- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

If Jack Kerouac were still around, would he drive a Range Rover? Would John Lennon phone in stock trades en route to a yoga session?

Much has been said of the two competing value systems that have fought for predominance in American society for the past 20 years. Since the mid-1990s, this culture war has subsided and what is left is more of an amalgamation than a division, says David Brooks, senior editor at the Weekly Standard.

In his recent book, "Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There," Mr. Brooks says a new cultural elite has emerged that melds the bohemian mores of the 1960s with the bourgeois mentality of the 1980s.

The bohemians, according to Mr. Brooks, are the artists and intellectuals who flourished in the '60s as the counterculture, best known for disregarding conventional standards of behavior.

The bourgeois came to prominence during the Reagan years of the 1980s. Practical, capitalist and church-attending, they were the pro-establishment company men and women.

The 1990s, Mr. Brooks says, saw a melding of the two into a new breed of upper-class sophisticate known as the "bobo," a union of bohemian and bourgeois. The free spirit flouting convention of the former has coalesced with the practical capitalist, he says. The result are the people who probably are standing in line with you at the local Starbucks ordering a latte.

Their idea of heaven is shopping for original foodstuffs at Fresh Fields and ordering highbrow clothes from Lands' End. They are an educated class, driven to succeed and at the same time driven to better themselves through unique experiences.

To bobos, buying a Porsche would be a vulgar expenditure, Mr. Brooks says, because driving 100 mph is not a spiritual experience. Sport utility vehicles are different, he notes, because they can be classified as tools, and bobos rationalize that you can "spend as much as you want on anything that can be classified as a tool."

Although the 20 million bobos in the United States do not represent the majority, they do represent the elite, he says; indeed, they are "the largest upper class we have seen" in this country.

"These bobos define our age," he says. "They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we breathe. Their status codes now govern social life. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives."

Yet undetermined is this group's approach to business. Bourgeois mentality won out a month ago when Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. was taken over by Unilever.

Thus, the famous baby boomer ice cream firm became a "utopian experiment in peace, love and capitalism … selling itself to a multinational consumer products behemoth," the Wall Street Journal's David Brancaccio said.

"Not since General Motors acquired Saab, the tree-hugging car company from Sweden, have investors from the Woodstock generation been so dismayed."

Many Americans may not be bobos as such, but they do fit into one of three value-oriented classes, says American LIVES Inc., a San Francisco-based market-research firm. It compartmentalizes Americans into three "world views": traditionalism, modernism and trans-modernism.

The newest group, the trans-modernists labeled cultural creatives include approximately 44 million U.S. adults, or 24 percent.

"They are the most altruistic and least cynical of the three major subcultures," writes Paul Ray, American LIVES executive vice president. Cultural creatives focus on ecological sustainability, globalism and women's issues. Six in 10 cultural creatives are women.

Like the bobos, cultural creatives "put a strong emphasis on having new and unique experiences," according to Mr. Ray.

One way to seek unique experiences is to dispense with clutter, which is why a trend known as "voluntary simplicity" (VS) has received some press lately. As a way of combining bourgeois mores with bohemian creativity, this involves the scaling back of one's lifestyle and salary.

"Many seek a more balanced life and want more control, less stress and more time to care for their children," Anthony C. Spina writes in "Voluntary Simplicity: A New Social Movement in Response to the Technological Invasion of the Lifeworld."

Voluntary simplicity "is not about frugality," he says. "It is about living life to its fullest (by each person's standards) without harming the environment or other people."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide