By David Brooks. After four and a half years abroad, I returned to the United States with fresh eyes and was confronted by a series of peculiar juxtapositions. WASPy upscale suburbs were suddenly dotted with arty coffeehouses where people drank little European coffees and listened to alternative music. Suddenly massive corporations like Microsoft and the Gap were on the scene, citing Gandhi and Jack Kerouac in their advertisements. And the status rules seemed to be turned upside down.
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By David Brooks. After four and a half years abroad, I returned to the United States with fresh eyes and was confronted by a series of peculiar juxtapositions. WASPy upscale suburbs were suddenly dotted with arty coffeehouses where people drank little European coffees and listened to alternative music. Suddenly massive corporations like Microsoft and the Gap were on the scene, citing Gandhi and Jack Kerouac in their advertisements. And the status rules seemed to be turned upside down. Hip lawyers were wearing those teeny tiny steel-framed glasses because now it was apparently more prestigious to look like Franz Kafka than Paul Newman.
The thing that struck me as oddest was the way the old categories no longer made sense. The bourgeoisie were the square, practical ones. They defended tradition and middle-class morality. They worked for corporations, lived in suburbs, and went to church.
Meanwhile, the bohemians were the free spirits who flouted convention. They were the artists and the intellectuals—the hippies and the Beats.
In the old schema the bohemians championed the values of the radical s and the bourgeois were the enterprising yuppies of the s. But I returned to an America in which the bohemian and the bourgeois were all mixed up. It was now impossible to tell an espresso-sipping artist from a cappuccino-gulping banker. Most people, at least among the college-educated set, seemed to have rebel attitudes and social-climbing attitudes all scrambled together.
Defying expectations and maybe logic, people seemed to have combined the countercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one social ethos.
After a lot of further reporting and reading, it became clear that what I was observing is a cultural consequence of the information age. In this era ideas and knowledge are at least as vital to economic success as natural resources and finance capital.
The intangible world of information merges with the material world of money, and new phrases that combine the two, such as intellectual capital and the culture industry, come into vogue. So the people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products.
These are highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success. The members of the new information age elite are bourgeois bohemians.
Or, to take the first two letters of each word, they are Bobos. These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern social life. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives. When I use the word establishment, it sounds sinister and elitist. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor.
Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying. This book is a description of the ideology, manners, and morals of this elite.
I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound. After a chapter tracing the origins of the affluent educated class, I describe its shopping habits, its business culture, its intellectual, social, and spiritual life. Finally, I try to figure out where the Bobo elite is headed. Where will we turn our attention next? Throughout the book I often go back to the world and ideas of the mids. Furthermore, I found that many of the books that really helped me understand the current educated class were written between and , when the explosion in college enrollments, so crucial to many of these trends, was just beginning.
Books like The Organization Man, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Affluent Society, The Status Seekers, and The Protestant Establishment were the first expressions of the new educated class ethos, and while the fever and froth of the s have largely burned away, the ideas of these s intellectuals continue to resonate.
Finally, a word about the tone of this book. Max Weber has nothing to worry about from me. I just went out and tried to describe how people are living, using a method that might best be described as comic sociology. The idea is to get at the essence of cultural patterns, getting the flavor of the times without trying to pin it down with meticulous exactitude. In any case, this new establishment is going to be setting the tone for a long time to come, so we might as well understand it and deal with it.
Imagine how happy Stanley J. Kogan must have been, for example, when his daughter Jamie was admitted to Yale. Then imagine his pride when Jamie made Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude. Still, he must have enjoyed a gloat or two when his daughter put on that cap and gown. And things only got better. Jamie breezed through Stanford Law School. And then she met a man—Thomas Arena—who appeared to be exactly the sort of son-in-law that pediatric urologists dream about.
He did his undergraduate work at Princeton, where he, too, made Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude. And he, too, went to law school, at Yale. After school they both went to work as assistant U. The rest of us got to read about it on the New York Times weddings page.
The page is a weekly obsession for hundreds of thousands of Times readers and aspiring Balzacs. Unabashedly elitist, secretive, and totally honest, the mergers and acquisitions page as some of its devotees call it has always provided an accurate look at at least a chunk of the American ruling class.
And over the years it has reflected the changing ingredients of elite status. When America had a pedigreed elite, the page emphasized noble birth and breeding.
And when you look at the Times weddings page, you can almost feel the force of the mingling SAT scores. Their expressions are so open and confident; their teeth are a tribute to the magnificence of American orthodonture; and since the Times will only print photographs in which the eyebrows of the bride and groom are at the same level, the couples always look so evenly matched.
These are the kids who spent the crucial years between ages 16 and 24 winning the approval of their elders. Others may have been rebelling at that age or feeling alienated or just basically exploring their baser natures. But the people who made it to this page controlled their hormonal urges and spent their adolescence impressing teachers, preparing for the next debate tournament, committing themselves to hours of extracurricular and volunteer work, and doing everything else that we as a society want teenagers to do.
The admissions officer deep down in all of us wants to reward these mentor magnets with bright futures, and the real admissions officers did, accepting them into the right colleges and graduate schools and thus turbocharging them into adulthood.
The overwhelming majority of them were born into upper-middle-class households. In 84 percent of the weddings, both the bride and the groom have a parent who is a business executive, professor, lawyer, or who otherwise belongs to the professional class.
And they tend to marry late—the average age for brides is 29 and for grooms is They also divide pretty neatly into two large subgroups: nurturers and predators.
Predators are the lawyers, traders, marketers—the folk who deal with money or who spend their professional lives negotiating or competing or otherwise being tough and screwing others. Nurturers tend to be liberal arts majors. They become academics, foundation officials, journalists, activists, and artists—people who deal with ideas or who spend their time cooperating with others or facilitating something. About a fifth of the marriages on the page consist of two nurturers marrying each other: a Fulbright scholar who teaches humanities at Stanford marrying a Rhodes scholar who teaches philosophy there.
The remaining marriages on the page are mixed marriages in which a predator marries a nurturer. In this group the predator is usually the groom.
These meritocrats devote monstrous hours to their career and derive enormous satisfaction from their success, but the Times wants you to know they are actually not consumed by ambition. Each week the paper describes a particular wedding in great detail, and the subtext of each of these reports is that all this humongous accomplishment is a mere fluke of chance.
These people are actually spunky free spirits who just like to have fun. The Times article is inevitably studded with quotations from friends who describe the bride and groom as enchanting paradoxes: they are said to be grounded but berserk, daring yet traditional, high-flying yet down to earth, disheveled yet elegant, sensible yet spontaneous.
Either only paradoxical people get married these days, or people in this class like to see themselves and their friends as balancing opposites. The couples tell a little of their own story in these articles. An amazing number of them seem to have first met while recovering from marathons or searching for the remnants of Pleistocene man while on archeological digs in Eritrea. They usually enjoyed a long and careful romance, including joint vacations in obscure but educational places like Myanmar and Minsk.
But many of the couples broke up for a time, as one or both partners panicked at the thought of losing his or her independence.
Then there was a lonely period apart while one member, say, arranged the largest merger in Wall Street history while the other settled for neurosurgery after dropping out of sommelier school. But they finally got back together again sometimes while taking a beach vacation at a group home with a bunch of people with cheekbones similar to their own. And eventually they decided to share an apartment.
But we presume intimate relations are suitably paradoxical: rough yet soft, adventurous yet intimate. Sometimes we get to read about modern couples who propose to each other simultaneously, but most of the time the groom does it the old-fashioned way—often, it seems, while hot-air ballooning above the Napa Valley or by letting the woman find a diamond engagement ring in her scuba mask while they are exploring endangered coral reefs near the Seychelles. Subdued innovation is the rule.
Your high status is made impervious by your ancestry, so you can just repeat the same ceremony generation after generation. You need invitations on handmade paper but with a traditional typeface. Selecting music, you need Patsy Cline songs mixed in with the Mendelssohn. You need a s gown, but done up so retro it has invisible quotation marks around it.
You need a wedding cake designed to look like a baroque church. You need to exchange meaningful objects with each other, like a snowboard engraved with your favorite Schiller quotation or the childhood rubber ducky that you used to cradle during the first dark days of your Supreme Court clerkship.
But self-actualization is what educated existence is all about. For members of the educated class, life is one long graduate school.
ISBN 13: 9788484509493
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ISBN 13: 9788425335938
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Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There
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