Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Observations on Class

Ace posts an excellent analysis of the "Luppies" (Liberal Urban Professionals), a new term I haven't heard before but dig. He relates them to the dying aristocratic breed of 1910's portrayed in Gosford Park.
What to say? I've said this before, but if anyone wants to understand the basic cultural impulse of Luppies (Liberal Urban Professionals), watch the commentary track of Gosford Park. The screenwriter explains the tastes of the dying aristocracy of the early 1900's as largely a series of learned affectations designed to set them apart from the commoners. Thus their flat rejection of popular culture (something the proles like, in the main) and suspicions about anyone making money by actually making money (as opposed to just living off ancestral lands' rents).

And of course those forced to be most ostentatious about these affectations were precisely those least entitled to call themselves the aristocracy, that is, those who were only barely high-born, or actually quite poor despite their high social status, or otherwise in danger of losing their cherished membership in the club.

Those more secure in their position, or adequately dirty-rich, could better afford to flout the affected tastes of the country-manor set.

It's the same sort of overcompensation that is often said to lead to men with feelings of inadequacy buying big-engined sportscars. The same impulse leads those with a gnawing sense of lack of adequate social status to buy Volvos and Priuses, but of course they don't like to joke about that.

Many liberals are much concerned with setting themselves apart as members of the socio-cogno-cultural elite, and yet don't have any particularly strong claims on such status, to wit, either aristocratic lineage, high accomplishment in one's field, or (as ever) a big stinking heap of money.

And thus these idiotic cultural/tribal signifiers -- an otherwise inexplicable romance with rather overpriced and often-burned coffee sold in strip-malls and walking-malls by a vendor with some light European pretensions, a rage about this or that independent movie that all of the smart-set agrees is a must-see, which hot new vodka is currently the only one to drink, etc. -- occupy such a disproportionately large part of the Luppies' mindspace.

They're not just buying coffee at Starbucks, you see. They are, for just $3.99 per Venti, establishing or reinforcing, they think, that craved position in the social/cultural/cognitive elite that otherwise eludes them. Renting status at a steeply-discounted price, considering the various other ways -- either difficult or expensive or both -- to actually obtain it.

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