For the middle-class, there is always another finishing school
The most frustrating thing for the middle-class is that all their hard work leads them to a place where merit matters less and less. They work their way up the ladder and apply their ingenuity, until at last, they maneuver into a good neighborhood so their children can go to a "good" public school. But what they don't expect is that some of their new neighbors have taken out second mortgages to send their kids to even better private schools.
But it's not enough to go to a good private high school; Your kids have to go to good private schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It's not enough to get into a good college; They have to get into obscure ones that have expensive liberal arts programs. Quality colleges beget exclusive internships beget private club memberships, followed by secret handshakes and dog whistles that only make sense to those with years of shopping at high-end grocery stores.
Middle-class anxiety is thus a Red Queen-style race, where its members run in place while the world shifts beneath them.
Good hair is an evolutionary signal for good skulls
One arrives at a particular class through a combination of lucky birth, physique, upbringing, and most importantly, intelligence. Different head shapes imply the absence or presence of different lobes, and therefore indirectly, the absence or presence of certain forms of intelligence. Paul Fussell, in Class, was astute in observing different facial features correlating with different classes. Squat faces associate with the lower classes, and longer ones with the upper classes. Now, this just may be the result of tallness correlating with class, and in tandem longer faces. Or it could be that certain skulls have certain skills and therefore certain propensities to belong to certain classes. Perhaps this is why we spend so much on the design and maintenance of our hair.
In the U.S., every odd-numbered class is pitted against the evens: middle-class against the 1%, lower-class whites against blacks
Since we now live in a world where lawyers have tattoos and the poor have giant flat-screen televisions, we need to update our understanding of class
Class signifiers are so fluid now thanks to luxe goods being cheap and culture open on the Internet that terms like "middle-class" are obsolete. Income distribution is more chaotic these days, with plumbers earning more than $100,000, that it's hard to tell who's up and who's down.
Paul Fussell's categories in Class were as follows:
- Top out-of-sight
- Upper middle
- High proletarian
- Low proletarian
- Bottom out-of-sight
The following represents a proposal for modern class labels, one that cleaves more closely to how people deal with the question of making a living:
Capitalists are people who live on the dividends from their investments. They, and the transcendent above them, truly comprise the "leisure class."
Experts are lawyers, doctors, and professors as well as top-notch architects, designers, and programmers. These people typically have much more money than they need, and they are usually in high demand for their expertise. Theoretically, they don't have to work but rather "live to work."
The working class includes anybody that still "works to live," even if they love their job. This label includes teachers, plumbers, accountants, and people with stable desk jobs. They have something on the order of $5,000 to $15,000 saved up plus some optional home equity.
The broke class has roughly $0 or negative in the bank. They typically include low-level service workers, such as order-takers at fast food restaurants or employees at retail outlets.
The broken class includes the homeless and those in prison.
The transcendent class includes those who hire capitalists, and as a result, live in a world completely removed from money. (Capitalists still worry about money occasionally since that's their source of freedom.)
According to Fussell, the common denominator to class is freedom. However, freedom is a nebulous concept today, thanks to the rise of the creative class, and given how the fact that money can buy so much more than before. But this new classification, by grounding itself back on matters of money, incidentally clarifies notions of freedom ("work to live" vs. "live to work") while still matching common parlance ("working class").
The desire to transcend class is itself rooted in class desire, specifically the middle-class's
A desire to transcend class first requires an awareness of class, which requires a minimum level of education combined with a general amount of free time to ponder such anxieties. Such education and leisure is found in the middle classes and above.
It also requires a special kind of class-anxiety, one that can only be articulated in class terms. Below the middle-class, class-anxiety manifests as anxiety about basic comforts and professional security. While these may be class markers, the high proletariat and below are more interested in career and money for reasons other than status. It's at the middle-class when money and security become excessive, giving room for status to take over.
As for those above the middle-class, class-anxiety is as high as ever, but it doesn't express itself as a desire to escape the strictures of class. The upper-middle-class is secure within the middle-class bracket, so their class confidence offsets any desire to transcend class. And the upper-classes have reached a point where the game can't be reduced to class vs. non-class. They are bound by greater, mysterious powers, many of which are outside of their control, such as their bloodline.
The desire to transcend class is rooted in class itself
When people say that they're unconcerned with class, it's hard not see that as a shrewd—but subconscious—calculation in class-advancement. This is impossible to prove, and it's circular thinking, but it can be seen in caricature. For example, consider the young adult who graduates from a top university with a liberal education who eschews having a fancy car or living in a nice apartment because such things reek of class. And yet, they would be reluctant to lay down their safety and live in a truly bad neighborhood, not one that was just edgy and hip. They would be reluctant to disavow their education, which is the ultimate class-signifier. And lastly, they would never date someone below their class.
When we get to the point where it's easy to picture a couple from separate classes — and not just those mixed couples where one is promoting or cultivating the other) — only then has genuine class-transcendence arrived.
The rise of the creative class inevitably leads to the rise of the un-creative, or slacker, class
The creative class is partly a manifestation of what Paul Fussell calls "Class X", a new, burgeoning group of people who live outside the confines of lower-, middle-, and upper-class. Fussell described this group in 1992, but the modern creative class as described by Richard Florida may actually signal the start the classless ideal.
The creative class has achieved some air of class independence by retaining nearly all the perks of the upper-classes. If you factor out the scale of money involved in their ventures, both the creative and the upper-classes lead similar lives of leisure. And while such an advancement would usually mean that the creative class is yet another wing of the upper-class, the structure is more like a branching out of a parallel class system.
The creative class is a new class system, one that is growing, and one that is developing a spectrum of division, similar to the lower-, middle-, and upper-divisions before. The first sign is the rise of the under-creative or slacker class. This group has creative leanings, but they under-utilize them, or they don't profit off of them. And yet, via the largesse of society, they lead a comfortable existence.
The prototype for the under-creative class comes from the middle-aged who live off the largesse of middle-class parents who have tapped into the corporate American white-collar money pit. Or it manifests in childless couples where just one partner is employed. The working partner accepts this bargain because they enjoy their creative job, and it gives their partner a chance to pursue their dreams. Besides, the non-working partner may eventually accrue a profit and return the favor, leading to a cycle of each partner rewarding the other with extended sabbaticals. Or, better yet, the non-working partner may accrue intangible status gains from interesting hobbies, a status that was once the exclusive hallmark of the non-working upper-classes.
The social classes have gendered roles in an odd-even, male-female pattern
The social classes have gendered roles. The upper-middle-class is the most feminine, with lithe professors and an emphasis on respectful, politically-correct discourse. The upper-class is more masculine, with titans of industry and others looking to scale the highest peaks of wealth. Then, the top out-of-sight is feminine again, angelic in their security at the top of the firmament.
Going back down from the upper-middle-class, the middle-class is also feminine, focused on equal marriages and appeasing everybody above and below them. The high-proletariat, though, is masculine, with the six-figure plumbers and contractors being the kings of professions that favor strength. On down, though the low proletarians, are a return to femininity in the form of strong maternal safety nets to protect everybody who is one layoff away from poverty. And then below, we swing back to the masculine anger that comes with being destitute or bottom-out-of-sight.
To seek rank is to seek the admiration of the lower ranks, thus lowering oneself in the process
If you seek to become peerless, you have two ways of validating your rank: mingle with those of the same rank, or mingle with those below rank. If you mingle with those of the same rank, at a soiree perhaps, your rank is only validated by the idea that somewhere, out there, are people worse off than you.
Another option is to mingle with those below rank, perhaps by running a company or estate, where you are surrounded by minions, which runs the risk of lowering your rank. Even if you control your accent and clothing, by the sheer volume of your daily interaction with the plebes, at the very least their rhythms will become yours, and their vulgarity will inevitably infect your vocabulary.
But perhaps this makes sense, as the longest lasting metropolises have a shimmering block pattern of destitute hangouts around the corner from posh cafes and hotels, thus making it easy for those concerned about rank to have constant reminders about which way is up.
Women transmit class, men acquire it
All the class signals seem to be the mainstay of women. Conspicuous consumption, whether in the form of clothing, jewelry, or stylish pedicures, is their purview. They themselves can be trophies. They are like the jewelry they acquire, storing value to be dispensed with as needed. Their beauty is praised, which is a proxy for the value of their DNA. And in history, women were literally passed around as a way to negotiate power between kingdoms. The etiquette teachers, the comportment teachers, the ones urging their children the most to have good friends, good education, etc., are the mothers.