In a recent Atlantic.com article entitled Class Dismissed, Sandra Tsing Loh, through a book review of Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, offers an interesting analysis of the current financial situation which, in and of itself, is an interesting and entertaining read.
However, for our purposes, it works better as (yet) another example of how an attempt to craft a particular identity for oneself through conscientious consumption (biodiesel anyone?)–what is known theologically as relying on “works of the law”–is not only futile, but ultimately leads to disillusionment, despair and, whats worse, debt.
Here are a few quotes to jump-start a conversation at your next cocktail party, sales convention or rodeo:
“Fussell argued that although Americans loathe discussing social class, this relatively new, rugged country of ours did indeed have a British-style class system, if less defined by money than by that elusive quality called taste.”
The Attempted Solution:
“[nevertheless] Fussell believed in an escape pod from his tyranny of classhood: residence in a special American psycho-emotional space called “category X.” . . . [which] were essentially bohemians, the young people who flocked to cities in search of “art,” “writing,” and “creative work,” ideally without a supervisor. Xs disregarded authority; they dressed down on every occasion; they drank no-name liquor (“Beefeater Gin and Cutty Sark Scotch betray the credulous victim of advertising, and hence the middle class”); they wore moccasins and down vests (in 1983, Fussell considered L.L.Bean and Lands’ End natural X clothiers); they carelessly threw out, unread, their college alumni magazines.
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.
“But perhaps these times of hardship will see a return of the true bohemian, as in the days when the Left Bank was actually squalid. Stylistically, some artistic people are returning to thrift chic (either Goodwill retro wear, or something akin to the party a girlfriend threw recently called “Bitch Swap,” where you trade around the rags you’re tired of). Surely now the honestly eco-conscious will lead a bold return to—gasp!—tap water. (Because what’s worse for the environment than drinking water … out of plastic bottles … flown in from Fiji?) As Starbucks stores close around us, what’s more nostalgically amusing than Folgers Crystals? To save gas money, I’d forecast a mass movement from cars to cruiser bikes, but for that you must live in a groovy, bike-friendly (expensive!) city. However, listen for poignant, witty Frank O’Hara stories about transformative experiences that occur on public transportation (in the rain), on This American Life.
As Borders stores shutter, perhaps we’ll see a reflowering of public libraries. 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. More members of a once-creative class may now have to live like immigrants, if not 12 to a single-family home, at least with roommates, or other family members—and not necessarily one’s favorites. Speaking of which, even the self-actualized may not be able to afford the heady liberation of divorce. Get the Rick Warren tapes out! Enlightened women may have to stay not just married but in for the night—what with restaurants being so unaffordable, home life will be all about the hearth, the candlelight, the guitar (and not a vintage Les Paul).”