Introduction

THISBOOK started with a series of observations. 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. WASPYupscale suburbs were sud­ denly dotted with arty coffeehouses where people drank little European coffees and listened to alternative music. Meanwhile, the bohemian downtown neighborhoods were packed with multimillion-dollar lofts and those up­ scale gardening stores where you can buy a faux-authentic trowel for $35.99. Suddenly massive corporations like Mi­ crosoft 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 wear­ ing those teeny tiny steel-framed glasses because now it was apparently more prestigious to look like Franz K a k a than Paul Newman. The thing that struck me as oddest was the way the

That’s because the fifties were the final decade of the industrial age. Where will we turn our attention next? Throughout the book I often go back to the world and ideas of the mid-1950s. people seemed to have combined the coun­ tercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one so­ cial ethos. In the old schema the bohemians championed the values of the radi­ cal 1960s and the bourgeois were the enterprising yuppies of the 1980s. Finally. are most readers of this book. I found that if you investigated people’s atti­ tudes toward sex. such as “intellectual capi­ tal” and “the culture industry. and spiritual life. I try to figure out where the Bobo elite is headed. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. After a lot of further reporting and reading. The members of the new infor­ mation age elite are bourgeois bohemians. which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Furthermore. the bohemians were the free spirits who flouted convention. its intellectual. as. Most people. The intangible world of infor­ mation merges with the material world of money. We’re not so bad. Throughout the twentieth century it’s been pretty easy to distinguish be­ tween the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bo­ hemian counterculture. so crucial to many of these trends. I suspect. The Status Seekers.” come into vogue. Let me say first. and work. They were the artists and the intellectuals-the hippies and the Beats. I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound. Defying expectations and maybe logic. it became clear that what I was observing is a cultural consequence of the information age. seemed to have rebel attitudes and social-climbing atti­ tudes all scrambled together. and new phrases that combine the two.10 INTRODUCTION INTRODUCTION 11 old categories no longer made sense. it was getting harder and harder to separate the antiestablish­ ment renegade from the pro-establishment company man. lived in suburbs. so­ cial. t o take the first two letters of each word. In this era ideas and knowledge are a t least as vital to economic success as natural re­ sources and finance capital. These Bobos define our age. leisure time. This book is a description of the ideology. and our educated elite is a lot more en­ lightened than some of the older elites. and edifying. These are highly edu- cated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of am­ bition and worldly success. The bourgeoisie were the square. And this wasn’t just a matter of fashion accessories. I describe its shopping habits. they are Bobos. But I returned to an America in which the bohemian and the bourgeois were all mixed up. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives. It was now impossi­ ble to tell an espresso-sipping artist from a cappuccinogulping banker. I found that many of the books that really helped me under­ stand the current educated class were written between 1955 and 1965. Or. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern social life. we make life more interesting. it sounds sinister and elitist. Books like The Organization Man. and the contrast be­ tween the upscale culture of that time and the upscale cul­ ture of today is stark and illuminating. manners. at least among the college-educated set. was just begin­ ning. and went to church. practical ones. when the explosion in college enroll­ ments. When I use the word establishment. I’m a member of this class. So the people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products. Wherever we edu­ cated elites settle. The Affluent Society. its business culture. diverse. They defended tradition and middle-class morality. All soci­ eties have elites. morality. After a chapter tracing the origins of the affluent educated class. They are the new estab­ lishment. and The Protestant Establishment were the . and morals of this elite. They worked for corporations. Meanwhile.

and while the fever and froth of the 1960s have largely burned away. There’s not much theory. Finally. getting the flavor of the times without trying to pin it down with meticulous exactitude. I just went out and tried to describe how people are living. The idea is to get at the essence of cultural patterns. so we might as well understand it and deal with it.12 INTRODUCTION first expressions of the new educated class ethos. this new estab­ lishment is going to be setting the tone for a long time to come. a word about the tone of this book. . using a method that might best be described as comic soci­ ology. In any case. but on balance I emerge as a defender of the Bobo culture. Max Weber has nothing to worry about from me. Often I make fun of the social manners of my class (I sometimes think I’ve made a whole career out of self-loathing). There aren’t a lot of statistics in these pages. the ideas of these 1950s intellectuals continue to resonate.

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