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Class Differences in America

The other day The New York Times ran a huge groaning battleship of a story about "class," the first in a series. [The Times states, "A team of reporters spent more than a year exploring ways that class - defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation - influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity."] Because I didn't read very much of the story I can't make any snarky comments, other than to note that it seems to be one of those endeavors that Dave Barry said should carry a warning: "Journalism Prize Entry -- Do Not Read."

The truth is, there are serious and troubling class differences in America -- and I'm thinking now of my own household.

I am dramatically lower class than my wife, and both of us are farther down the socioeconomic ladder than our children. I don't want to say much about my wife, as she's sort of defenseless when I blog like this, and I want to show respect for her privacy. So let me tell you instead about my ridiculous children: They're turning into preppies.

They dress in the latest fashions. They order the most expensive beverages at Starbucks. My oldest child will be driving in a few years and I'm pretty sure she'll want to own, for starters, a Lexus.

When I look at my kids I swell with all the normal feelings of parental pride, and then I flush with resentment at their expensive orthodonture. When I was a kid -- this actually happens to be true -- my Mom couldn't afford to get me braces, even though I was snaggle-toothed to the very brink of an actual deformity. Seriously, my teeth went in every direction; if paleoanthropologists found a skull like mine they would have concluded that it was a new species of human, one that survived not by chewing food but by shredding it. My Mom always said she was just waiting for my jaw to grow, to make room for all the huge omnidirectional teeth in it, but it was really a matter of money, and finally, when I was a senior in high school [why am I revealing this humiliating stuff??] I signed up to get ultra-cut-rate braces from the dental students at the University of Florida -- mere children themselves, just LEARNING how to apply the things, and I can still remember the pain of them whanging those metal bands on my tender teeth, constantly messing up and having to start over. It was practically a Marathon Man situation.

But my kids, they've had it good. Great orthodontist, great teeth, great schools, great friends, great Mom, an acceptable Dad. They're high class! Of course at some point they'll all want to join Teach for America or the Peace Corps or some other do-gooder group, and will turn against the affluent class, and renounce all personal possessions, and wear only burlap bags and various garments made by hand from organically grown hemp. I'll come to visit them at the commune and they'll feed me lentil sprouts. They will find a niche in society that is perfectly egalitarian, where all decisions are made through consensus, and there is no discernible difference even between males and females. Any sign of "class" will have been pounded out of everyone. They will all look like peasants.

You know what we call people who have reached this exalted state of classlessness, social harmony, and balance with nature: Rich kids.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 20, 2005; 11:04 AM ET
 
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Comments

Nice column. Or blog entry. Or whatever ya call it.

We live in a smallish home, in a neighborhood of smallish homes. But now the neighborhood is starting to change, with the smallish homes being torn down when the owner dies and a McMansion getting built in its stead. One of these is going up next door to me. I figure the property tax bill on the new 4,000-square-foot home will be more than what I pay annually on my mortgage. Anyway, this thing is under construction and the other day, while playing outside, my young children (twins, almost 6 years old) ask me why it is that we live in a teeny house.

Posted by: Bilbo | May 20, 2005 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Excellent and true. I enjoy reading your blog!

Posted by: AJ Lynch | May 20, 2005 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I feel like the Ivy League degree doesn't matter a whole lot in my case, because I'm still shuddering with bitterness over how much more privilege my prep-school classmates had throughout college, and how they thought it was totally normal and acceptable that lower-class blacks and Latinos served them at every meal.

*shakes fist at The Man*

Posted by: Know'm sayin' | May 20, 2005 11:40 AM | Report abuse

But yours is a case where "class" doesn't quite work as a framework for defining who you are: You're not preppie, privileged, or a rich kid, but now with your Ivy League education you're also permanently a part of the "intelligentsia." So what "class" does that make you? The truth is, race and ethnicity still are the dominant dividing/uniting/prejudicing forces in America. Maybe religion and politics have caught up recently.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 20, 2005 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that humanity will ever get rid of the idea of class. We've not gotten rid of war and jealousy and hatred and I just cannot see us getting rid of the idea that the powerful and the strong will lead us. And these days our version of strong is money.

But your blog this a.m. makes me wonder if we are doing our kids any good by making them a class above us. We might be better off if our future leaders came from a past of hard times, from learning to survive, than if they have it all handed to them.

Posted by: Alberta | May 20, 2005 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I got my degree using the G.I. bill while living in a trailer house. My 15 year old was hacked when she found out that her first car would be her older sister's hand me down BMW. I can relate.

Posted by: LB | May 20, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Your blog item of today--as well as the NYT article--could not come at a better time. The critically important debate about class--about "the haves" and "the have-nots" in our nation--should be ongoing, loud and brassy. (Forgive me if my humor gene or funny bone is irretrieveably dead today.)

San Antonio is in a classic battle (Oh, shades of Modestan George Lucas, whose father owned the L&M Stationary store) for its future. Julian Castro, 30-year-old Hispanic and son of a well-known community activist (his mother), survived the short-lived Twingate scandal, to earn 42 percent of the vote in the very recent mayoral election.

His closest contender and darling of business interests is former Judge Phil Hardberger, whose claims to fame are that he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and his daughter was actor Tommy Lee Jones' first wife.

The post-election mayoral-election maps by precinct were telling. Castro's support was from the east, south, and near west side. The other contenders' support was almost exclusively to the north and northeast, where the priciest homes are located and growth is fiercely aggressive. Taken in aggregate, the poll showings were racism and classism at its pure and most simple.

The June 7 outcome will be more than intersting. The people who vote for Harberger is all likelihood know where Mt. Kilimanjaro is and have the possible means now or some day in the future of traveling there, if that is their wish. Perhaps I simplify too much, but perhaps not all of Castro's backers can pinpoint where Mt. Kilimanjaro lies and may never, in a lifetime, have the opportunity to visit much beyond our city, let alone our country's borders.

At a recent Writers Friends of the San Antonio Library meeting held off-site from the library, I asked afterward how important the "vision thing" is for San Antonio. Castro is criticized for being far too young to hold such an important post as mayor, but I find him talented, well-educated, highly conversant with important issues and an extremely competent and credible candidate. Hardberger is likewise criticized for being too old--also a bright and credible candidate, but not as broadly culturally updated, nor perhaps as widely read, as Castro.

Who can lead this city, sharply divided economically, into the future? Tom Friedman of the NYT says the world is rapidly becoming flat. Our city library ranks 72nd out of 790 nationally for cities with a population over 200,000, as recently reported by our paper.

Who can lead the city better--someone who climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro some years ago, or someone who may help others get there...perhaps..some day in the future?

And of course, our relative poverty in the United States pales--just absolutely blanches--in comparison to the extreme poverty so pervasive in other parts of the world.

My husband, a latchkey child, never even got the help, like yours, Joel, from dental students at the University of Florida. You may have been in a Marathon Man situation, Joel, but at least you got help--good, bad, or indifferent. But at least his parents bought him a new toothbrush every six months--or so I believe.

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 20, 2005 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Your blog is obnoxious (I guess it was intended to be). If you had bothered to read the entire NYT article, you might have discovered that it was a fascinating examination of class differences that are just getting wider under the Bush administration. Policy wonks in DC find class all too easy to ignore because they are secure in the Republican fantasy that being poor is your own fault, and if you'd just pull up your socks, you'd be rich like them. News bulletin: it just ain't so.

Posted by: Heidi W. | May 20, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Joel: You are equating class with wealth. That's not how it works. I work with many people who make a ton of money and have absolutely no class at all. They're called lawyers. Many don't even acknowledge you when you get on the elevator with them. They've got the most screwed up kids on earth. They think nothing of bawling you out in front of an audience because they feel you are responsible for thunderstorms in New York, the fact FedEx doesn't deliver to their summer home in Vermont, or there is no car rental business close to their house. They will not join AA (although a lot of them need it) because they will not acknowledge a higher authority than themselves. They're tighter than a tick when it comes to Christmas gifts for their support staff.

On the other hand, I've known cab drivers, janitors, and farmers with more class in their little finger than a lawyer or even a President has in his entire body. Class has nothing to do with wealth but with the way you treat your fellow man. Mother Teresa had it; Donald Trump doesn't.

As for your kids -- why do you let them get away with exorbitant spending? It's your money and you are the parent. Put them on a short leash. I worked two jobs to put myself through night school for a degree. My first car was a used Pinto which I paid for myself, along with rent, food, clothes, all living expenses, on a clerical salary. Not a dime from mommy and daddy.

Posted by: WASP | May 20, 2005 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't go so far as to say your blog is obnoxious, but your assessment of the NYT series on class certainly seems ill-informed, especially since you admit to not having read much of it I'll chalk it up to the standard Washington Post inferiority complex, vis-a-vis the New York Times. Thats what comes from living in a city without a soul.

Posted by: Bill D. | May 20, 2005 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Ammusing editorial, however, I can relate to your comments. I often marvel at my child's lifestyle, that seems far more extravagant than mine. I don't know if I am doing the right thing by trying to provide her so "MUCH" more than I ever had, because it never seems like enough for her, and she has come to think of extraordinary things as ordinary.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Ammusing editorial, however, I can relate to your comments. I often marvel at my child's lifestyle, that seems far more extravagant than mine. I don't know if I am doing the right thing by trying to provide her so "MUCH" more than I ever had, because it never seems like enough for her, and she has come to think of extraordinary things as ordinary.

Posted by: nalita | May 20, 2005 12:41 PM | Report abuse

All this talk of Starbucks and fashionable clothes brings to mind an article that appeared in the Style section on May 11, called "The Art of Nothing: 'Stripped' to the Basics, Melissa Ichiuji Contemplates the World's Excesses." This woman, a performance artist completing a "journey toward little and less," asked the question, "How much would you have to lose to appreciate what you have?" For 16 weeks, she "decided . . . to do something that I thought I couldn't. I wanted to stop being so dependent on external things for comfort and security . . . . I wanted to break patterns of behavior, attachment and consumption that, over the years, had become automatic responses to anxiety and boredom. . . . to face my biggest fears concerning isolation and poverty."
Interesting read. Intriguing concept. Check it out.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 20, 2005 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad that the Times wrote that piece, and I wish that the Post would do things like that. I'm a touch above the 50% line, while my parents were a touch below. It's nice being able to see how the upper and lower classes live because I've never really travel through their world.

Posted by: camiolo | May 20, 2005 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Oh, for the love of Pete. Obnoxious? Re-read what Joel wrote: "Because I didn't read very much of the story I can't make any snarky comments." He has rather cleverly used the NYT story as a "hook" for a sweet and amusing story about his wife and children. Lighten up, people. And remember: Joel. Is. A. Humor. Columnist.

Posted by: Achenfan | May 20, 2005 1:00 PM | Report abuse

The NYT week-long piece is insightful but nothing terribly new. There actually are several programs out there that create wonderful opportunities for "lower class" ppl - the NYT's Berea College woman, for example, and that one Harlem Public School that gave each and every kindergartner a privately and fully-funded college tuition. It is theirs to lose or prosper from, let's see what happens.

Posted by: Ronell | May 20, 2005 1:16 PM | Report abuse

WASP: Class can be what you're talking about, but the bigger issue, the one being addressed in the NYT is socioeconomic status.

Heidi: I object to your assertion that DC policy wonks are secure in their Republican fantasies. Maybe the White House policy wonks are, but my guess is that most of the wonks and wonks-in-training (interns) in this city are actually on the other side.

Posted by: Wonky | May 20, 2005 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Wow, WASP has a bit of a bitterness problem, she even shoehorned a different definition of class to try to make her post fit into this comments section.

Posted by: Chris | May 20, 2005 1:24 PM | Report abuse

"The world is filled with people who are looking for occasions to be offended."

-- Wayne Dyer

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 1:38 PM | Report abuse

OK, so the wealthy can get away with drug use, snogging the babysitter, rape, vehicular homicide and still be considered 'classy?' Or royals can get away with wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party? Or a President can get away with inappropriate behaviour, lie about it and still be considered a classy human being? I don't think so. BTW, I claimed to be Canadian for the 8 years Clinton was in the White House.

Posted by: WASP | May 20, 2005 1:43 PM | Report abuse

uh oh, Joel has offended the NYT crowd, some of them seem WAY TOO uptight.

Posted by: LB | May 20, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I hate it when I make significant typos (but probably something I can write off to the rare genetic disorder--the poor eye-hand coordination when using a keyboard).

From a report by good-heart Barbara Stanush in the April 30 edition of our local San Antonio paper:

"In library support, holdings and utilization, San Antonio ranks 72nd of 79 cities nationwide with populations of 200,000 or more. This, according to a 2004 study, 'America's Most Literate Cities,' from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater."

What does this say about our future? The ability to pull ourselves up by our respective boot-scootin' Texas boot straps? Our literacy rate is low. Who comes here? The military and its installations by the planeload and tank-full. Tourists by the planeload and carload. Car manufacturer Toyota, outsourcing its auto assembly to workers who will probably be paid less than they are in Japan? Every conceivable shape of call center, where minimum wage is the norm. If the globe is getting flatter and more hyper-connected and far more competitive, as Tom Friedman asserts, then where are we in San Antonio? Aboard the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, ready to fall off the edge of the world?

Perhaps only our med tech and the arrival of NSA will save us? Our unemployment rate is relatively good, but one has to consider the low wages and many barrios around town. I shall get off, now, my sad little soapbox.

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 20, 2005 1:51 PM | Report abuse

You know, it's interesting that many of the very best pieces on class I've read in the American media have been in the Post.

Posted by: Paul | May 20, 2005 1:52 PM | Report abuse

In response to "The Art of Nothing: 'Stripped' to the Basics, Melissa Ichiuji Contemplates the World's Excesses." I can only imagine what a single mother of three, who never knew her father, who's children don't know their father, who has never been out of debt, who feeds her children on food stamps, who can't get a job that provides health care, who has a TV because it's the only escape in her life, who had to drop out of high school and who would rather move her children somewhere where they don't have to worry about crime/drugs/death/guns/violence/lack of education than enjoy a day at a backyard pool . . . thought about this article.

I actually contemplated going down to the Corcoran and throwing my copy of Walden at this "performance artist." Jeesh. Talk about bourgeois.

Here are some examples:
"I decided that for 16 weeks I would try to do something that I thought I couldn't. I wanted to stop being so dependent on external things for comfort and security," reads a statement given out by Corcoran staff. "I wanted to break patterns of behavior, attachment and consumption that, over the years, had become automatic responses to anxiety and boredom." [Early in the article she says that she gave up family. Is family a response to anxiety and boredom?]

"Anthony Cervino, the Corcoran's director of college exhibition, says Ichiuji approached him last year about doing the piece. She was questioning her nice house and nice swimming pool and relative comfort. "She was interested as an artist in where comfort becomes discomfort," Cervino says. "She wanted to find her point of personal sacrifice. . . . How far beyond our needs do we need to go before it's egregious or wasteful?" [How about you take those energies and go help people, or better yet, walk back to Reston and do some fake tanning.]

"As the project progressed, I decided that I would see how far I could simplify," Ichiuji wrote. "I wanted to face my biggest fears concerning isolation and poverty." [Um . . . you're facing your fears about poverty by standing at a private art museum, wearing yuppy yoga pants and meditating???? Huh?]

"Shaun English, a graphic designer for the nearby Red Cross, heard co-workers talking about the silent woman on the corner and he came to check it out. He's intrigued: "She's not exposing herself; it's more like sacrifice," he says. [Sacrifice is not standing on a street corner and peeing into a bottle unless you call that street corner home and that bottle your only toilet. Sacrifice is helping people when you'd rather help yourself, sacrifice is taking what you've been given and giving it to someone else, sacrifice is raising children in such a way that you actually wonder if they have too much . . .]

Posted by: Stop Dreaming | May 20, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The blog reminds me of a book called "Kinflicks" of some 30 years ago. Lisa Alter was the author, I think. It was about a preppie who moved to some commune after college to "experience life." She lived on a trust fund from her grandmother. A friend of mine said the book reminded him of all of his college buddies. I said that my working-clss friends and I had all gone to work after college to pay back our student loans, that relying on a trust fund was a copout as a plot device.

Posted by: Peabody | May 20, 2005 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The blog reminds me of a book called "Kinflicks" of some 30 years ago. Lisa Alter was the author, I think. It was about a preppie who moved to some commune after college to "experience life." She lived on a trust fund from her grandmother. A friend of mine said the book reminded him of all of his college buddies. I said that my working-clss friends and I had all gone to work after college to pay back our student loans, that relying on a trust fund was a copout as a plot device.

Posted by: Peabody | May 20, 2005 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"So what 'class' does that make you? The truth is, race and ethnicity still are the dominant dividing/uniting/prejudicing forces in America."

The truth is, regardless of my degrees, I'm still keepin' it GANGSTA.

Posted by: Know'm sayin' | May 20, 2005 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Complete agreement with how your kids rank higher in the socioeconomic snakes and ladders; This is especially true for immigrants, and more so for the foreign-student-turned-emigres like myself. While we arrived with literally nothing to our names and battled anti-competion demons as dissertations were get done, our offsprings enjoy suburbia in a 2-car home, Nintendoes to the hilt, and want cell phones in 4th grade.

Posted by: pimpzeus | May 20, 2005 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Well, it doesn't have to work that way. My grandfather was a millionare, my father comfortably uppper middle class. I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe in a couple of years when I reach 50 I will know. Nevertheless, I do have good friends, family and health. I couldn't be happier.

Posted by: Happily downwardly mobile | May 20, 2005 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I see class in the classic sense of the word (French 17th century). You are born with it. You can't buy class. If you give a thug 10 million dollar, all you've created is a thug with 10 million, which is a very dangerous thing.To see how money does not equate class, look at some of the filthy rich Hollywood people, some of the hip-pop people, some of the athletes; you can see the rough egedes no matter how much money they have. Do not confuse class with status. So I agree 100% with WASH.

Posted by: Bovary | May 20, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

What a gross oversimplification! It wasn't DC policy wonks, secure in their Republican fantasies, who voted all those Republicans into office, now was it? I think DC wonks are sorely outnumbered by all those red state voters and closet red state voters hiding out in the blue states, no? The price of entitlement.

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 2:43 PM | Report abuse

A small but illuminating issue in discussion of class, and race for that matter, is self identification. If you ask people what class they are, you will probably get only two responses- "middle" and "working". Every Bush, Kennedy, Graham, Hilton (well maybe not Paris) will refer to themselves as "middle" or at most "upper middle" class! Billionaires like Bill Gates and Ross Perot will refer to themselves as middle class. Those at or near the bottom will call them selves working class, even those who are unemployed. Likewise if you ask children of mixed race Afro-Anglo marriages what race they are they will usually identify themselves as Afrrican American, although they are as much one as the other. We fail in our discussion of these topics so often because we fail to see things as they really are.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | May 20, 2005 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Good shot, OX! The impending class-war that we can look forward to is the one between the red -staters (rural/relatively low-skilled/relatively lower-incomed/churched/older/Walmarted/relatively less IT-oriented) and the blue-stater Yangs to their Ying. Why do you think W is giving himself a fiscal wedgy with the talk of Soc. security Deathrace 2005? The Soc. Security crisis resides in the red states due to the aforementioned characteristics.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Good shot, OX! The impending class-war that we can look forward to is the one between the red -staters (rural/relatively low-skilled/relatively lower-incomed/churched/older/Walmarted/relatively less IT-oriented) and the blue-stater Yangs to their Ying. Why do you think W is giving himself a fiscal wedgy with the talk of Soc. security Deathrace 2005? The Soc. Security crisis resides in the red states due to the aforementioned characteristics.

Posted by: pimpZeus | May 20, 2005 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Bovary---And you can send a fool through college and you'll get an educated fool!
Upper classes invest in stocks and bonds. Lower classes buy lottery tickets.
Upper classes invest in expensive jewely for body decoration.
Lower classes get pierced and tattooed.
Upper classes are alcoholics.
Lower classes are drunks.
Upper classes are 'accentric.'
Lower classes are 'nuts.'

Posted by: WASP | May 20, 2005 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Give them everything, or give them nothing--the material stuff will be irrelevant in the end. What is important is spending time with the kids, letting them know you love them and teaching them right from wrong. Many times I think I am disgusted by people giving their kids so much stuff, but then I realize what I really object to is that they give them the cell phones and designer clothes in lieu of what they really need.

Posted by: kbertocci | May 20, 2005 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I follow you only to the extent that you've served your own comments well.

You attached demographically circumscribed particulars to open the floodgates of the Social Security debacle. My annoyance was with Heidi's grotesque oversimplification that DC wonks embrace the Republican delusion that being poor is one's own fault. Diatribe. Humorless diatribe, that's all it is.

Apart from that, you lost me.

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 3:05 PM | Report abuse

p.s. Achenfan: thanks for your comments. I vote for you as president of the fan club.

Posted by: kbertocci | May 20, 2005 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I understand the NYT series was really an excuse and lead in for an amusing blog. But even Dave Barry would admit that there is no rule that says you have to read the entire series. Who has time to read the whole thing! I did read a couple of the stories and they were quite good. The story about the couple from two different social classes is really as much about their children from their previous marriages. One of the children from the wealthy parent actually sounds like the non-humorous version of what you describe will eventually happen to your children.

Posted by: PeabodynSherman | May 20, 2005 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your kind words, kbertocci. But I don't think I'm quite worthy of that esteemed title -- after all, I'm still scratching my head over whether that ombudsman thing actually happened. (Either way, the letter writer sounds like quite a character.)

Posted by: Achenfan | May 20, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

WASP--
We get it! We get it! I even sympathize with the moral classlessness and vapidity of some of the socioeconomically-advantaged. But why are you so angry about it?!!! The issue remains the impact of socioeconomic markers on contemporary culture and we've just beat the dang thing to death!! Help, I'm suffocating from humor deprivation! All those stereotyping chunks you just blew don't exactly promote understanding! This is making me real nervous!!!

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 20, 2005 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The term "trustafarian" has been roundly used to describe the phenomenon out here in Flagstaff, AZ. Interesting that burlap and hemp-wear have somehow come to be associated with the children of well-to-do parents.

Posted by: Public Radio Mitch | May 20, 2005 3:30 PM | Report abuse

--I meant empathize with your views about what you describe as the moral...blah-blah-what I said before! I'm still dizzy from those darn stereotypes!!! Maybe they were supposed to illustrate some kind of double standard?! Hardly!

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 20, 2005 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Class matters. Many Americans are disappointed in Britain that the locals neither speak nor act like BBC actors. This encounter with the British equivalent of "redneck" can be disheartening. We here have our own share of "rednecks" and they are not all in the South, nor all gun-toting confederates. Most of our population has rednck attributes: an unreasoned belief in a childish conception of God, an unthoughtful patriotism bordering on xenophobia and fasciswm, a penchant for cheap beer, cheap clothing, and cheap everything. We classy people have to isolate ourselves in gated communities and upscale malls to avoid these folks.

Posted by: norman | May 20, 2005 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Gateds I get, but upscale malls? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. What do you classy people do about the rednecks hiding out in gated communities pretending to be well-bred?

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Using the NYT "Class" ranking methodologies of profession, education, income & wealth I was able to score a 71 percentile... not that I'm in a competition or nothing.

I figured we were doing OK until reconstructive dental work had to done after my son's accident. The dentist gets paid up front. Rotating the cash from treatment to insurance reimbursement to the next treatment helps me understand the Teeth of the Underclass. For him, it is a temporary status. For others, teeth are the last thing fixed.

I'm on a board for a medical clinic for the uninsured. Diabetes, cholesterol, and thyroid problems are the big elements. Treated early and well and people can have high qualities of long life. Untreated, each becomes a Very Large Problem. Sometimes untreated is a less cruel term for "not dead yet."

Meanwhile, my son hopes his arm will be good enough to get him to the next level. At 11, he hopes to make the major leagues in time for me to have a couple of years between retirement and death. Puts a bit more pressure on a Little Leaguer who realizes that his fees were paid by his Dad'd moonlighting to make ends meet at home.

He competes against the children of privilege, the children who can have private training sessions and private trainers. He stands by the minor league bullpens and watches the coaches as they talk to the players. A couple of the coaches remind their players of the fundamentals, as an eleven-year-old stands a few feet away and listens intently. He got his split finger fastball hold from a player about to go on the mound for the visiting team. Maybe there's a fellowship of the underclass strugglers.

At this stage in my life, I don't expect to get many more breaks. I won't be inheriting money. I'm hoping my son gets a baseball scholarship so we can get at least one of his siblings to a solid college. My son, on the other hand, fully expects to be on the mound at the World Series in a dozen years.

Failing that plan, maybe he'll follow the family history and turn to writing to attempt to earn an honest living and we'll wait another generation before a member gets to the next level. I probably won't live to see it, though.

Posted by: Dave R | May 20, 2005 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Holy cow, this one touched a nerve. 46 comments already.

Some must-reads for anyone who's really interested in this topic:

The Protestant Establishment by E. Digby Baltzell

Class by Paul Fussell

Professor Baltzell's class was the best that I took in college, and he often repeated one of the most important things I learned there: The truth lies at the extremes, but reason and sanity lie in the middle.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Does class matter?

Consider male clothing...

When did American airline carriers start going into the toilet?

After deregulation, when prices dropped and guys wearing shorts and sandals started flying. Now every flight has dozens of the great unwashed.

Or...consider our failing school districts. Have you visited a high school lately? Those fellows in polo shirts and Dockers and sneakers aren't aluminum siding salesmen, they're TEACHERS! Thank you class-crushing teachers' unions.

And don't even get me started on how the underclass behaves in the cinema.

Frankly, it might be best if geographically-challenged people didn't vote.

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 20, 2005 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Dave R., you do realize that a split-finger fastball ruins the arms of grown men, much less 11-year olds over time don't you? Do the names Mike Scott and Bruce Sutter mean anything to you?Honestly, if you want him to be able to move his arm when he is a grown-up, don't let him throw anything but fastballs and change-ups until he is at least in high school.

Posted by: Chris | May 20, 2005 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Oh yes. I had the Bazell lesson in college, too.
Only it was an intellectual named Sorzano who said that "if you're either a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, it shows you're not thinking." He did not, however, frame the middle as the ideological resolution of the dichotomy. (My apologies to Prof. S if the quote is not a precise one.)

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 4:45 PM | Report abuse

YardlyBoy is right. It used to be that men on planes wore coats and ties. Now they wear as little as possible. It makes you almost want to go first class.

Generally white youth has adopted the degenerate appearance and behavior of the black underclass.

Posted by: norman | May 20, 2005 5:09 PM | Report abuse

What the hell is that supposed to mean, Norman?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2005 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I think it's racist white men who have been mentally degenerate for the past, I dunno, few thousand years?

Posted by: mellohush | May 20, 2005 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Underlcass, eh? Now. About that degenerate appearance allegedly morphing from youth group to degenerate youth group. Is this the fashion among white youth in the white underclass, or of white youth seeking socioeconomic parity with and social status among those in what you term the black underclass? In every discussion of class or economic means, color is never far afield, is it?

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"racist white men who have been mentally degenerate for the past, I dunno, few thousand years?" Mellohush, don't you know it's not polite to talk about Norman and his ancestors that way!?!?

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 20, 2005 5:37 PM | Report abuse

"I think it's racist white men who have been mentally degenerate..."

But non-white racists and female racists are just fine and dandy because...well...they're not white guys?

Now I get it.

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 20, 2005 5:44 PM | Report abuse

[quote]The blog reminds me of a book called "Kinflicks" of some 30 years ago. Lisa Alter was the author, I think. It was about a preppie who moved to some commune after college to "experience life." She lived on a trust fund from her grandmother. A friend of mine said the book reminded him of all of his college buddies. I said that my working-clss friends and I had all gone to work after college to pay back our student loans, that relying on a trust fund was a copout as a plot device.[/quote]
I read that book back when I was in high school in rural Tennessee. (And no, "urban Tennessee" is not an oxymoron.) The trust fund baby was a major character, but I wouldn't say she was who the book was about. The book was about a Tennessee country girl who got a scholarship to a Seven Sisters school in the northeast, how discombobulating that was, and how it altered her life. I still remember a great line from it about class and affirmative action: "All those people who say 'the cream will rise to the top' forget about all the milk beneath the cream."

Posted by: Yahoo | May 20, 2005 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Okay!!!! Racist humankind. Feel all better, now?!!!

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 20, 2005 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I still think the article is obnoxious, and epitomizes the tone the Post uses so often to describe outside-the-Beltway things the elite establishment in Washington (left or right) doesn't relate to. Yes, it's true that nearly everybody in DC voted for Kerry, and it's also true that there are lots of lefty policy wonks. But many (most?) on both sides of the spectrum are products of the upper middle class that has no idea how working class people live or think. This may be why the Democrats have failed to connect to their natural power base, although it's beyond me how our esteemed (not!) president, having lived with a silver spoon in his mouth since birth, manages to appeal to people who he's screwing.

I'm not so sure that reason and sanity are in the middle, either. How about an alternate construction: that the extremes define the middle, and the left has managed to cede far too much ground to the right by giving in on important political points. The right has not had this problem--they've gone charging as fast as they can to the extremes, and amazingly have managed to convince the American public that their nutso agenda is what's good for us.

Bitter? Humorless? Well, we all should be a little bit that when given the upper-class, corporate-dominated junta currently in power, which is poised to take control of the last independent branch of government. Where's your indignation?! Class is what this is all about--and the robber barons are tightening their grips on the reins.

Posted by: Heidi W. | May 20, 2005 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Special for WASP who pretended to be Canadian while Clinton was in the White house. You think you got problems in your country and government? Check out what is happening - Search for all the new on Gomery inquiry.com. It is very hard to hold your head up high, or to even admit I am Canadian.

The biggest and latest news was this week, when a sitting memeber - female who shall remain nameless - was swayed to join our ruling party, and totally toasting a relationship with her sweetie, another sitting memeber. No thats not the trouble with this scenario, its that she told him about her change in political affilations only hours before the public announcement. And there are a lot of jokes going around about the size of a certain caucus and who is sitting with whom!

This said femmale is supposed to be 'upperclass' - a female memeber of some 'old boys' club in a way, but utterly classless in her actions. Calss should be redefined as having to do with honor.

Posted by: Alberta | May 20, 2005 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Now you're cooking.
Many more colors in the prism to consider than the one-dimensional half-tone hue of generalizations previously tossed out. Interesting, to say the least.

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Heidi W, I mean.

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for omitting the white female racists. They'll also be sent to the inferno.

If we need to have a discussion about racism and the American power structure, then Achenblog isn't the place. The problem with the Internet is that it allows cowards like Norman to expose themselves as idiots in the comfort of their office desks and doublewides. I'd rather meet face-to-face and see what's up.

Posted by: mellohush | May 20, 2005 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh, sorry, that goes for Yardleyboy, too. Didn't want to leave you out.

Posted by: mellohush | May 20, 2005 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I thought Yardleyboy was kidding, especially the stuff about guys wearing shorts and sandals flying planes in an era of deregulation. Even the potential-quease-making crack about behavior of the underclasses in the cinema passed the racist-stink sniff test. By the same token, he is obviously quite skilled at inciting people like Norman while remaining so well-balanced on the tightrope you could end up uncertain if he's witty or a condescending, bigoted slime rag. The Achenblog may not be the place to have a race ideology discussion but it's "on" now. It's on. The price of a misguided sense of entitlement.

Posted by: Glass House | May 20, 2005 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Those who find ill-willed, racially loaded cracks about the 'underclasses' to be acceptable tend to be members of the ruling class.

Posted by: mellohush | May 20, 2005 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I have better things to do than continue this 'discussion' thread. Like heading outside and enjoying the sunshine.

Laters.

Posted by: mellohush | May 20, 2005 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Who said acceptable? We're talking funny. Despite the fact that I'm 'educated' in the 97th percentile according to the NYT report, I'm probably given to occasional "misbehaving" in the cinema in ways I think Yardleyboy was referring to. It's much more of a cultural thing an economic one to laugh loudly at the 'wrong' times and groan when something happens onscreen requiring a suspension of disbelief that feels more like a sham than entertainment. I found Yardleyboy's crack funny because his cultural malapropping (not racial maligning) is intentional. Sheesh, mellohush, lighten up. If Yardleyboy is a bigoted cat turd, he'll play his hand sooner than later. Then we'll know.

Posted by: Glass House | May 20, 2005 7:05 PM | Report abuse

What sunshine?!!! Where?! Mellohush is peeved and doesn't want to play anymore! At least he/she could have told us where the sun is!!!

Posted by: High Anxiety | May 20, 2005 7:12 PM | Report abuse

The cinema is the perfect laboratory to examine class behavior.

I don't wince at loud laughter, but I fume at (a) cell phones ringing loudly; (b) cell phones being answered; (c) talking back to characters in the film; (d) making clearly audible comments to a companion about developments in the plot; and, (e) making people in your aisle stand up as you leave your seat every few minutes.

The very folks who repeatedly engage in such selfish, arrogant acts are underclass. It is the miserable behavior that makes them underclass. Race, shmace.

At one time theatre owners would never tolerate these hijinks. But they stopped caring and now the underclass is squeezing out everyone else.

Are we on the same page?

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 20, 2005 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Yardleyboy, what the *@#$$%%*@ is an 'underclass' anyway?

Posted by: Glass House | May 20, 2005 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Yardleyboy: Either a low class wanker who fancies himself a dandy, or a low IQ dandy who fancies himself a wonk. Loser.

Posted by: Remember the French Revolution | May 20, 2005 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I see. We're back to WASP's definition of class and classlessness.

I understand.

You gave Yardleyboy more credit than he deserved for: (a) having a sense of humor and (b) coming off as driving that humor with wry wit.

But you got the most important part right: he didn't intend to racially malign people. The blog has come full circle: he's talking about teenagers.

Yes, Yardleyboy, we're on the same page.

Posted by: Ox-like Moron | May 20, 2005 7:36 PM | Report abuse

For cryin' out loud, just give Yardly back his white hood and burning cross and be done with it. He's too stupid to discuss. He's flinging poo in Joel's nice thread. His comment and all retorts should be deleted forthwith.

Posted by: Yahhdley's mom | May 20, 2005 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I WISH it were just a problem with teenagers, but theatre boorishness cuts across generations, just like airline loutishness.

This isn't about money or race, the NYT notwithstanding. It is a matter of having a sense of others and a decent respect for quiet solitude. Or not.

It's understanding the responsibility of respecting public places and the people in them. Or not.

Class show itself in the office, the classroom, and even on the highway.

(And classy folks never make ad hominem attacks on complete strangers, or anyone.)

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 20, 2005 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Okay, folks. Time to slow down. Time to slow waaaaaay down. This mudslinging and name-calling has gone way too far. As the other poster said, Yardley has "played his hand" and it's not the one you suspected. You do a disservice to any dialogue about racism by lobbing that accusation when it isn't deserved. You are certainly free to disagree with how Yardleyboy "came off" initially, but the story's been told. To continue in this vein--sniping at the guy because you think he's a racist--is shortsighted and extremely unfair. And you're just as cowardly as that wimp Norman if you show up, call names, and duck out. Yardleyboy had the courage to stand his ground and clarify what he meant. Give the guy a break so we can move on. Where's Joel and Tomfan when we need them?

Posted by: Ashtanga | May 20, 2005 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Tomfan, are you out there? Should I go get my cousin High Anxiety to start blistering about all this Yardleyboy stuff? Maybe that will bring Tomfan out of the cyberwoodworks. He comes around to make sure HA doesn't have a cyber psychic break or something over abbreviations. Sigh. It's kind of scary out here without the blogmeister to set us back on course. Achenbach?

Posted by: Trepidation: High Anxiety's cousin | May 20, 2005 9:17 PM | Report abuse

OK Yardleyboy, please explain this quote, "Frankly, it might be best if geographically-challenged people didn't vote." Does geographically challenged mean someone's ancestors came from other than where yours did, say from Africa? Does it mean that someone themselves comes from a black neighborhood?

Even if your characterization of poor people as boorish and uncouth stems not from racism, and you see this as crossing racial boundaries (doubtful given your little "geographically challenged" comment)it still belies an underlying bigotry. They sound sort of like, "these people don't know their place." Perhaps you have met some folks who forgot how to mouth "yes massah," some folks who fail to respect your superior social status, who might actually resent your social status, may resent the prejudice they experience from you and others of your social status.

Posted by: Your mother | May 20, 2005 9:23 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to know what Yardleyboy meant by "geographically challenged" as well. BUT, where, from Yardleyboy's clarification, did you deduce that the cell phone wielding, disruptive movie-going contingent are poor? Is loutishness synonymous with uncouth? Just playing devil's advocate here. Yardleyboy may suffer from feeling unaccorded the respect he feels he deserves in life, but it ain't folks in airports or cinemas that are sticking it to him. They appear to be the easy targets for his generalized frustration. By the way, that "yes massah" crack accomplishes little more than to refresh and recirculate old racist idioms. Our polemic on race is stale and tired and we need to be able to do more than engage in frontal assaults on people that aren't going to change them. And to what end?

Posted by: Ashtanga | May 20, 2005 9:39 PM | Report abuse

substitute "underclass" for "poor."

Posted by: Yahhdly's mother | May 20, 2005 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps advocating a devil again, but Yardleyboy has gone on record indicating that he finds the general lack of good manners, respect for others and so forth in the public arena disturbing. He did not, in fact, substitute "poor" for "underclass." He has insisted that what troubles him transcends race and socioeconomic variables. I imagine that he is over 60 years of age and should probably steer clear of prime time cinema. Or find a cinema less traveled by, for it may make all the difference in the world. Maybe take in a weekday matinee when there's enough quiet to go around. I'd still like to know what he meant by geographically challenged people not voting. . . .

Posted by: Ashtanga | May 20, 2005 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Now you just argue semantics to avoid Yardley's characterization of some people he considers to be other. Whether he considers them the "underclass" or "poor" matters not. The term "underclass" actually makes him look more condescending so I fail to see why you even bother with the semantics. I would guess just to distract from the main point.

Posted by: Yahhdly's mother | May 20, 2005 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Regarding "geographically challenged."

Please note Comment #7, at 12:16 PM from one "Linda Loomis," in which, in commenting on a local political race, she states:

"The June 7 outcome will be more than interesting. The people who vote for Harberger in all likelihood know where Mt. Kilimanjaro is and have the possible means now or some day in the future of traveling there, if that is their wish. Perhaps I simplify too much, but perhaps not all of Castro's backers can pinpoint where Mt. Kilimanjaro lies and may never, in a lifetime, have the opportunity to visit much beyond our city, let alone our country's borders."

But how could anyone have known that if they didn't bother to read the previous comments?

And with that...sweet dreams to you all.

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 20, 2005 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Y's mother,

Semantics my foot. It is incumbent upon electronic communicators--bloggers, e-mailers, other cyber dwellers more than anywhere else--to read what is written. I drew my conclusions from the words Yardleyboy put on the blog--nothing more. Don't underestimate the power of a well-hewn semantic shell; sometimes it conceals a thousand potential ills. Yardleyboy may be condescending, but he was also a bit careless: witness how that pissant Norman wormed his way out of the cybermuck to set the hostilities in motion. Yardleyboy didn't camouflage his point of view in extravagant, sophisticated verbiage. And as someone who can be easily identified as 'underclass' on sight by the definition you've surmised, I had a real interest in what Yardleyboy was up to. I am as likely to be labeled 'underclass' by 'liberals' as by the kind of people who share the mentality you think Yardleyboy owns. I have attained a very deep education in the semantics of race, bigotry, hatred, and the more subtle hostilities born thereof. And you probably thought you "knew" where I was coming from, didn't you? Don't tell me about "distracting from the main point." Which brings me back to what I said before: we go off, half-cocked and pelt Yardleyboy with ugly names--and to what end? I don't know about your "point" but I wanted to discover if Ydlboy was the bigoted boar we thought he was, and if so, just how he thinks. Believe me, the education is useful. Now. If I could just get some insight into that cybersniper cockroach Norman. . . .

Posted by: Ashtanga | May 21, 2005 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, the term "underclass" has deep and emotional meanings to many folks. I used it as being synonymous with "classless," or boorish. I must be more careful.

But all those vicious, insulting comments directed at me. Wow! I never thought a mindless mob mentality could occur in the electronic world.

Are the pitchforks and torches gone?

(I still despise cell phone use in theatres.)

Posted by: YardleyBoy | May 21, 2005 4:05 PM | Report abuse

It seemed that Norman was the type of man who'd brandish pitchforks and torches (at least in his fantasies) with his comment about the "degenerate appearance and behavior of the black underclass."

Yet when I criticized his thinking -- because, let's face it, his comment reeked of white-hooded sentimentality -- you were the only person to seemingly defend him with this smart-alecky comment:

"But non-white racists and female racists are just fine and dandy because... well... they're not white guys?
Now I get it."

If that's the line of argument you want to take, then so be it -- white people with a guilty conscience try to flip the script all the time.

In any case, I could care less about people talking over R2-D2 or laughing obnoxiously into their cell phone while J.Lo and Jane Fonda slap each other silly in their latest movie. That's not exactly a social injustice, not being able to enjoy your popcorn while sitting on your butt for two hours.

But what's funny is how you try to redirect the criticism with condescending talk about viciousness and "mindless mob mentality" when, quite frankly, these sins have always been indulged by the white man in America.

Fifty years ago a black person could be clubbed to death for simply walking into your movie theatre.

Posted by: mellohush | May 21, 2005 10:31 PM | Report abuse

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