination or whatever), and decide what 'image' it is, and then force myself to conform to the rest of that image?

What if I like gargoyles and sweat pants? Country music and egyptian pottery? Wearing leather jackets because of the smell? Is that allowed? Or only if I'm 'concious' of projecting an 'image' of the kind of person who is 'eccentric' or whatever?

Because really, that gets awfully tiring awfully quick.
posted by sandraregina at 8:47 AM on April 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


In any case, unable to secure those astronomical loans, more Xers will have to start rubbing shoulders with The Other, living in truly mixed neighborhoods, next door to such noncreative types as Kohl’s-shopping back-office workers and actual not-yet-ready-for-their-close-up-in-Yoga- Journal immigrants.

Well, its good to know that my being poor has finally put me ahead of the curve.
posted by khaibit at 8:47 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I only hang out with other Ivy League grads who live in Brooklyn and are into Eastern European folk music (what can I say, bluegrass just got too mainstream). I can personally assure you that class does not exist in America. In fact, we're all planning to cancel our Atlantic subscriptions.
posted by snofoam at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2009


Where he really fails, I think, is with Class X (this is admittedly a change in my thinking from when I first read Class in high school--at that point, I think I felt kinda like Pastabagel). Fussell's discussion of Class X makes it clear that it's the only way out, and he saves it for last (and then talks about, like, rich hippies and shit).

Exactly. I read Class when I was in college, and self-identified with "Class X" for sincere -- albeit naive -- reasons: I was pursuing a career in the arts and I was genuinely and sincerely interested in an independant approach to self-expression (in other words, I honestly didn't give a shit what other people thought/ate/dressed like, and coudn't be arsed to conform).

It's only now that I see what he was getting at, and why this article is so scornful of what "Class X" has become. I read things like "Maybe Class X will find that they really have to live amongst 'the other' rather than live on trust funds, and maybe they'll give up Starbucks", and I think, "....I always HAVE lived like that. I don't do that to fit in, I do that because I'm flat broke and still don't give a shit what others' opinions are."

....Is there a "Class Y"? Or is it just people who don't give a shit?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Do I have to study everything I like (or think I like, because apparantly I don't actually like anything because I like it, its all a pose or indoctrination or whatever), and decide what 'image' it is, and then force myself to conform to the rest of that image?

The examined life is not worth living.
posted by ND¢ at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


What if I like gargoyles and sweat pants? Country music and egyptian pottery? Wearing leather jackets because of the smell? Is that allowed? Or only if I'm 'concious' of projecting an 'image' of the kind of person who is 'eccentric' or whatever?

Hey, chill. I'm not telling you what to do. It's just that your consumption choices are products of more than just basic, narrowly-defined "liking," whether you admit it or not. There's nothing wrong with that. Enjoying something or choosing something to acquire is a complicated process that involves a lot of things: physical response, personal associations (I like this because I like my aunt), intellectual fascination, but also status anxiety and wanting to look a certain way and so on. I'm not saying they always have to involve these things, but they often do--and rather than shutting your ears and going "NO NO NO I'M AN INDIVIDUAL AND ALL MY PREFERENCES ARE THE PRODUCT OF A COMPLETELY AUTONOMOUS PROCESS," it's wise to think about those other aspects and what they mean to you. Obviously if you are invested in your choices being completely autonomous (as the Pastabagel approach seems to be), you're going to be uncomfortable with this. What I'm saying is that we shouldn't be uncomfortable with it--we should relish the opportunity to have yet another way to enjoy something.
posted by nasreddin at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Isn't this something that the NYTimes should be masturbating to? It seems like every other day they have some story about an impossibly rich New Yorker who probably doesn't exist that explains a trend that doesn't really exist ("Dog yoga teachers losing jobs as economy tanks!") that makes us all feel poor? The reality is that modern capitalism has delivered us goods so cheaply it has effectively destroyed class and turned into a David Brooks BoBos which, if you break it down, basically states that class, if it means anything, is choosing your lifestyle (and I mean that in a marketing, branding sense).

Do you know what class used to mean? Social advancement only through the army or through the church. It didn't mean that you vacationed in Maine and had a nice boat. It meant you didn't get to go to college, you lived in a shitty apartment, spent your days making nails at a factory with other people who were too uneducated to unionize or understand they were being screwed, though they certainly knew it, had no way to even conceptualize how to advance because they knew that the alternative was spending several hours with a plow on your back to get to your field, work your field, walk several hours back and have some beer and bread for dinner. Oh on the way back they saw deer and other animals, but those belonged to the landowners and the aristocracy, who were quite literally part of a different class, anointed by God. Oh yeah, if you're male don't try to marry, which was the general thesis of Farewell to Alms, that the rich simply out bred the poor, bringing their values and mores with them (education, non-violence, etc.). In essence, the higher classes, they are ourselves!

So what am I getting at? This article is nothing but a description of what people buy when their disposable income begins to grow. He started talking about some really interesting topics, like now that goods are so cheap we have the emergence of a class of people that doesn't really do anything (we used to call them priests). People look up to them, they make concept albums, do community theater and generally lead a lifestyle you can't buy. Once in a while you have a member of aristocracy that decides to join "the black" but this is nothing new. So now you have a group of people that can pursue traditionally non-economically viable activities that interest them and become a "creative class" ... so what does this mean, how will this effect society, etc. There's an interesting article in there somewhere trying to get out, but the author was a little too infatuated with the rich kids at his school that took a vacation to the Caribbean over Christmas break.
posted by geoff. at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2009 [21 favorites]


>> I wanted to ask him about the "X" class b/c I felt it was a cop out.
> It totally is. It's like "Oh, but not you dear reader! Not you and I. We're birds of a feather, aren't we? *Our* shared tastes transcend the vulgarities of the class system. You are free to laugh at the Other depicted in this book"


Yes. That is exactly what I thought when I got to that chapter: "So, wait, Fussell wrote this entire book to say how everyone else sucks except for him and his friends? Way to be douche, Fussell."
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The historian in me wants to give geoff. a big hug right now.
posted by The Whelk at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2009


Class is a funny, slippery thing. The problem is that it is an entirely imaginary thing, like nation-hood, and how it is imagined differs from place to place and from time to time. (Fussell's book is already out of date, and largely out of touch with contemporary class, but that's because class in the Anglo-world has changed a lot since the Thatcher-Reagan era).

But just because it's not real doesn't mean it isn't a powerful influence on our society - what class we see ourselves in changes how we see our relationship to our society, and "class" definitions (income, occupation, education-levels) correlate with such phenomenon as "future-orientation" (how much you plan for the future).

It's not just based on taste, as Fussell insists - one part is, like race, about self-perception and the perception (and categorisation) of others. This self and other categorization is a mixture of economic and cultural categories (including income, occupation, education and culture) - and in the US, race definitely gets mixed up with it too, in that certain races are always seen as being in a certain class, while other classes are seen primarily as that race. Thus, where I lived in the US, black is synonymous with lower class and white with middle class; elsewhere, white people may also be included in the "face" of the lower class (creating a multi-racial lower class), but middle-classness may be raced in that it is perceived as being only a white experience.

But that's not to ignore the real issues of income, occupation, education and culture, which I fear sometimes do get lost in the compelling and colourful story of race in the US. Income matters; middle classness is based on being able to live a middle class life. One cannot really feel middle-class in most of North America (dense urban areas aside) if you cannot afford a car or to buy a house; this keeps you out of important middle-class cultural moments. Occupation is a funny thing - in Britain, manual "blue collar" jobs have traditionally always been seen as "working class," but I notice that in North America some blue-collar workers identify as middle class if they are able to keep up the lifestyle of the middle class (like a house and a car) - and considering that many blue collar jobs pay as well as many white collar, this makes sense. Some even vote like they are upper class, and about to lose all their money through taxes, when really (as someone near or below the median income) they would probably gain through a more European approach to taxation and spending in the US (exhibit A: Joe the Plumber, whom I feel badly for). While others may identify as working class, especially if they are unionized or feel strongly about working class culture or history, even if they have an income and lifestyle that makes them as well-off as traditionally middle-class occupations. In fact, they may be ignorant of the fact that they are much better off than many other people - much of the union movement, for example, claims to represent the needs of the lowest income people, but their actions (particularly in public sector strikes) hurt lower income people while getting no benefits for those lower income people.

And to mess it all up, in comes culture and education. I keep arguing with a friend as to whether his parents are "middle-middle" or "upper-middle" class. It doesn't help that he's originally British, and in Britain "upper-middle" can mean owning a boat and meeting the Queen at garden parties, but not having a title. What I tell him is that as highly educated and well-travelled Europeans, they have the kind of cultural outlook on life that makes them more akin with Canadians who make more money than they do (very well-to-do Canadians who travel frequently to Europe, for example), than middle-middle. But, of course, we also have a definition problem - I set "middle-middle" at median household income, because I'm a literal person that way, where as he would set it somewhere around the 75-90th percentile (thinking like a nineteenth century Brit, since the middle classes/bourgeoisie of the 1832 Reform Bill were not those of middle income, but the people in the top incomes who were nonetheless not gentry but worked for a living - doctors, lawyers, factory owners, etc).

Other ways culture and education mess things up: what class is a non-science graduate student? Their incomes put them down in the lowest classes (and though they may expect a higher income in the future, this often does not happen), but their children do wonderfully on standardized tests and their future-orientation is even more future-oriented than those in the middle class. Though they lack actual capital, they kick ass in the cultural capital (having had experiences which few people of a similarly low income would have had), and may be very well off in social capital, as well, since they associate with people at the other end of the income scale than they are. What class are they? In my experience, kind of upper-middle when it comes to education issues (expectations for children, etc), but maybe lower-middle or lower on economic issues (expectations for housing, voting on economic policy, etc.)

Now I'm off pontificating on class just as much as Fussell, without any serious research - my knowledge is much better on social mobility and class in 17th century England. But I think it's important that we recognise that class, like nation, is one of those phenomenon that is both imaginary and real at the same time, and we need to study its definitions and effects to really begin to understand how it works (how do people self or other-define, how does this change over time). Maybe we need to break down the constituent parts of class - is increased future orientation (as has been observed between lower and middle class) a function of income, property-ownership/investment or education? Or maybe education is a form of investment in and of itself? Are the health effects of class due to income, working conditions or education?

But then again, maybe the reason we can't disentangle these things is that they are constantly interacting. And now my brain hurts.
posted by jb at 9:07 AM on April 15, 2009 [21 favorites]


If I need dialogue for some kind of chattering valley girl zombie who won't shut up with the vapid shit while the hero is trying his damnedest to throttle it to death, I will call on Ms. Loh.

If you actually bought the black Ramones tee the year it came out, the lettering will be so faded (as mine is), you literally cannot read it. It looks like a linty rag. So there. Granted, this sense of X superiority is an absurd stance for a fanny-pack-wearing mother in Desitin-smeared drawstring Target pants who never particularly liked the Ramones and who, like any obedient dog, now dutifully listens to public radio while driving her kids about town in a McDonald’s-bag-strewn Toyota minivan.However, I believe it is the very je-ne-sais-quoi boldness with which I saucily steer my bird-shit-bedecked “ride”into scattering flocks of L.A. valet parkers that marks the true rebel.... *urk*
posted by fleacircus at 9:07 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Enid: It's not like I'm some modern punk, dickhead. It's an obvious, 1977 original punk rock look. I guess Johnny fuckface over there's too stupid to realize it.

Rebecca: I didn't really get it either.

Enid: Everyone's too stupid.
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's because I'm coming from the other "X" - the Generation X - that I'm not sure if I'm really getting this. So that whole article was a clever, indirect, oblique way of saying "The hippies sold out to the man"? Isn't that a kind of obvious and conventional-wisdom thing to be expressing in such a roundabout fashion? My impression of Class-X-type-people is already Dennis Hopper of Easy Rider counterculture fame doing insurance-and-financial-services company commercials.

Or maybe the message is "every hippie-like counterculture will always sell out just the way the hippies did"? I suppose that's a tad bit more profound but it still seems kinda straightforward to be expressed with all of the sleight-of-wit.
posted by XMLicious at 9:17 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The other alternative is to open yourself up to the commercialization of your identity. I don't like obscure music because I'm a rebel against the system, I like it because I enjoy projecting an image of myself as a person who listens to obscure music. And so on with everything else--clothes, books, ideas. (I like reading Hipster Runoff because it exemplifies this attitude.)

Hipster Runoff skewers the kind of people who are hyper-conscious of self-branding and social signals. It certainly doesn't celebrate them or embrace their trend anxiety as a solution. Really, there is no solution. Just like what you like, and fill your life with real shit and real people instead of trying to project a social brand like some Fortune 500 company. Is that so hard? (At this point Hipster Runoff would mock me for trying to project an 'authentic' brand. See, no solution.)
posted by naju at 9:20 AM on April 15, 2009


To my mind, he was talking about academics (not hipsters) and therefore sounded a little to "above it all" for my tastes. Not to mention that he was wrong: I'm an academic now and you've never met a more status conscious, rule-bound group in your life (but I'm sure you knew that).

I thought he was talking about people who (in their own lifetimes) had moved between classes, and just used an academic with working class parents as an example of that. The idea was that "class x" are people who are torn between class cultures. But it has been a very long time since I read Fussell's Class.

It is perhaps more common in academia to have a lot of movement from the working class into the upper middle, because academia is one field in which you don't have to have connections to get started - you finish highschool with decent grades, apply to university, and then you start making connections in undergraduate and graduate school. It's competitive, but structured, like the military or civil service, and thus much more open. Whereas I find the business world to be a strange, opaque thing, without a clear way to enter for an outsider. No one I know personally has progressed from working class to the private sector; I know several people who have gone from working-class to academe. (Yes, I realise that as a grad student, my samples are very biased - but I'm also thinking of my extended, non-academic family - and there education and a profession has been much more likely to lead to social mobility than business or entrepeneurship.)
posted by jb at 9:20 AM on April 15, 2009


On preview, I think maybe we agree.
posted by naju at 9:21 AM on April 15, 2009


rather than shutting your ears and going "NO NO NO I'M AN INDIVIDUAL AND ALL MY PREFERENCES ARE THE PRODUCT OF A COMPLETELY AUTONOMOUS PROCESS," it's wise to think about those other aspects and what they mean to you

This is useful not just for thinking about purchasing things, but for all sorts of endeavors! It's good advice for that segment of Metafilter that seems to perennially take offense the idea of any kind of influences interfering with their pure, precious, "conscious" individuality.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:22 AM on April 15, 2009


Pastabagels rant was obnoxious and uncalled for, and I love it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2009


Hipster Runoff skewers the kind of people who are hyper-conscious of self-branding and social signals. It certainly doesn't celebrate them or embrace their trend anxiety as a solution. Really, there is no solution. Just like what you like, and fill your life with real shit and real people instead of trying to project a social brand like some Fortune 500 company. Is that so hard? (At this point Hipster Runoff would mock me for trying to project an 'authentic' brand. See, no solution.)

No, HR mocks people who are conscious of self-branding but pretend not to be. The whole premise of the "alt vs. bro" thing on the site is that actual "alts" try to make it about other things--authenticity, social justice, or whatever--but it really just boils down to constructing an "alt" brand for yourself that is pimped out with authenticity and social justice as paraphernalia. The message of HR isn't "DEATH TO FALSE ALTS, BE YOURSELF!", because that's really the quintessential alt creed (as y2karl pointed out). It's that brand-construction is just inevitable.
posted by nasreddin at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2009


Oh, Loh, for a moment I almost unwished you dead and gone from NPR. How can this essay be so observed, when her radio pieces are glib garbage, I thought. But then, then, the parentheticals. The self-indulgent protestations that she's still hip, really, hipper than the majority of her peers! Trenchant, mordant, Jenny Craig at Burning Man!

I grew up poor and have largely remained so. The most I've ever been paid over a year is $27,000. I have an education (a rather good one, I think) from a third-tier state school near where I grew up, but not the prestigious University of the town I grew up in.

Ah-yayes, I like the punk rock, I like the indie rock, I like the obscure noise bands and have t-shirts from the bands that your favorite band members were in before they were in that band you like. And it vaguely pained me to realize when those markers I have because something resonated with me were adopted by the well-to-do. When the trust-fund Amway baby lectured me on which Knife track was acceptable to play at parties… But those things pass, Ozymandias. (See that? I'm learn-ed.)

I remember that the great fear of de Tocqueville was that without an aristocracy to idly advance culture, America's meritocracy would stagnate and we'd fall victim to a crushing conformity. I think, for speculative work, he wasn't as far off as he might have been. That plays itself out as the anxiety, the comeasured ambition, that does bind many of my peers, and the writers and readers of the Atlantic, I'd wager.

But there is a way out, and not just the (I thought) obviously parodic one offered by Pastabagel. It comes from avoiding one thing and removing another: Don't have children, so you don't have to worry about someone else's welfare. Perhaps this is an unfair media creation, but from breastfeeding wars to boarding schools, this seems to me the greatest cause of class consciousness and competitive assessment. The second? Get rid of your money. It's not hard, especially now. Invest foolishly, live beyond your means, destroy your credit, hell, just give it away. Because when you're poor, poor beyond the fashionable couple of years in college (where "ramen" becomes symbolic), poor for a long time with no real way out of poverty, no one cares what you think. You can go to art openings (free booze), and no one will ask you your opinion. You can wear the same clothes that your parents bought for you in high school, and no one will ask you where you bought them. You can be invisible, you can disappear, opt out, like what you like, do what you… No, not quite that. You can't do what you want. You have to scrimp, you have to work jobs that kill your back and your feet, you have to have a vague dread of retirement (perhaps social security will be fixed by then!).

But at least every time Sandra Tsing Loh tells you that it's cooler not to mention your prestigious college, you can ignore her right back.
posted by klangklangston at 9:26 AM on April 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


This article starts out well-enough, but by the end it is a ridiculous rant. It wasn't the "individualist" young people who bankrupted this country. It was the selfish baby-boomers in their suits and corporate jobs. Has she NOT been listening to the news for, like, the last 10 years?

Convenient scape-goating in a book review's clothing.

Read Paul Fussell's book. It's much better than this.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2009


I'm also surprised that no one has mentioned Bourdieu's Distinction. Or is that too poseur for this thread?
posted by nasreddin at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2009


as it turns out, a million people ironically detached from their neighbors' consumption choices end up having very similar consumption choices themselves.

Reminds me of this. From the wiki (I don't have the book to hand):

In the case of consumerism, the book explains that the phenomenon comes largely from competitive consumption in an effort for distinction, and 'rebellion' is an excellent path to distinction. Since most goods depend on exclusivity for their value, especially goods which are said to decry mainstream life, a purchasing 'arms race' is created whenever others begin to follow the same tendencies: if you lag, you become mainstream. Not surprisingly, then, the image of rebelliousness or non-conformity has long been a selling point for many products, especially those that begin as 'alternative' products. Far from being 'subversive,' encouraging the purchase of such products (such as Adbusters' line of running shoes) does nothing more than turn them into 'mainstream' ones. This tendency is very easy to observe in music, for example.

Pastabagel: It's about realizing that you have to do what you think is right and sensible even if everyone else isn't doing that thing, and even when it means you are likely to be ignored because of it.

See, you've missed the point. What about realizing that you have to do what you think is right and sensible even if everyone else is doing that thing? That's the test. Otherwise, you're still buying that other brand of shoes because this one is too popular. And guess what? You've just been marketed to.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


What about realizing that you have to do what you think is right and sensible even if everyone else is doing that thing? That's the test.

Nope. The test is whether you would still buy a non-mainstream pair of shoes even with the conscious knowledge that you are buying into a commodified, mass-marketed faux-rebellion.

(It's turtles all the way down.)
posted by nasreddin at 9:35 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the beginning, meritocracy increases class mobility; in the end, it serves as the ideology of the merit-bearing class.

I read Paul Fussell's Class when I was about 18 or so, and I remember finding fascinating, but as I got older less and less satisfying as a serious analysis of class. Fussell is a great literary scholar (his The Great War and Modern Memory has some excellent analysis of writing in the First World War, though I think he focuses too much on high literary writers to write a convincing cultural history), but he doesn't bring the same kind of analytical rigour to his social writing.

Years later I read Michael Young's The Rise of the Meritocracy, and it really made me rethink a lot of things about inequality and what is best for society. Though Rise is clearly fiction, Young was a sociologist (I really need to read more of his research), and spent so much more time thinking really critically about the effect of inequality on society - and Rise is an attempt to distill his thinking into a convincing argumentative work for non-specialists. It's truly brilliant. But it saddens me that so few people who use the word "meritocracy" (I'm talking to you, Tony Blair) seem to have read Young's book.

But yes, if you are concerned about meritocracy and how it can lead to a society which is just as unequal as the class-bound past (which, of course, was less class bound and more complex than people think but still sucked for most of us), I strongly recommend reading The Rise of the Meritocracy.
posted by jb at 9:36 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


How about, "subcultures often use material objects to identify themselves, and merchants and artisans make money selling these objects to them and those who want to be like them."

Or do you think those hippies killed, skinned, tanned and tailored the deerhide for those tassle jackets? Someone was selling winkle-picker shoes and beanies to beatnicks, and flappers got their galoshes from one shopkeep or another.

It's only cool because other people aredoing it, not because they aren't.

This is pretty tiresome. Counterculture has lately become this obsession with an inauthentic originality that's settled into this stifling homogeneous hipster/scener smog. I mean, it was bad before, but now it's mainstreamed. Like escaping to the Math Club meeting only to find out it's president is the jock who shoved you into the locker, and he thinks he's hot stuff for knowing his multiplication tables.

There might be authentic subcultures out there doing something weird and worthwhile, but they've been drowned by the smog. Hipsters are the Borg.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:40 AM on April 15, 2009


Actually, that may be the definitive hipster test. Does it pain you to purchase/enjoy that thing if others will think you've chosen it because it is popular?

If you really don't care, congrats. But don't pretend that choosing the option that will get "ignored" is the tough choice.

on preview, nasreddin said: The test is whether you would still buy a non-mainstream pair of shoes even with the conscious knowledge that you are buying into a commodified, mass-marketed faux-rebellion.

Nope. That's still the easy choice because it looks to others like the non-conformist choice. The test I see people repeatedly fail is the first one. How many people give up on a band when they go super-popular? Choosing the less-well-known band, "knowing" (in that case, if it is) that this is part of their image is a pretty easy test to pass. The point of books like The Rebel Sell isn't just that people are deluded about their "alternative" choices (though that is part of it) but that the drive to make choices that appear alternative drives capitalism, and has for a long time. If you can't force yourself to make the popular choice, because you honestly, really really like it for what it is, but know that your intention will be misinterpreted by most who encounter you, fail.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:43 AM on April 15, 2009


Review of Rise of the Meritocracy, from 1959.
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2009


I spent a few of my formative years (non-consecutively) in the UK. Once I was 2-3, the other time, 9-10, later again briefly in my teens.

What I remember particularly about that time in my life, especially when I was an age to attend British "private" (which at the time meant public in U.S. parlance) school was that they taught that the U.S. as a whole was apparently delusional about having a class system. They taught me that U.S. citizens as a whole felt there was no socio-economic division or class system in the U.S., but that there in fact was. They also teach that there IS a class system in the UK.

It seemed pretty sane to me then and continues to seem pretty spot-on to me now. A lot of folks say that they live in the classless system in the U.S. I really think it's a sort of delusion that we foster by saying it over and over. Eventually we believe it.

"We're America. We have no class system. We're a meritocracy!"

Bullshit.

I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader whether the endless repeating of demonstrably false things until they are true applies to other aspects of American politics.
posted by kalessin at 9:49 AM on April 15, 2009


"How many people give up on a band when they go super-popular? Choosing the less-well-known band, "knowing" (in that case, if it is) that this is part of their image is a pretty easy test to pass."

I give up on bands when I can't see them for $10 or less anymore. $15 to $25 if I really, really love them.

Why? Because I can't afford it. Sorry. I'd rather see five shows at five bucks apiece than one show at $25.

This means I've never seen REM or Radiohead, something I vaguely regret.

To hell with poverty, we'll get drunk on cheap wine.
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is pretty tiresome. Counterculture has lately become this obsession with an inauthentic originality that's settled into this stifling homogeneous hipster/scener smog. I mean, it was bad before, but now it's mainstreamed. Like escaping to the Math Club meeting only to find out it's president is the jock who shoved you into the locker, and he thinks he's hot stuff for knowing his multiplication tables.

There might be authentic subcultures out there doing something weird and worthwhile, but they've been drowned by the smog. Hipsters are the Borg.


But the catch-22 is that complaining about hipsters is also smog--in fact, the very same smog. Why do you think Animal Collective has become so popular among hipsters? It's because they project this image of "just some frumpy-dressed normal dudes jamming and making weird music, we don't care about what's popular."

It goes "Lalala, I love Maroon 5"->"Fuck the mainstream, Anti-Flag rocks!"->"Fuck fake rebellion, Animal Collective rocks!" Very soon there'll be another stage: -> "Fuck fake-fake rebellion, Maroon 5 rocks!" And then another: -> "Fuck mainstream/fake-fake-fake rebellion, Anti-Flag rocks!" You see where I'm going with this.
posted by nasreddin at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hipsters are the Borg

Captain, I am picking up a bicycle on forward sensors with cards in the spokes.
posted by everichon at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2009


You've all failed the test.
posted by oddman at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nope. That's still the easy choice because it looks to others like the non-conformist choice. The test I see people repeatedly fail is the first one. How many people give up on a band when they go super-popular? Choosing the less-well-known band, "knowing" (in that case, if it is) that this is part of their image is a pretty easy test to pass. The point of books like The Rebel Sell isn't just that people are deluded about their "alternative" choices (though that is part of it) but that the drive to make choices that appear alternative drives capitalism, and has for a long time. If you can't force yourself to make the popular choice, because you honestly, really really like it for what it is, but know that your intention will be misinterpreted by most who encounter you, fail.

That's only the test if being "true to yourself" is your only criterion. The point is that the obsession with "being true to yourself" as against any effort at cooptation/commodification is itself a product of the always-already-coopted culture of pseudo-rebellion. The only way to escape (relatively speaking) is to abandon the notion that consumption should be guided only by a free and autonomous individuality.
posted by nasreddin at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2009


This economic catastrophe is teaching the Xers that their prized self-­expression and their embrace of personal choice leads to … the collapse of capitalism.

Strange how he wants to lay this at the feet of the hipsters. Was it the hipsters taking out subprime loans to purchase suburban McMansions? Was it the hipsters creating exotic financial insruments like synthetic CDOs? Was it the hipsters speculating on real estate markets in Sun Belt exurbs?

Everybody wants to hate on the hipster, but I see him as relatively benign. Sure, he drove up the rents in my neighborhood like a motherfucker. But the collapse of capitalism? Come fucking on.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:55 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Other ways culture and education mess things up: what class is a non-science graduate student? Their incomes put them down in the lowest classes (and though they may expect a higher income in the future, this often does not happen), but their children do wonderfully on standardized tests and their future-orientation is even more future-oriented than those in the middle class. Though they lack actual capital, they kick ass in the cultural capital (having had experiences which few people of a similarly low income would have had), and may be very well off in social capital, as well, since they associate with people at the other end of the income scale than they are. What class are they? In my experience, kind of upper-middle when it comes to education issues (expectations for children, etc), but maybe lower-middle or lower on economic issues (expectations for housing, voting on economic policy, etc.)


The New York Times splits it into four pieces: Education, wealth, income, and occupation.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:02 AM on April 15, 2009


Everybody wants to hate on the hipster

I don't live in Williamsburg, but I am pretty sure that there are several hipsters.
posted by everichon at 10:05 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've always found the idea of a whole country turning into a service economy to be a strange thing, since it explicitly depends on another country dedicating itself to manufacturing or extraction or whatever those other dirty traditional working class jobs are that we in the "developed" world have outsourced to the cheaper, less regulated and protected ones. And I kind of wonder if the perils of infinitely regressive self aware consumerism and neoliberal existentialism would be so dangerous or omnipresent if actually a country retained a living, social understanding of dirty, traditional labour, because it's clear that we absolutely don't. We enjoy labour mediatised as documentaries on sublime nature and dramatic human narratives, but we don't actually have a lower level understanding of doing the work, either by doing it ourselves or through regular, secondary encounters with other social groups who do. The only way (so far) that one part of the world could dawdle on its own purely personal dramatics and narratives with a reliable source of affluence is if it was bankrolled by another part of the world. In geoff.'s historical example these poles were contained in a country, today it's global and you have to take a train if not a plane to catch sight of large scale, manual labour where status anxiety is unheard of because it's a destiny not a choice.
posted by doobiedoo at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


leave it to americans to discuss class while barely discussing who runs things and who pays the economic consequences - what an appalling article that was
posted by pyramid termite at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I give up on bands when I can't see them for $10 or less anymore.

Ouch. I mean, USD? But still.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:10 AM on April 15, 2009


I need someone to tell me whether it's still OK to buy clothes at Lands End.
posted by GuyZero at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The point is that the obsession with "being true to yourself" as against any effort at cooptation/commodification is itself a product of the always-already-coopted culture of pseudo-rebellion. The only way to escape (relatively speaking) is to abandon the notion that consumption should be guided only by a free and autonomous individuality.

We seem to be saying the same thing. There are free individuals out there, but you won't be able to spot them by how they dress, what music they listen to, etc.. Because there won't be any message attached to those things, including if not especially "look how free I am of all these fashion statements". They may occasionally wear or listen to the most popular item in its class. The difference is that they don't give fuck all about what you or I think about that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read Paul Fussell's Class when I was about 18 or so, and I remember finding fascinating, but as I got older less and less satisfying as a serious analysis of class.
Well, I don't think it was meant to be a "serious analysis." I took it as more of a mockery of public culture and conventions. Not that it wasn't true for the most part, but when you take the entertaining descriptive scenarios and drawn illustrations together, it comes across as more of a popularized polemic, a la "On Bullshit."
posted by deanc at 10:17 AM on April 15, 2009


I'm also surprised that no one has mentioned Bourdieu's Distinction.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Nancy Mitford's The English Aristocracy.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:18 AM on April 15, 2009


A 'sheeple'?
A sheeple is always other people: Meeple not Sheeple, Weeple not Sheeple--Youple and Themple always the Sheeple.
posted by y2karl at 10:18 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


We seem to be saying the same thing. There are free individuals out there, but you won't be able to spot them by how they dress, what music they listen to, etc.. Because there won't be any message attached to those things, including if not especially "look how free I am of all these fashion statements". They may occasionally wear or listen to the most popular item in its class. The difference is that they don't give fuck all about what you or I think about that.

Maybe it's the same thing, but my point is that these hypothetical individuals would give a fuck about what you and I think, because they wouldn't arbitrarily exclude the social function of consumption choices from their purchasing decisions.
posted by nasreddin at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2009


Everybody wants to hate on the hipster

The thing I don't understand about hipster-hating is that if you people who live in New York and Chicago and Portland hate everybody else who lives in New York and Chicago and Portland so much then why not just move back to the place you're from? I'm sure your parents would love to get to see you more often.
posted by ND¢ at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


Hipsters are the Borg

Futility is resistance?
posted by doobiedoo at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's the same thing, but my point is that these hypothetical individuals would give a fuck about what you and I think, because they wouldn't arbitrarily exclude the social function of consumption choices from their purchasing decisions.

Well this is true. And the vandalism that certain bumper stickers will surely bring.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:25 AM on April 15, 2009


I see that Heath and Potter's The Rebel Sell has already been recommended, so I'd just like to add my endorsement as well. It really is excellent.
posted by atrazine at 10:34 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like it because I enjoy projecting an image of myself as a person who listens to obscure music.

I know this was like a jillion posts ago, and I'm so, like, not-on-preview, but here's the deal: As long as people are concerned with projecting any image whatsoever, it informs their choice of [product X] more than the utility of [product x] does.

I suppose I must kind of give a shit what you think about the music I listen to because I have a doo-dad that lists my last ten plays in my profile, so what does that say about me projecting an image? however, my choices of those ten songs weren't necessitated by an urge to show you what I listen to. There's a snake eating its tail, there. I chose the music I listen to based on whether or not I like it, personally. That's why I'll occasionally get outed as a dweeb by the Murray Head right next to the Mozart piano sonata.

A secure person can make their choices for themselves, not because they give a shit about what cultural sub-group complete strangers will lump them into at first glance. Yes, you're still going to get marketed to, but it sure helps with the not being compelled by said marketing to spend $30,000.00 on an Xterra so that someone who doesn't know you, and will never see you again, will momentarily perceive you as the "rugged, outdoorsy type." Gah.

And no, we can't all be unique flowers. Somewhere, there's 50 people with the exact same attitude as me, consuming more or less the same [product x].
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:37 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Ouch. I mean, USD? But still."

Yep. I'm happy to see other bands if someone else is footing the bill, but frankly, I just can't afford it. Wanna sponsor me?
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 AM on April 15, 2009


The Unexpurgated Code is what I swear by, you supercilious cunts.
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2009


It feels like I'm screaming at a wall. What's so bad about wanting to show people what you like? Why can't you like something because of the way you feel when you think about yourself as "someone who other people perceive as outdoorsy and rugged"? What the hell is "utility," anyway? If Joe's self-conscious consumption choices get him laid or employed more than Bob and his "I buy what I like" attitude, surely the utility is more on the former side?
posted by nasreddin at 10:45 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah I can't even put myself into the hypothetical mindset of someone to whom that comment does not look like utter and complete bullshit.

Bt Pastabagel projects an image of a class I want to be associated with by the products [favorite button] I use!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:45 AM on April 15, 2009


Yep. I'm happy to see other bands if someone else is footing the bill, but frankly, I just can't afford it. Wanna sponsor me?

My money is currently tied up sponsoring my spouse to continue watching The Wire with any regularity.

Someday I hope to be wealthy enough that we can sit side by side and watch Deadwood.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2009


"I want out."
There is no out.

>>Everybody wants to hate on the hipster

I don't live in Williamsburg, but I am pretty sure that there are several hipsters.


There is one hipster, but he has a multitude of manifestations.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


because academia is one field in which you don't have to have connections to get started - you finish highschool with decent grades, apply to university, and then you start making connections in undergraduate and graduate school.


Not sure I agree with you. I came from a background about as poor as you can get in Canada, but I was groomed from a young age to have really obscure tastes and interests, contributing to a rapport with first my teachers (leading to higher grades) and then my profs and grad students. Net result, a leg up in university despite living on some form of government handout for much of my childhood. This was a repeat of how her mother parented her, where all the class X stuff (we don't spend money on clothes, we wear army surplus!) was used to fund pretentious hobbies (we go to England! We collect books on Roman history!)

Compared with my peers, whose parents spent the same government handouts on different priorities, I'm at a fancy university and their (born after or during high school) kids are about four years old. Even my mating habits are drenched with exclusion based class assumptions, just looking at who I'm attracted to. I admit some confusion now, because I resent the bohemian instability, but the interests that make me fit where I am were instilled at a young age. When I spawn, I'll probably take my kids to Europe via the budget route too.
posted by Phalene at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The difference is that they don't give fuck all about what you or I think about that.


You mean...sociopaths?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:58 AM on April 15, 2009


Yes. Shoe brand sociopaths.

On the other hand, Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that I really didn't understand any of their work. It was too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. He puts aside the CD and takes out another one.

Phil Collins solo efforts seem to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying in a narrower way, especially songs like "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds." Sabrina, don't just stare at it. Eat it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nope. The test is whether you would still buy a non-mainstream pair of shoes even with the conscious knowledge that you are buying into a commodified, mass-marketed faux-rebellion.
posted by nasreddin at 12:35 PM on April 15


In all seriousness, how would anyone know this? How would I know commodified, mass-marketed shoes are part of a faux rebellion, and not just low-cost shoes? I certainly didn't know this until you suggested it was true. You are assuming people follow these trends, including the ironic countertrends.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:09 AM on April 15, 2009


Augh, status and class are one of those things that drive me crazy. I'm aware of the issue of what I consume conveying a message of where I may or may not belong in society, but I'm often not in a position to meet others' expectations. Particularly when it comes to body shape and size, physical looks, hobbies and interests, things I watch on TV, etc. I'm also not inclined to bankrupt myself in order to live up to expectations about how I dress, where I go on vacation, and what kinds of consumer products I buy, which are constantly changing. So I'm automatically at a disadvantage in social interactions, because people for whom status is paramount make snap judgements about me based on extremely superficial details, without ever even getting to know me.

It's frustrating, but like Durn Bronzefist and Pastabagel have pointed out, the alternative is running after fleeting shadows in the hopes of having some kind of external validation of belonging to some group that could decide at any moment that they don't want me as a member. I'd rather do what's right for me, thanks.
posted by LN at 11:16 AM on April 15, 2009


Anybody ever read Fussell's Bad? Somebody ought to buy him a Metafilter account.
posted by box at 11:17 AM on April 15, 2009


It feels like I'm screaming at a wall.

would that be a target wall, a macy's wall, a k-mart wall, or a gucci's wall?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:21 AM on April 15, 2009


I'm also not inclined to bankrupt myself in order to live up to expectations about how I dress . . .

A guy I knew from college: Oh dude. Those pants are pleated! Nobody wears pleated pants!

27 year old me: Huh. I never took the time to think about it. I mostly wear whatever pants my mom gives me for Christmas.

Do you see how I won that exchange?

I'm now 31 and I still wear those pants. Side note: are pleated pants really uncool?
posted by ND¢ at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2009


I shop at Lands End and even I know pleated pants are uncool.
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


would that be a target wall, a macy's wall, a k-mart wall, or a gucci's wall?

Naw, it's an authentic vintage wall I got in Seattle in 1991. Fucking hipsters with their faux-distressed Urban Outfitters walls. Makes me so mad.
posted by nasreddin at 11:38 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's the same thing, but my point is that these hypothetical individuals would give a fuck about what you and I think, because they wouldn't arbitrarily exclude the social function of consumption choices from their purchasing decisions.

Actually, some people really really can't be bothered. It's a lot of work keeping track of what commodity or meme means what to whom. Not to mention it's a skill not everyone is particularly good at.
posted by aspo at 11:41 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


you city people are weird as hell.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:43 AM on April 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Would anyone like to buy a 4 year old pair of pleated pants?
posted by ND¢ at 11:52 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


My dear, departed mother used to tell me that I was in a class all by myself. (Oh wait, was she being sarcastic?)
posted by govtdrone at 11:55 AM on April 15, 2009


What's so bad about wanting to show people what you like? Why can't you like something because of the way you feel when you think about yourself as "someone who other people perceive as outdoorsy and rugged"?

Nothing is wrong with wanting to show people what you like, but that has nothing to do with the second question.

See, in general, one has no idea how other people perceive them. That perception exists solely within the minds of others. What you are in effect talking about is trying to merge your actual self-image with your desired public image (i.e. how you want others to view you, which is not how they actually view you). And you are trying to do so by assuming that your actual self-image will tend to your desired public image. This is not true. Actualizing a self-image takes insight, reflection and discovery. It's tru that part of that discovery is holding out aspects of yourself to others for implied criticism (i.e. judgment) but this is usually more personal and involves closer and deeper relationships than putting your favorite bands on facebook for some jackass to comment on your wall about how they suck.

This desire for superficial public approval is a "problem" in the sense that it represents a yet-to-be-formed self-image which the person isn't spending any time forming. Who are you when you aren't trying to be what you want others to think you are? If this is not known by you, then you don't yet know who you are. This is to be expected if you are 24, less so if you are 34, but in every person the process eventually takes its course.

But the lack of self-actualization is a psychological condition exploited by marketing. And marketing has been doing this for 40 years, not 5, so as a science it is very good at it. So even if someone doesn't know who they are yet, they should know that companies are spending a lot of money to make sure that who you eventually become is someone who can be easily persuaded to buy the stuff that they tell you to buy.

Picking and choosing bands because they have an image in the eyes of others that you hope will be imputed to you is completely different from telling people what you like. The former is about having others define for you who you are (or at least some aspect of who you are), while the latter is helping them to understand who you know yourself to be.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:03 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with that. Enjoying something or choosing something to acquire is a complicated process that involves a lot of things: physical response, personal associations (I like this because I like my aunt), intellectual fascination, but also status anxiety and wanting to look a certain way and so on...Obviously if you are invested in your choices being completely autonomous (as the Pastabagel approach seems to be), you're going to be uncomfortable with this. What I'm saying is that we shouldn't be uncomfortable with it--we should relish the opportunity to have yet another way to enjoy something.
posted by nasreddin at 12:00 PM on April 15


I'm not talking about autonomous consumer behavior, I'm talking about a rational understanding of ones choices, even if those choices are emotional. If you by an ipod because you like how sleek it is, understand that that is why you like it. Understand what it is about you that desires something sleek. Not that sleek is wrong, but you have to understand why you like that characteristic and not its opposite. The reasons you have to understand why you like the things you like is in the first half of that comment - "status anxiety" or anxiety generally. Anxiety is what happens when you lead the unexamined life - your wants surface without notice or predictability, and amounts to a lack of control that can trigger anxiety.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are free individuals out there, but you won't be able to spot them by how they dress, what music they listen to, etc.. Because there won't be any message attached to those things, including if not especially "look how free I am of all these fashion statements". They may occasionally wear or listen to the most popular item in its class. The difference is that they don't give fuck all about what you or I think about that.

If a truly free individual existed, you would sure as hell be able to spot them by how they dressed. They might well be wearing an Ionic chiton, because of all varieties of clothing in all cultures and subcultures throughout the entirety of human history, ancient Anatolian drapery best suited their individual aesthetic and practical preferences. (Ditto for the Tyrolean cap and Algonquin moccasins they'd be sporting.) The fact is, if you're conventionally sane and have any degree of interaction with other humans, your time and your place will leave at least some mark on you.

Maturity means accepting this social dimension to identity as inevitable. I agree with Nasreddin that our lives are richer for the extra facet. So what if that kid in skinny pants only started listening to Neutral Milk Hotel because he desperately wanted to impress a girl? From a certain point of view that's pathetic. From another, it's poignant. It's human.
posted by Iridic at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pleated pants never got anyone laid. I'm not saying that no one who wears pleated pants has ever had sex, but pleated pants have never sealed the deal.

Now, about Dickies. I wore Dickies in middle school and was teased relentlessly for it. Then, working as a bike messenger in the 90s I wore dickies again because they're tough and sensible (like me!). So if you think I'm sending you some kind of message when I wear Dickies, I invite you to kiss my ass. Through my Dickies, of course.
posted by Mister_A at 12:16 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it's remarkably human to be concerned with what other people think of us. It's also human to want to feel special. Maybe I've sold out or whatever, but people are going to judge you based on how you're dressed, and so it's not exactly silly to put a little effort into it.

I remember the first time I realized that clothes were important -- I'm an engineer, so it's not something that came naturally to me. Ten years ago, I was flying back from a conference, so I was wearing a suit (which I don't normally). And I was going through airport security, and the metal detector buzzed. I readied myself for what generally came next; the hostile questioning, the going through of my stuff.

"Sir," The first security guard said. "Are you carrying a money clip?"
"Or a cell-phone?" The second offered.

And in that moment I realized that I would much rather complete strangers call me sir and speculate on whether I suffered from the problem where I had so much money that I had to employ some sort of special clamp to keep it from escaping from my pockets (sadly, no) than to be ordered to spread my legs for a pat-down while another guy went through my stuff.

Richard Hamming said something similar in his seminar on research:

John Tukey almost always dressed very casually. He would go into an important office and it would take a long time before the other fellow realized that this is a first-class man and he had better listen. For a long time John has had to overcome this kind of hostility. It's wasted effort! I didn't say you should conform; I said ``The appearance of conforming gets you a long way.'' If you chose to assert your ego in any number of ways, ``I am going to do it my way,'' you pay a small steady price throughout the whole of your professional career. And this, over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble.

I don't know, maybe I'm just lazy, but I'd personally rather dress a little more conventionally or whatever.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:20 PM on April 15, 2009 [16 favorites]


I wear a suit at all time, but it is not to establish my credibity or class. It is because I like to look pretty.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2009


And you do look pretty. I've been watching.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:39 PM on April 15, 2009


And I've been waiting for the two of you to quit fooling around and get things out in the open.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:41 PM on April 15, 2009


I'm now 31 and I still wear those pants. Side note: are pleated pants really uncool?

I dunno. I recall something on the blue a little while back that linked to reasons why women wouldn't date such-and-such a guy, and one of the reasons was simply "pleated pants".

But then I'm reminded that once upon a time someone would have put down "doesn't wear pleated pants" in the same circumstance. You can't win. Frankly, I hated them when they were in style, I hate them now, and I plan to go on hating them.

Anxiety is what happens when you lead the unexamined life - your wants surface without notice or predictability, and amounts to a lack of control that can trigger anxiety.

You think? My dog gets anxious, but that's because he has only a foggy idea of what constitutes my work day, when weekends happen, and why sometimes he gets dinner late or doesn't get taken for a walk. Most people are in control of those things.

On preview: *backs away slowly*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:42 PM on April 15, 2009


Did you all realize that even thinking about buying a Toyota Prius makes you noticeably more smug?
posted by Mister_A at 12:45 PM on April 15, 2009


More seriously, though, which is likely to provoke more anxiety:

- Hey I feel anxious and I don't know why is it my relationship or maybe my job or... oh... *buys something* I FEEL BETTER!

- Hey I feel anxious and I don't know why is it my relationship or maybe my job? I could buy something and feel better but my anxiety is a SYMPTOM, damnit! Consumer culture is not the cure. Maybe I'm afraid of death. Is this a midlife crisis? Am I really happy? Do I like myself?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:46 PM on April 15, 2009


- Hey I feel anxious and I don't know why is it my relationship or maybe my job? I could buy something and feel better but my anxiety is a SYMPTOM, damnit! Consumer culture is not the cure. Maybe I'm afraid of death. Is this a midlife crisis? Am I really happy? Do I like myself?

or... oh... *buys volume of Heidegger, volume of Camus, Netflixes Waking Life* I DON'T FEEL ANY BETTER, BUT NOW I KNOW THAT THAT'S HOW YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO FEEL!
posted by nasreddin at 12:53 PM on April 15, 2009


Argggh! All My Friends Have Too Much Taste! And Now That I'm Not the Snarky Twenty-Something Humorist I Was, But Am Now the Snarky Cruising Toward Middle-Age Humorist I Am (Also: Mom Now!)... It's Clear Our Country's Problems are Not Economic, But Stylistic!

We Were Too Cool, for Too Long!

Portland Has Greedily Sucked Up All Our Nation's Cool... and Our Children Will Pay the Price!

My Friends and I are So Cool That We Ought to Feel Guilty About It... Because We Are Just So Excessively Cool!

If There Was a Prison You Got Sent to for Being Cool, Me and All My Friends Would Have to... etc.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:54 PM on April 15, 2009


Phalene - We come from a very similar background economically (and nationally - I'm also Canadian), but I would say that while my parents encouraged literacy and supported education, they had very little formal education (my mother, for example, didn't understand what a PhD thesis until we explained that my husband was researching and writing a book. She still asks "How's the book going?"). Nor did I get particularly good grades - I was average or below average. But I still found Canadian universities very open to me, and the path into academia had hoops which I could identify and strive for.

It did help that I started dating someone who had academics in his family, but I felt like I knew where to go no matter what - you went to your professors to find out how to apply, and there were simple application systems for graduate school - you just followed the online instructions. (Getting funding was more complex for non-American universities - that's where I think networks really start to matter.)

But the entry to other professions was very opaque - though I had excellent marks leaving university, as far as I knew the only option I had other than graduate school was to resumes around to office temp places (which all turned me down the summer I graduated) or telephone survey places (which did not - that was fun). This is because most of my family are either office assistents, or work in a factory or in the service industry. I knew of people who did internships and had very good jobs set up in business on leaving university, but I didn't know anything about them. My own part-time job would have led my into another form of academia.
posted by jb at 12:59 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember folks:

It's not what ya look like when you're doin' whatcha doin'
It's what yer doin' when yer doin' whatcha look like ya doin'!

It's really as simple as that.
posted by Mister_A at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2009



I don't know, maybe I'm just lazy, but I'd personally rather dress a little more conventionally or whatever.


Guys in nice suits can get anyway with almost anything. I used knew a boutique drug dealer that made house-calls in a grey suit and conservative drag. He could pop into people's offices and might as well have been invisible.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


"And in that moment I realized that I would much rather complete strangers call me sir and speculate on whether I suffered from the problem where I had so much money that I had to employ some sort of special clamp to keep it from escaping from my pockets (sadly, no) than to be ordered to spread my legs for a pat-down while another guy went through my stuff."

I call this Being Treated Like a White Man.
posted by klangklangston at 1:42 PM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes. Shoe brand sociopaths.

What I mean is, I don't believe these majestically indifferent beings--utterly impervious to the regard of their fellows--actually exist. Rather, they do exist, but they have a whole lot of other problems, and we call them sociopaths.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:04 PM on April 15, 2009


Good heavens, look at all the comments! Gotta love discussions of class because, like a**holes, everybody has one. I know I do. I think.

Can't anyone ever enjoy anything because, well, they like it?


Yes, but do they have enough self possession not to care what others think. Which gets us to:

The New York Times splits it into four pieces: Education, wealth, income, and occupation.


They miss, of course, leisure. I'm friendly with a fairly large crew of IT folk. Smarter than I am, that's for sure. But consider the history of the field. IT used to be MIT/CalTech brain sort of thing, then Bill Gates Harvard drop out sort of thing. Now, for the workaday folks, at least at the Fortune Fifty place I work, it is basically blue collar. Smart meritocratic blue collar, but blue collar just the same. No name colleges or no colleges at all. Scale them by their off hour enthusiasms, which include- NASCAR, Will Farrell movies, football, sexist and occasionally slightly racist (lot of Indians in IT) jokes, though in a "good natured" sort of way, at least as far as race is concerned. Of the dozens I know, I can count exactly one who would seek out a production of Shakespeare.

But back to the book - never forget the bottom line. Fussell was writing a satire, comedy, a light romp, but on a subject that'll always fetch 'em or I don't know Arkansas (see above, number of comments). Like the Preppy Handbook which (not having been written by a preppy) got it way wrong in so many ways (was that intentional, or did she really not know?), it was bathroom reading. I wish I could say that it's Fussell's admirable style that keeps it in print, but I'm going to doubt it. Not the same kind of numbers for the his books of essays. (His Bad, by the way, alluded to above, is worth reading, but not nearly as much fun. Predictable once you grasp the premise, like Hollywood movies.)

PS- adding the Category X thing at the end, well, maybe he was writing a legit observation - but it did just joint in nicely to the presumed target audience of the book, did it not? There's a reason it's been in print for this long, and it ain't just the lovely prose.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:15 PM on April 15, 2009


Human beings are more than just consumers.

It's overly reductive in the extreme to suggest that our entire identities as human beings are always and forever fashioned from the cloth of consumer-capitalism's self-consciousness.

To suggest, as some on this thread would appear to trying to, that every waking decision of every human life, no matter how minor or inconsequential (and even those decisions unrelated to the purchase of any item), can be filtered through an ultra-behaviorist matrix of consumerist capitalism and marketing, is just an absurd ideological exaggeration--a flattening of actual human experience.

Of course our identities are socially shaped, and of course we are being marketed to as never before, but to assert that humans are social animals is quite different from asserting that humans are merely infinitely malleable consumerist tools whose every thought is so dictated by the hidden hand and behaviorist tactics of marketing and trend focus groups, as to be lacking in any meaningful or possible freedom.

Not every act committed by every human being is equally self-conscious. Not every act is driven by Madison Avenue or PR, much as the spin doctors may wish it were so.
posted by ornate insect at 3:58 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just stopped in to recommend to fans of Class his other book, Bad, Or, the Dumbing of America. Bad is good.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:00 PM on April 15, 2009


I call this Being Treated Like a White Man.

The other day I did someone a minor favor, and they said, completely non-ironically, "Hey, that was might white of you." I was really taken aback, because I hadn't heard that phrase used seriously in many years, outside of novels set in the 1950s. My point being, I think, that coopting those kind of phrases in an ironic way is, while certainly ironic and a marker of racial awareness in a supposedly "post-racial" era, still problematic in its direct connection to some pretty distasteful underlying attitudes.

The clearest marker of class in the US (more so than suits these days) is dentistry. It's fairly binary, and hard to hide -- your teeth are either fully present (with any missing replaced by implants or bridges), whitened, and straightened, or they aren't. It says everything about your family's economic and social status when you were young, and about your current ability to access modern dentistry.

I wear clothes that are comfortable, listen to music that makes me smile, and put art on my walls that I think is attractive...should I care what 'image' that projects?

For most, if maybe not quite all, people, a major part of "comfortable" has to do with social interactions. I mean, on a warm day, I might be more physically more comfortable strolling downtown completely nude, enjoying the sunlight and warm breezes... but socially it would be quite uncomfortable (and could end with a very uncomfortable ride in the back of a police car). So the physical comfort of clothing is almost always secondary to the social comfort it provides, which is why "comfortable" today might mean jeans, and "comfortable" hundreds of years ago meant tights and a codpiece.

Similarly, the art on your walls has something to do with the people you want to feel welcomed and comfortable in your house, and with the opinion of you that you want them to form. People will react differently to the centerpiece of your living room being a painting by Thomas Kinkade than they will a wall-sized graphic photograph of a deviant sexual act, for example.

We don't make these choices in a social vacuum, and consumptive and ornamental choices do say a lot about us, socially, even if the message is not always what we think it is.
posted by Forktine at 4:02 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or does this guy use way too many parentheses?
posted by lunit at 4:10 PM on April 15, 2009


You will reach an age where you don't care about this. Then you will get shingles and you won't give a fuck about anything.
posted by srboisvert at 4:11 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


all this fluff aside, can we agree upon the important issue here?

sheeple = multiple
sheepon = singular

ie that guy is such a sheepon; those kids are such sheeple.

thank you.
posted by supermedusa at 4:11 PM on April 15, 2009


We don't make these choices in a social vacuum

Just as equally, however, it seems relevant to this thread to say the following: we do not make all our choices in life according to some invisible tribunal of social acceptance and rejection, etc. Some people just are more self-conscious about status than others, and preen much more at their own reflection. Not everyone is equally a snob, nor equally obsessed with social decorum and the trend or gadget of the moment. People adjust and react to the social world in different ways. No one is an island, true, but it's a distortion to say that every last moment in everyone's life is equally dictated by reading the social compass to ascertain one's position.
posted by ornate insect at 4:17 PM on April 15, 2009


I'm friendly with a fairly large crew of IT folk. Smarter than I am, that's for sure. But consider the history of the field. IT used to be MIT/CalTech brain sort of thing, then Bill Gates Harvard drop out sort of thing. Now, for the workaday folks, at least at the Fortune Fifty place I work, it is basically blue collar.

Really? I have had the opposite experience. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were Stanford PhD grads, Facebook from Harvard. Top schools are represented fairly well in IT. This field is basically applied mathematics, and it is not mature, so it is going to be fairly meritocratic.
posted by geoff. at 4:18 PM on April 15, 2009


What I mean is, I don't believe these majestically indifferent beings--utterly impervious to the regard of their fellows--actually exist. Rather, they do exist, but they have a whole lot of other problems, and we call them sociopaths.

Would you say that to Tom Petty?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:20 PM on April 15, 2009


"The other day I did someone a minor favor, and they said, completely non-ironically, "Hey, that was might white of you." I was really taken aback, because I hadn't heard that phrase used seriously in many years, outside of novels set in the 1950s. My point being, I think, that coopting those kind of phrases in an ironic way is, while certainly ironic and a marker of racial awareness in a supposedly "post-racial" era, still problematic in its direct connection to some pretty distasteful underlying attitudes."

I hear it pretty often, but haven't heard it used non-ironically since I quit a pizza delivery job over their recurrent use of the word "nigger" to describe customers.

When I'm saying I'm being treated like a white man, it should be clear that I'm experiencing an advantage due to a superficial reason, and that it's inherently unfair that other people aren't.
posted by klangklangston at 5:00 PM on April 15, 2009



The clearest marker of class in the US (more so than suits these days) is dentistry. It's fairly binary, and hard to hide -- your teeth are either fully present (with any missing replaced by implants or bridges), whitened, and straightened, or they aren't. It says everything about your family's economic and social status when you were young, and about your current ability to access modern dentistry


Have to disagree. Off hand I can think of at least two people in their fifties who have all but patrician backgrounds (fathers were corporate vice presidents, mothers did not work) who have notably crooked, un-whitened teeth. (I could probably note others if I took much notice of teeth.) It simply wasn't a great concern one way of the other for the families.

Which in itself is a class marker.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:14 PM on April 15, 2009


Really? I have had the opposite experience. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were Stanford PhD grads, Facebook from Harvard. Top schools are represented fairly well in IT. This field is basically applied mathematics, and it is not mature, so it is going to be fairly meritocratic.

Well IT and software are sort-of the same thing, but when I hear "IT in Fortune-Fifty" I think IT departments in large non-software companies, not software companies. Definitely different crowds. The Silicon Valley startup/software culture is definitely still largely populated with "top-college" grads (in no small part because of how much of it is based on networking --- all the early Google people were from Stanford, etc). The non-software-company IT field has always been more diverse.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:20 PM on April 15, 2009



Sergey Brin and Larry Page were Stanford PhD grads, Facebook from Harvard. Top schools are represented fairly well in IT. This field is basically applied mathematics, and it is not mature, so it is going to be fairly meritocratic.

Quite right, you're talking the most rarified of computer scientists, the one's who are household names, the billionaires. The people I'm talking about do the IT scut work in non-IT companies. The Microsoft certified drones, the help desk guys, the SAP support, even the DBAs - plenty bright, but not a one of them has the serious brain power to code a Facebook or a Google from scratch, much less build the company from zero. They are, however, plenty talented in keeping the IT side going, and often admirably so. (Think the difference between the inventor of, say, the internal combustion engine and the local car mechanic.)

Trust me, take a look at resumes of the IT crowd at, say, Goodrich Tire, P&G, Dunkin' Donuts, or any other suchlike company. My guess is, Stanfords or Harvards are going to be thick on the ground.

And as to other class markers- I have to wonder what Mr Brin and Mr Page do for diversion during their down hours. Bill Gates plays bridge with Warren Buffett, which I suppose is a rather old timey kind of class marker.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:28 PM on April 15, 2009


(what wildcrdj said more succinctly...)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:29 PM on April 15, 2009


Stanfords or Harvards are NOT going to be thick on the ground.

(jesus....)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:30 PM on April 15, 2009


*comes in from having a dry one on the veranda*
*adjusts codpiece*
Yeah, even if you're completely utilitarian, you get that. Went to Cabela's, tons of folks there being all rugged and outdoorsy eating their curly french fries. Store guy came out of a field of flannel - hats, shirts, logos - asked me if he could help me. I said I was looking for a gambrel.
- blank. stare. -
Game hoist?
- games? -
Deer hoist?
- ...? -
Hunting department? (He looked vaguely at the firearm section - 'cos y'know, nothing to hunting but blasting away at the forest with abandon Elmer Fudd style)
Uh...butcher tools?
He knew where that was. The department I mean, not what I needed. Y'know, eventually your equipment becomes someone else's lifestyle or fashion which becomes someone else's oeuvre. Some metalevel celebration of the event through representation which someone else strives to associate with, I dunno, beef jerky or something they call pemmican but isn't, or other 'outdoorsy' products.
And you're in this sort of associative world with no connection at all to the original thing itself. (surprised Baudrillard hasn't come up - consumers being the prey of objects defined by code, all that)

I wouldn't care if it didn't drive actual equipment from the floorspace.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:35 PM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


What I remember particularly about that time in my life, especially when I was an age to attend British "private" (which at the time meant public in U.S. parlance) school was that they taught that the U.S. as a whole was apparently delusional about having a class system. They taught me that U.S. citizens as a whole felt there was no socio-economic division or class system in the U.S., but that there in fact was. They also teach that there IS a class system in the UK.

No, what they taught you is that you must be so ever much smarter than those silly delusional colonials, so instead of lamenting the much more rigid and ugly and conscious class setup in your own culture, you get to feel smug and superior to your former thralls, you useless condescending English twunt. Hur hur just joshin'.
posted by fleacircus at 9:03 PM on April 15, 2009


It's funny how this article sounds like early Bourdieu. Seriously nasreddin, La distinction is way overrated. Bourdieu was at his best at the time of Les héritiers. I mean, add some "évidemment" and "bien entendu" to it. and you have that article in spades in Les héritiers.

I'm not sure about using The Red and the Black to talk about class in 19th century France. Beyle got rich through the Red, and it may have seemed to him that once that was over, the only option was Black. But he could have tried his hand at commerce and industry, and succeeded.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:18 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, Julien Sorel could have. Stendhal was above that.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:21 PM on April 15, 2009


Okay, here's the thing that bugs me the most about these hipster discussions- the assumption that "hipsters" consciously decide to like certain things- bands, clothes, types of music, Thai food- because they believe that liking these things will make them cool. This, of course, carries with it the corollary that the hipsters don't REALLY think that these things are cool, which is a great hedge for someone who wants to explain why they're pissed that all of these DAMN HIPSTERS are standing in front of them at the Animal Collective show. It essentially excuses the speaker from being deemed an inauthentic hipster, even though they have the same tastes as "hipsters".
First off- these people you call hipsters- they're not actually sitting down one day and going, WHAT BANDS DO THE COOL PEOPLE LIKE? DO THEY LIKE THAI FOOD?
That's ridiculous- their tastes are informed by their environments, like everybody else on earth. If you grow up in a town and you like the local sports team even though they eat shit in the playoffs every year, you are taking your cues from the people around you- just like "hipsters".

This, of course, all comes after my perennial complaint that THE WORD "HIPSTER" DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING.
posted by 235w103 at 10:35 PM on April 15, 2009


Would you say that to Tom Petty?

I don't know, I might. Probably, though, I'd be too busy using this brief brush with fame to ask him who Kevin Costner had to suck off to get him to be in the Postman.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:58 PM on April 15, 2009


First off- these people you call hipsters- they're not actually sitting down one day and going, WHAT BANDS DO THE COOL PEOPLE LIKE? DO THEY LIKE THAI FOOD?

235w103, I know people who have these *exact* thought processes. The urge to belong is so great, they will hide or deny what they genuinely enjoy in favour of appearing to like whatever the "in crowd" likes. And it's not just hipsters. I've seen people in the corporate world do this too. The reasoning being, I suppose, that being accepted as part of the group in power gains you access to power yourself.
posted by LN at 6:23 AM on April 16, 2009


This conversation makes me glad I'm Appalachian, because I won't ever be able to understand which stuff is cool and uncool and rebellion cool anyway, so I can obliviously like whatever I happen to like. Plus my reasonably nice teeth and state school degree still mean I am awesome!!
posted by little e at 6:31 AM on April 16, 2009 [2 favorites]




little e wins! (Fussell, by the way, would probably agree, if the book is to be believed. He would also consider you museum worthy, you and all your Elizabethan English speaking cousins. Personal thumbs up!)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:14 PM on April 16, 2009


This thread and the discussion contained therein, and yea, even the very topic of aforementioned discussion is yet another example of how postmodernism ruins everything.
posted by sciurus at 2:12 PM on April 20, 2009


It seems I can't like anything just to like it. And I am projecting an image, I know that. Its not possible to live among other people and not have them judge you. I guess I'm just tired of the attitude that says I have to decide on a image, and it has to be the 'right one', and I have to wear the 'right' clothes and listen to the 'right' music to fit in.
I do pay attention to why I like something, and yes, sometimes its because I like looking a bit rebellious, or I think the book is smart (or smarter than the average bear), or I feel young and funky listening to a certain type of music. And I like to dress up sometimes, and conciously project an image of being X or Y. But I don't want to be married to that image for the rest of my natural life. And I think that reading a book or listening to music or wearing a jacket SOLEY to project an image of being smart or worldly or business like is, well, sad and pathetic. And it traps you.
Okay, I like Umberto Eco because I like the way he writes, and I feel I get some intellectual stimulation out of it, and the ideas are interesting. And if someone at work sees me reading it at lunch and gets a positive impression about my intelligence from it, its a bonus. Even better if we can form a social connection out of it. But if they don't, or worse they think that Eco is overrated and only stupid people trying to look smart read it, well, it doesn't matter because I still like his stuff and I'm still going to read it.
Finally, if there is one thing I've learned from my time on the internet, its that no matter what I like, its wrong, and evidence of either: my stupidity, my slavish devotion to a trend (or slavish devotion to an anti-trend), brainwashing, or something that I like only so other people will like me back.
posted by sandraregina at 9:36 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


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