Wednesday, March 28, 2018

yuppies became hipsters became the professional-managerial class but the basic socio-economic demographic seems to have a stable core ... the bobo

The term “yuppie” now feels so dated that it occasionally seems an entire social class has vanished. If the suit-wearing Patrick Batemans of the 1980s no longer embody affluence, what has come to replace them? “Hipster” reigned, briefly, as the label of choice for certain irritating would-be members of the bourgeoisie. But while hipsters were, like the yuppies before them, young and urban-dwelling, they weren’t exactly professional. Often rumored to be living off their trust funds, they spent their time as layabout musicians or bike messengers, milling in coffee shops and craft cocktail bars. Yuppies, on the other hand, were seasoned careerists who owned yachts and luxury SUVs and talked in public about their stock portfolios. Yuppiedom described a specific oily demeanor and pattern of consumption as much as it implied affluence.
The waning of the yuppie’s particular brand of ostentatious upward mobility, and the rise of its aesthetically scruffier hipster cousin’s, demonstrate the ongoing erosion of what Barbara and John Ehrenreich have called the “professional-managerial class.” The Ehrenreichs coined the term in 1977 to refer to the constellation of college-educated, white-collar, and creative workers (doctors, lawyers, journalists, artists, academics, and so forth) that hovered somewhere between the ruling class and the traditional working class. More than 30 years later, in their 2013 essay “Death of a Yuppie Dream,” the Ehrenreichs reported that the once-ascendant PMC was on its last legs, fractured by decades of technological advances, job outsourcing, and attacks on labor. Increasingly, its members have either peeled off to join a tier of exorbitantly compensated CEOs and supermanagers or suffered the collapse of their chosen professions, from the decline of newspaper journalism to the elimination of tenured academic jobs.
In this bleak new landscape, strivers haven’t disappeared—they have simply reoriented themselves around a new set of values that bolster their class position in less noticeable ways. In his new book, The Complacent Class, the economist Tyler Cowen argues that the affluent have actually doubled down on stubborn self-satisfaction—a complacency that he sees as symptomatic of a wider malaise gripping the country. By contrast, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a scholar of public policy, maintains that today’s PMC is no less ambitious than the yuppies of yore, but that in an age of deepening inequality and precarity they are less openly hedonistic. Her book The Sum of Small Things offers a rich anthropological portrait of the “aspirational class”—a type of neo-yuppie that defines itself through understated modes of consumption and an emphasis on the accrual of cultural capital. 
This new elite is typified by the brownstone-dweller traipsing through Whole Foods with a yoga mat peeping from the top of her NPR tote; the new Prospect Heights mother who stops in at the lactation consultant before her Y7 class; the tech startup employee with the neatly trimmed beard and Everlane button-down who announces on Facebook that he’s “bumping the new Kendrick.” They buy green cleaning products, ethically made clothes, and small-batch everything. They aspire, says Currid-Halkett, “to be their version of better humans in all aspects of their lives.”
On its face, this approach to conscientious living may look like a rejection of the uninhibited greed associated with the ’80s. But the new aspirational class shares more with its predecessors than it wants to admit. As populist surges in the United States and Europe make clear, rising economic inequality has made it more critical than ever to rethink and uproot the status quo. Yet, as Cowen and Currid-Halkett both find, for all the new elite’s well-intentioned consumption and subsequent self-assurance, they have no intention whatsoever of letting go of their status.
Cowen has come up for mention in other contexts like ...

But in a way it seems like the hipster or the PMC are variant shorthands for a category of person that's already been labeled.  Couldn't these various terms link back to the “bobo”?
It's hard to miss them: The epitome of casual 'geek chic' and organised within the warranty of their Palm Pilots, they sip labour-intensive café lattes, chat on sleek cellphones and ponder the road to enlightenment. In the US they worry about the environment as they drive their gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles to emporiums of haute design to buy a $50 titanium spatula; they think about their tech stocks as they explore speciality shops for Tibetan artefacts in Everest-worthy hiking boots. They think nothing of laying out $5 for a wheatgrass muff, much less $500 for some alternative rejuvenation at the day-spa - but don't talk about raising their taxes.

They are 'bourgeois bohemians' - or 'Bobos' - and they're the new 'enlightened élite' of the information age, their lucratively busy lives a seeming synthesis of comfort and conscience, corporate success and creative rebellion. Well-educated thirty-to-fortysomethings, they have forged a new social ethos from a logic-defying fusion of 1960s counter-culture and 1980s entrepreneurial materialism.

So proclaims David Brooks, the American journalist and self-avowed 'Bobo', who coined the phrase to describe the new cultural and corporate hegemony of his cosmopolitan, computer-savvy contemporaries, many of whom will no doubt recognise themselves in Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There .
'These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe,' Brooks declares in his 'comic sociology' of Bobo manners and mores. 'Their status codes now govern social life.' A phenomenon in step with the hard-driving digital utopianism promised by the internet and its money-spinning 'new economy', not to mention the 'Third Way' politics of President Clinton and Tony Blair, the Bobos have seized upon an ingenious way to sell without selling out - or so they tell themselves.

Combining the free-spirited, artistic rebelliousness of the bohemian beatnik or hippie with the worldly ambitions of their bourgeois corporate forefathers, the Bobo is a comfortable contortion of caring capitalism. 'It's not about making money,' writes Brooks, 'it's about doing something you love. Life should be an extended hobby. It's all about working for a company as cool as you are.'
But it may be that not many writers and journalists would so readily take up a shorthand credited to David Brooks.   Not that bourgeois hasn't been wildly overused and under-explained by cultural pundits but I might throw Brooks a bone for attempting to articulate the ways in which he thought that the contemporary bourgeois has had incentives to present itself in bohemian terms so as to not cop to its level of material luxury.  If someone like Brooks does cop to the level of material luxury and comfort a bobo tends to have, well, why not? 

And if millenials and younger might seem entitled and self-absorbed might the bobo have brought such children into the world?  I recall Richard Taruskin made use of the "bobo" term in his Oxford History of Western Music as a shorthand for a new ruling class that influences the direction of the arts that differs from earlier ruling classes in a simple way, these are the people who can be the patrons of the arts but who don't want to see themselves as any kind of new ruling class.  It's that refusal to accept their own ruling class status that made the bobo different from earlier types of generally self-recognizing culture-makers. 

We can keep trying to come up with new jargon that isn't credited to David Brooks but I'm not sure anyone has come up with a shorthand that is "better" than the bobo. 

No comments: