A New Status Anxiety is Infecting Affluent Hipdom

The always-witty Sandra Tsing Loh has a piece in the latest Atlantic Monthly titled Class Dismissed: A new status anxiety is infecting affluent hipdom. It’s a Brooksian take on how the self-styled cool and rich are signaling status. I excerpt the best grafs below.

On the new search for self-expression:

In the relatively affluent post–Cold War era, the search for self-expression has evolved into a desire to not have that self-expression challenged, which in turn necessitates living among people who think and feel just as you do. It’s why so many bohemians flee gritty Los Angeles for verdant Portland, where left-leaning citizens pride themselves on their uniform, monotonously progressive culture—the Zipcars, the organic gardens, the funky graphic-novel stores, and the thriving alternative-music scene. (In the meantime, I’ve also noticed that Portland is much whiter than Los Angeles, disconcertingly white.)

On signaling one’s degree:

Even today, I think one’s relation to one’s alma mater is fraught with haute-bourgeois peril. In descending order of coolness are:

1. Dropped out of prestigious college;

2. Graduated from prestigious school, never bring it up unless asked—then as joke;

3. Graduated from prestigious school with honors, bring up quickly, no irony;

4. Graduated, have become garish, cheerful head of alumni booster committee.

On charity and the convenience of caring about the faraway poor:

Charity itself is complicated when one hates to admit that one rules. Although old-school WASPs might tinkle their G-and-Ts while hosting an annual spring benefit for The Poor, the creative class will throw a star-studded fete to combat a politically fashionable disease, with celebs relaying anecdotes about personal frailty (as detailed in their candid new addiction memoirs). They can be rich and feel vaguely anti-establishment at the same time. The New World is all Richard Branson interviewed by Charlie Rose onstage at the Clinton Conference on Global … Whatever—with a faint chunky mix-in of Third World Poverty. (The creative class usually prefers faraway poor people to the local variety, and always prefers the “ethnic” poor to the white kind.)

Great little anecdote on San Francisco and trusting Craiglist over the police:

In 2000, the research of Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, showed that the correlation between the health of civic culture and the affluence of the local economy was actually negative; the highest-tech cities tended to have the lowest rate of civic connections. I think of the Silicon Valley runner guy we met in San Francisco who, when we showed him a set of lost car keys we’d found on the path in Golden Gate Park, said: “I wouldn’t trust the police with those. Post a notice on Craigslist!”

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