Whither Babbitt?

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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206 Responses

  1. Avatar Art Deco
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    says:

    Sigh:

    From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    Travel Agents: 65,000
    Real estate appraisers, sales agents, and brokers: 259,000
    Purchasing agents: 360,000
    Farmers, &c,: 428,000
    Insurance appraisers, agents, and underwriters: 440,000
    Sales reps., supervisors, managers, agents [divers]: 6,190,000
    Loan officers / securities &c. sales: 660,000

    Babbitt’s still around. I can introduce you to pillars of the Rotary and the Lion’s Club where I used to live, as well as the head of the local masonic lodge. Palpable association likely corrals a much smaller share of the population than was the case 90 years ago, but if you talk to old timers, they tell you this problem first manifested itself in the 1950s.

    It is not that the middle class is disappearing. Proportionately, it is larger than was the case in 1925. It is just that there are fewer proprietors and more salaried employees. (More precisely, farm proprietors have largely evaporated while there has been an efflorescence of various sorts of officialdom).Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    I recall being moved by Babbitt when I read it (30 years ago now?) but can’t recall why.

    I think my views on this topic would be best expressed by CK MacLeod. If he’d show up.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    We had a downright Confucian period there for a while.

    I sometimes wonder if abandoning Confucian values is partially to blame for the retreat of Confucian results.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I think that the 1960s did more to kill to the Babbit mentality than any sort of growing income inequality that happened after 1980. The great and radical social changes that occurred during the 1960s made the entire Babbit lifestyle hopelessly quant at best or very reactionary at worse. The Baby Boomers, even the conservative ones, simply had no desire for any of the trappings of Babbit’s world even if they were prosperous and managed to stay in the same office since they started their careers.

    I also think that if the changes of the 1960s were less great than the Babbit mentality would still have disappeared. The erosion started after WWII. Fashion got less formal, civic organizations like the Rotary Club less prominent because of suburbia and other factors, etc.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    Note: It has been a long-time since I read Babbitt.

    I think the mentality is still around to a certain extent but you are making somewhat of a mistake in the signs of success of the 1920s as being those today. Of course women who wear gloves are no longer around and men wear starched shirts less. However, when your grandparents were around, no one wore really high, Arrow collared shirts. Things like that change.

    However, there are still social markers and standards for “middle class” success that people would still decry as being “Babbit” like. There are still young radicals (or would-be radicals) who decry “American materialism”. Now instead of the Country Club, you have people who want expensive Home Entertainment Systems. We have our own variants of self-help books and boosterism like Suzie Orman and Rick Warren who speak in the same vague but Christian tinged platitudes. I’m told if you are not Coastal (and Jewish) like me, mega-churches are very big and people still go to Church on Sundays.

    The issue with the Babbit era is that there really wasn’t an idea of “cool” like we have now. It was slowly starting with Jazz and speakeasies but according to some books I’ve read, the power of the speakeasy was largely limited to the coasts and Chicago. Rock n’ Roll gave birth to the idea of cool. Now I think you have a lot of people who want to stay cool. They might listen to all sorts of music but no one wants to give up Rock n’ Roll (or Hip-Hop or whatever) because it means being really out of it. No one wants to be Pat Robertson even young conservatives. A few weeks ago I wrote a facebook status that said I was “too old for Heavy Metal” One of my friends (lawyer, father and all around family man) wrote “I will never be too old for Metal”

    We still have Babbits. There are plenty of young(ish) suburban or rural(ish) guys in the Republican Party who sincerely believe in the stuff that Babbit believed in. However, they know listen to Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy.

    Now everyone wants to look very cool. You see all sorts of middle aged guys in the Bay Area with salt and pepper hair but they roll their 300-dollar jeans just so.

    I might dispute with you about the death of the avant-garde but that is a debate for another time. You are right that the change in mores and entertainment makes it less shocking than it was but people still get shocked by art. Perhaps it is because modern art continues to shock even though the Armory show was 100 years ago.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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      says:

      I think the idea of cool defeating the Babbit ideology is very important. The Baby Boomers did their best to hold onto the culture of their youth more than any generation in recent memory or human history. There isn’t much of a generational difference in entertainment, culture, or values as their were in the past. Young people listen to the Beatles. Parents listen to what their kids do. People of various generations dress relatively alike. You can’t have a Babbit mentality without clear cultural differences between adults and youths/children.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        I disagree very strongly.

        To me Babbitism is about Babbit’s idea of a good, middle-class life. The idea of a good middle-class life is always changing and will always change because society is in flux. Babbitism is about the empty and meaningless slogans that Babbit consumes and sprouts and thinks contain the mantra to getting that middle class life. We still have plenty of books that do this and they are released every year and sell by the ton.

        To me a McMansion or grill are very Babbitesque status symbols. The issue is that we grew up on the coasts. Babbit and most of Sinclair is largely about skewing Midwestern values and mores. I think if you want back to the 1920s, you would probably find middle-class and upper-middle class people on the coasts who mocked the Babbits of the world even though they were roughly in the same socio-economic class and might have done the same jobs.

        There is an old New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s that shows a real estate agent and a young couple peering down from a skyscraper and looking at a pathetic looking tree in a very small courtyard. The real estate agent says “It has a garden, not many places in Manhattan have a garden”. The more things change, the more they stay the same as the cliche goes.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        There is no difference to me in what Babbitt preaches and what Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor preach.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        New Dealer,

        I agree with most things you say in this sub-thread, especially (if I read you right), the claim that the incidents of babbitry might change (i.e., the old-style real estate and rotary club member), but that babbitry as a state of mind is still with us. (I’m rusty too….it’s been about 10 years since I’ve read Babbitt).

        But I’m going to quibble with this: “There is no difference to me in what Babbitt preaches and what Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor preach.”

        I agree and disagree (or in your language, I concur in part and dissent in part). I think many of the platitudes of these people are out-and-out babbitry. But I suspect the constituency for these platitudes sometimes (certainly not always) assigns a more nuanced meaning to whatever statement of the day any of those three makes. I state this as a suspicion because I’m not sure I’m right or what evidence I could use to support it. I just ask you to be open to the possibility.

        My major dissent, though, is that liberal-leaning people can be Babbitts in their own way. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?). There’s a certain amount of self-assured knowledge about what’s best for others that in many times is reducible to cliche’s that may or may not be true. So, for instance, someone who supports the ACA is not too bothered by what I believe to be the shaky foundation of the individual mandate or by the averse effects of the employer mandate (when it actually gets put into place). I have seen supporters (online, therefore anecdata is not real data, etc., etc.) answer any and all concerns about the individual mandate with the state-level car-insurance mandates as if the existence of the latter dispose of any and all arguments against the former. I have seen supporters (again, online, etc., etc.) deny flat-out that employers really might cut their workers’ hours or decline to hire that 50th worker.

        I use the ACA because it’s something I support and want to see succeed. My main point is that perhaps we are the Babbitts we want to criticize, and it’s not always the evil “them.”Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Pierre,

        There are probably examples of Babbitry on the left. I don’t doubt that urban liberals have their own variants of Babbitry. This is an essay of someone seeing liberal Babbitry:

        http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113632/oregon-fluoridation-proof-liberals-are-new-puritans

        But my main point was that the badges of Babbitry are always going to change but the mind-frame is not. To me Babbitry is largely about platitudes.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Eh, I see Babbitry as more of deference to “Societal Expectation” more than to one’s own Existential Happiness. “We can’t do (whatever). What would the neighbors think?”

        Obligations, stacked on obligations, stacked on obligations and it feels like you didn’t sign up for any of them except for, maybe, the first ones but, jeez, that was a looong time ago.

        The desire to say “HELL WITH IT” and just let the dandelions grow. Hey, they’re pretty. They’re yellow. You don’t get that color UNLESS you see it on a dandelion…

        Babbitry is not only weeding the dandelion, it’s deliberately avoiding giving a speech about how yellow is, in fact, quite a pretty color.

        Because this is suburbia. Lawns ought be green.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        ND,

        Fair enough. And thanks for the cite. I’ll put it on my reading list.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        My impression, observing my Mom’s parents, was that their own “existential happiness” was entirely wrapped up with social expectations. That is, those social expectations were so internalized that they had become who they were. They lived that life as much at the kitchen table with the Chicago Sun and a cup of coffee, in a white undershirt, and no one watching, as they did at the neighbor’s dining room table during an unbearably stuffy dinner party.

        Though I now know, after they’re gone, that they had little ways of rebelling against the stultifying, perpetual 50s of their suburban, upper middle class social circle. Recently, going through an almost impossibly fancy bureau they’d had prominently displayed in the very front of their living room so that anyone who exited the foyer would surely see it, I discovered my my grandfather’s collection of whimsical airline and hotel swizzle sticks, which he’d hidden so well that it took us 10 years after his death to find them, and I suspect my grandmother never knew about them either.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Chris, that sounds like it would be a great scene in a novel. Jay, that’s a great description. I think part of it is remembering how pretty dandelions are and being horrified that you’d forgotten for so long. New Dealer, I think there’s a good point here about cool defeating Babbitism. For some reason, I find it unfathomably sad when I see adults desperate to impress their children with how cool they are.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Elaborating on my point. Most of the people on this blog are either Generation X or after with a few baby boomers. Our parents are either Baby Boomers or Silent Generation. Can any of us really imagine our parents engaging in the rituals of Babbit-dom? When people still did most of their big shopping downtown and when big, fancy department stores were a mainstay in most cities; going shopping was a big event. People would dress up in suits or dresses and look their best for these trips down town. It was part of the ritual. Can any of us imagine our parents dressing up to do their holiday shopping at the mall? Now most people enter the fanciest stores in much more informal clothing. The last time that people really dressed up in Babbit style was when it was de regieur to wear your best clothing on flights because it was a new experience for most people. This seemed to stop being common in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

    The entire look that the middle class was trying to achieve when it dressed up a la Babbit also quickly disappeared after WWII. The men were attempting to appear authoritative and imposing, as people of authority and seriousness. The women were attempting to look alluring and pretty but in an elegant rather than a sultry fashion. Things are more relaxed these days. Even when dressing up, people attempt for a casual appearance and feel than the Babbits and their wives. Last night I attended a jazz concert in San Francisco. Most people were in jeans. This would have scandalized the Babbits of the past.

    Simply, the entire Babbit mentality started to disappear for various reasons after WWII when society grew less formal fast. The 1960s delivered the death blow. Even if our society still had Babbit like economics, there would be no Babbits.Report

  7. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    The Eastern Seaboard line is rather important in this context. It implies that the Coasts have no place for Babbits.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    I can never see the byline “George F. Will” without thinking of Babbitt.Report

  9. Avatar roger
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    says:

    The Babbits were Babbited. Full stop.

    The Bourgeois Dignity must be eradicated for the new world order to step in. Hence the sabotaging of the Bourgeois.

    In reality, we are, on average much better off than we were in Babbit’s day and our father’s too. The New York times article on the decline of the middle class is total BS. The disappearing middle class have in general become upper middle class. The increases in welfare, food stamps, unemployment, disability and such are what the left has been promoting for fifty years. It is pretty funny that the people telling us we need more assistance and more crony capitalism then turn around and throw this in our face as proof of the decline of the bourgeois ( along with some sloppy “one study” throw away lines — note I am criticizing the NYT, not Rufus).

    Before you can throw out the only system which has consistently delivered steadily growing material prosperity ( at a rate of more than two percent a year) you have to convince everyone that it is all screwed up and that all the values are pathetic.

    The last generation has seen more advance of the human condition than any generation ever as bourgeois values were extended outside of the West. God that must piss off anti-bourgeois “progressives.”.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to roger
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      says:

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that we are not better off than the Babbits. Now I’m going to argue Lee’s point (because I love playing Devil’s Advocate) but it is largely because we don’t quite know what Rufus meant by the disappearing.

      Lee seems to think Babbitism is all about the formal culture that Rufus mentioned his grandparents taking place in, Rotary, Church, Country Club, etc. I think it is about empty slogans.

      I’m also perplexed about what Rufuas means when he writes about how “adults” are gone from popular culture. How is it devoid of adults? How are people on law and order and the West Wing and Babylon 5 not adults? Because they listen to rock? The friend that I mentioned above is a lawyer, a devoted father, and husband. I don’t see why listening to heavy metal, wearing jeans and sneakers, and having tattoos makes him less adult. I’m a pretty formal dresser as things go (you will never see me in a “funny” t-shirt but I don’t think being adult requires belonging to the country club and wearing starched shirts all the time (I hate starch).

      I would also argue that Rufus is showing a bit of waspiness. My grandparents were in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. They were not Babbits even when my maternal grandparents moved to a very modest house on Long Island.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Many good points, ND.

        That is why I shifted the conversation more to the rhetorical emasculation of the bourgeois via Babbitting. The bourgeois are the last politically correct bad guys. Well, them and Nazis. Same thing, no? LOLReport

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        I’m also perplexed about what Rufuas means when he writes about how “adults” are gone from popular culture. How is it devoid of adults?

        They may be adults, but they’re adults wearing silly costumes and punching other people in silly costumes while shit blows up in the background.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Dale, our grandparents were not Lower East side. Our maternal grandfather was raided in the Bronx on the Grand Concourse. Our paternal grandfather in Crown Heights. Our grandmothers were from middle-class families and grew up in the prosperous parts of Jewish Manhattan.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        How is it devoid of adults? For my part, I feel like a perpetual adolescent. I don’t know what percentage of that is due to the fact that I don’t have kids, but I read comic books, I watch sci-fi television, I play vidya games, I play D&D, and I think back to the grownups that were around when I was a kid and…

        Dude. I am not a grownup.

        I look around my work and, well… there are *SOME* grownups there, but there are a lot of folks who are, like me, perpetual adolescents.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        You watched a very different version of the West Wing than I did, Mike.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Jaybird,

        Presumably all those things don’t prevent you from paying your mortgage or whatever else on time and going to work. I also presume you can budget if necessary.

        Though you make a possible good point about culture. I don’t read comic books, play video games much anymore and there were a few times at work where I was lost in pop culture discussions because I don’t watch TV and tend to see different movies and read different books.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        And you watched weird versions of Smallville, Lois and Clark, Arrow, Blade, The Cape, etc. etc.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        ND, I think that in the past you could argue that there was a much clearer difference between adult culture and youth/children culture. The movies, music, and television aimed at adults was different from that aimed at kids. If you were an adult, you weren’t supposed to play with toys or like certain things anymore. These days the differences between adult and kid’s entertainment are blurry. Its something that you have been known to complain about.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Presumably all those things don’t prevent you from paying your mortgage or whatever else on time and going to work. I also presume you can budget if necessary.

        Being married helps.

        If I weren’t married, I could easily see living in a quiet little $500/month apartment with a giant television, a monster computer, and furniture made out of pizza boxes.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        “You watched a very different version of the West Wing than I did, Mike.”

        were you making a funny? if so, hilarious. if not, pretend i said nothing.

        jaybird: if i get in my druthers (read:whiskey) i actually have a whole routine about how america’s more uh insane political thrashings are really driven by the marked increase in sci fi and fantasy fans and the desire for 4000 part series and characters who never die and side series all that rot. there’s never any true ending of the story, no ability to deal with ambiguity, no capacity for genuine growth because unlike real life nothing really changes and nobody really dies.

        it’s fairly bigoted but very entertaining, particularly if you like hand gestures and gibbering.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        I would love to read that drunken rant.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        I think it is about empty slogans.

        And you do not think social critics are capable of imbibing and reproducing empty slogans?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        “For my part, I feel like a perpetual adolescent. I don’t know what percentage of that is due to the fact that I don’t have kids, but I read comic books, I watch sci-fi television, I play vidya games, I play D&D, and I think back to the grownups that were around when I was a kid and…”

        How certain are you that prior generations of adults didn’t do those same things… or their version of those things?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        How certain are you that prior generations of adults didn’t do those same things… or their version of those things?

        I won’t speak for Jaybird on this (heh!) but in my own case, I’m pretty damn certain.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Is playing cards the same as playing D&D? Why or why not? It is a social, recreational activity, no?
        Is watching baseball the same as watching Sci-Fi? Why or why not? Both seem to indulge a certain amount of escapism, no?

        My hunch is that this perception of adults now not being like adults of yesteryear is more nostalgia and romancing the past than anything. “They don’t make them like they used to!”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Yes you’re right Kazzy. I see the error I made. People have been the same forever. There is no change. Culture is an illusion.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Mark Twain and Hemingway are different from Batman and Spiderman, honestly, as Mozart and Debussy are from Eminem and Jay-Z, and chess and bridge from Halo and Call of Duty. It’s something I hesitate to bring up, because I don’t want to sound like a snob, but there are things that are part of a tradition and reward study over a period of time, and things that are way cool today and forgotten tomorrow. Part of being an adult is valuing the former over the latter.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Dude, that’s not what I’m saying.

        See, this is where I get confused when we talk about culture. What does it mean to be an adult? Is it doing traditionally adult things… reading newspapers and grumbling about kids these days? Is it an objective age? Is it something else entirely?

        So, I ask you again… what makes playing cards with the boys over Scotch and cigars on Friday night an adult behavior and playing D&D with the guys and gals over Pepsi and chips on Friday night an unadult behavior?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Mike,

        D&D turns 40 next year. It is older than I am.

        I learned how to play poker watching it a few times on TV. An episode of “Community” focused on D&D and multiple conversations with friends reveal it to be a tougher nut to crack.

        I think your distinction is more of an appeal to tradition than it is something objectively observable.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        What would have been the equivalent? Bridge? I think my parents did play bridge with other couples from time to time.

        For some reason, I hesitate to see that as similar to playing Netrunner.

        We touched on this in music a while back. Go back and listen to the number one song of 1952: Blue Tango. By 1956, Elvis Presley dominates the chart. By 1960? I hesitate to call them “bullshit novelty songs” but bullshit novelty songs like “Running Bear”, “Alley Oop”, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, and “Mr. Custer” litter the chart.

        Something changed at some point. The chart for 1952 seems vaguely mature in a way that a mere 8 years later seems immature.

        I don’t think that the songs can just be swapped out.

        In the same way, I don’t think that the hobbies can be easily swapped out either.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Kazzy, its a good question and hard to answer. I’d argue that one of the key differences was that playing cards with your friends over drinks was always coded as an adult activity. Kids and teens were not supposed to do either. The difference with playing D&D with friends over soda and snacks is that was always acceptable* for kids and teens. In fact it started with kids and teens. The continuation of a childhood activity into adulthood is one of the reasons why a person might feel more childish from playing D&D over kid-friendly snacks than cards with drinks.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        All that to say, I agree with Mike Schilling, though I disagree with him about superheroes.

        But he’s one of the folks I’d put in the “probably grownup” column while I am definitely in the “probably perpetually adolescent”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        So if one plays D&D over beers, does it become an adult behavior? And what do we say of people, like myself, who got into playing cards as a teenager? If I continue to do so, does it not qualify as an adult behavior?

        To me, this is a focus on style and not substance.

        I have held a steady job since graduating college. I’m married to a woman I’m devoted to and actively involved in raising our son. I pay our bills. I provide for my family both financially and through my efforts in and around the house. I have steadily advanced my career.

        Don’t tell me I’m not an adult because sometimes I wear a backwards hat or I like playing “Settlers of Catan”.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        what makes playing cards with the boys over Scotch and cigars on Friday night an adult behavior and playing D&D with the guys and gals over Pepsi and chips on Friday night an unadult behavior?

        Isn’t the answer included in your question? Playing cards with the boys over scotch and cigars isn’t something kids were allowed to do. Playing DD over pepsi and chips is.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Well, I’d argue that there are collaborative D&Desque stories that are, in fact, adult and collaborative stories that are adolescent.

        And the adolescent ones are more “fun” to play and the adult ones are more depressing and, as such, less likely to have folks say “let’s play *THAT*” when the scheduled Saturday rolls around.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer
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        Part of being an adult sophisticated is valuing the former over the latter.

        SNOB!Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to NewDealer
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        “Something changed at some point”

        The transistor radio.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        “And the adolescent ones are more “fun” to play and the adult ones are more depressing and, as such, less likely to have folks say “let’s play *THAT*” when the scheduled Saturday rolls around.”

        Is seeking enjoyment and fun something inherently childish? Or non-adult?

        Eschewing responsibilities in pursuit of enjoyment and fun is childish. But working enjoyment and fun in amidst one’s handling of adult responsibilities, to me, is something more adults ought to do.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Put another way, there are ways to do these things in a childish manner. It’s possible to have a very simple, dumb D&D game. It’s possible to have a layered, nuanced D&D game. It’s possible to sit around and play cards like a bunch of dumb kids. It’s possible to sit around and play a game like adults.

        And it’s the difference, I suppose, between Star Wars and The Godfather. (Hell, between Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)

        It’s very possible to tell an adult story using D&D as the medium (or video games, for that matter). It’s just rarely done.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        But how much of our perception of previous generations of adults was shaped by the fact that we viewed them through the eyes of children? Maybe your parents were playing cards like a couple of kids, but because you were 7 when you looked at them and they were 40, you thought, “Man, how adult.” You didn’t have the curtain pulled back in the way that you do when you are the one actively involved in the scenario.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        @mike-schilling –

        I don’t want to seem like I am picking on you, and you are not entirely wrong, but I am largely on Kazzy’s side here.

        There’s a lot in your comment that I need to unpack. Let’s start here:

        Mark Twain and Hemingway are different from Batman and Spiderman

        This is a disconnect, in that you are comparing authors to fictional creations; or, more broadly, confusing the medium with some of its more popular messages/messengers. Not only is Mark Twain also different from Huck Finn; but someone like Alan Moore is absolutely different from Batman, though he may write Batman stories sometimes. Watchmen has shown up on lists of best English-language novels and won awards. Is it your contention that the critical consensus on Moore’s abilities as a writer and Watchmen‘s literary worth is wrong, misguided, or faddish?

        It’s entirely possible of course – time will tell – but I lean towards saying something like Moore and Watchmen are – at least potentially – as worthy of study as these other authors. And if Moore is, then so (at least potentially) are others.

        And therefore, damning comics as a whole – as “non-adult” or unworthy of serious consideration (rather than damning unimaginative, lowest-common-denominator comics – which is no different from damning unimaginative, lowest-common denominator examples in ANY artistic medium) makes no sense.

        Mozart and Debussy are (different) from Eminem and Jay-Z

        I won’t speak to Eminem and Jay-Z, but the works of certain modern electronic musicians have acknowledged and obvious roots in European compositional traditions (Kraftwerk in classical, Richard D. James in Stockhausen and Erik Satie) and have in turn inspired classical or orchestral interpretations of their own works. Why are they outside the artistic/cultural lineage, or somehow inferior to it, rather than part of it? Wouldn’t the only way to know for sure be to come back in 100 years and see?

        there are things that are part of a tradition and reward study over a period of time, and things that are way cool today and forgotten tomorrow. Part of being an adult is valuing the former over the latter.

        And per my last note, this is the rub. There is no way to know, except to come back in 100 years and see. There’s nothing wrong with valuing the former over the latter (and we all do it – “ah, now THAT’S just a fad!”) but there’s literally no real way to know, here and now, whether you are right or wrong. And someone who wastes their time studying the “fad” of today that unexpectedly turns out to be lasting and important suddenly becomes the visionary subject matter expert of tomorrow.

        There’s nothing wrong with attempting to be discriminating; but we are inevitably going to turn out to be deeply, hilariously wrong about many new (or relatively new) artforms.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Let’s also not forget that it was once considered “adult” entertainment to, say, go to the track and see doggies run around in circles, gamble your money away on said doggies, drink booze until your liver cries uncle and you get into a fistfight and/or start weeping, then get behind the wheel and aim yourself hopefully home, so you can put a steak on your black eye and smoke enough “constitution-calming” cigarettes to turn your lungs black.

        Real mature, mom and dad.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        I too find wisdom in Kazzy and Glyph’s take on the situation.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        I love Watchmen. I even liked the movie. It’s not a typical comic; in fact, it’s famous for not being a typical comic,. If your major source of reading is comics, you’re not in general reading things as worthwhile as Watchmen or Sandman, because there aren’t enough of them, just as if you read romance novels you’re going to run out of Jane Austen pretty quickly.

        I’m not going to condemn all modern music, if only because I don’t know much about most of it. The Beatles aren’t a guilty pleasure for me: I think they’ve did some damned fine work that’s going to last, and the same is true of (to name personal favorites) The Who and Dire Straits. But most of popular music is completely ephemeral. It has to be: that’s baked into the business model.

        And with games, I think the distinction is clear. Chess is older than the English language, and it’s so rich that people can devote a decade to trying to master it. Contract Bridge is a bit less than 100 years old, but its close ancestors go back to the 18th Century, and again it can take years to master. How many video games are still being played after even five years (as serious pastimes, as opposed to “let’s see if this old thing is still fun”)?

        Last example: there’s a difference between appreciating fine teas and drinking raspberry-flavored Snapple. And there’s nothing wrong with Snapple; I certainly prefer it to Coke. But you don’t learn anything by drinking it except that sweetness is a really powerful and primitive pleasure.Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        You think Hemingway was a typical author of his era? Mozart a typical composer of his?Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        And, to take another tack, spend as many decades studying chess as you like, but you’ll be trounced by a mid-range computer chess engine. Computers playing video games is a complex topic, but they’re certainly inadequate to the task of running a tabletop roleplaying game.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        “But you don’t learn anything by drinking it except that sweetness is a really powerful and primitive pleasure.”

        With all due respect, what does any of that have to do with adulthood? Do adults constantly learn from their experiences? My dad has probably never had a beer that wasn’t made by one of the major American mass breweries. Yet I’m sure you’d qualify him as an adult. I also don’t think he listens to classical music, instead opting for the “pop” music of his generation, which is mostly 70’s (or classic) rock. He doesn’t play D&D, but he also doesn’t play chess or bridge. What do we make of him?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        There are pleasures that take no effort. There are pleasures that take work.

        There are a lot of really rich universes out there. We used Watchmen as an example earlier, let’s run with it. That comic deconstructed the whole “superhero” idea, explored what sorts of things might happen in the wake of Real Life Superheroes showing up (e.g., pirate comics and superheroesque marketing), and criticized all kinds of things. Crime, crime fighting, prison, and wandering through some weird areas like sexual relationships and parenthood.

        This covers a lot more topics a lot more interestingly than most comic books do. Hell, most comic books are setups for drawings of hand-to-hand combat or drawings of women with exceptionally flexible spines and gargantuan boobage.

        Now, I personally think that knowing a good deal about the fighty/booby comics will help someone appreciate the deconstruction of Watchmen that much more… it’s certainly possible for someone (say, Mike Schilling) to sit down with Watchmen and say “golly, that was a good story” in such a way that he wouldn’t after a story arc involving art/story by Rob Liefeld.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Obviously, Mozart and Beethoven were world-class exceptional, which is why their stuff has lasted for centuries. If you ignore it completely in favor of the Justin Bieber of the moment, you’re missing out. Badly.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Kazzy, is your dad from Nassau County?Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        And your point is? People 50 years ago spent all their time listening to Mozart and J. S. Bach, never listening to the stuff that nobody remembers 50 years later (the name of which, by hypothesis, we do not remember)?

        Per Jaybird, the Billboard top song of 1952 was Blue Tango. You can find it (I bet you’ll be able to Bieber stuff on the internet of 2100), but it’s not a timeless classic on par with Mozart. Looking at the list of Billboard top hits, it looks like, then as now, most people listened to contemporary music.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        “If you ignore it completely in favor of the Justin Bieber of the moment, you’re missing out. Badly.”

        Missing out on what, exactly?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Missing out on what, exactly?

        Good stuff. I do wonder, though, why should anyone who’s missing out on it care? What’s more, would most people who are missing out listen to it and think, “Oh man, I’ve been missing out?” It’s just not accessible to everyone, or at least, what makes it good enough to survive the centuries just isn’t accessible to everyone. And it’s not a matter of intelligence or even taste. It’s a matter of translation.

        A few years ago, I read Sunflower, and really enjoyed it, but it took a while, because the translation is kind of clunky. After I read it, I did a little digging, and it turns out that there’s not much of a tradition in, and therefore not much of an art to translating Magyar into English, so a lot of great works remain unavailable to me, and when they are available, the translations often make them difficult or unappealing. I’m missing out, but because I don’t speak Hungarian, and because there aren’t a lot of talented translators translating Magyar literary works into English, for the most part I don’t know about it and it’s weird that I even care. It’s not like I’m going to enjoy the next book I read less because I can’t read all of Krúdy’s work in excellent translations.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        why should anyone who’s missing out on it care?

        Asks the person whose Kindle is breaking him because he buys every books that anyone recommends.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        But Chris, doesn’t the “missing out” street run both ways.

        I wasn’t alive, but I’m curious how many people thought little Michael Jackson was just the Justin Beiber of his day. At what point did he transition from a pop sensation to part of the canon? Because he *always* made pop music… there is no denying that. Better pop music than just about anyone else ever made, but pop music no less. If someone listened exclusively to classical music, aren’t they too missing out?

        I suppose a better question than, “What am I missing out on?” is “How is my life far the worse because I don’t listen to classical music?”Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, yeah, what I was doing here was saying, “Okay, people keep talking about the disappearance of the middle class. What sort of cultural changes would we logically expect if that is the case?” Not really saying that it is the case as much as saying okay, let’s follow the logic.

        My family is interesting because they were Catholics and second and third-generation immigrants from Poland and Scotland. Actually, he grew up in New Jersey and she grew up in West Virginia, which are not exactly middle class enclaves. But they definitely aspired to that sort of life and achieved a reasonable simulation of it.

        As for adults, I would agree with Brothers Mike and Jaybird- the cultural type that seems to be ascendant is a perpetual adolescent. It’s actually most interesting in terms of how marriage is depicted- an alien would think our culture finds marriage oppressive, particularly for men. I saw a tee-shirt the other day of a married couple with a sad male, a happy female, and the words “Game over”.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Kazzy,
        If someone will only listen to Verdi, and won’t listen to pop opera, I will call him a poseur and not a fan of the genre.
        Likewise with orchestral music, in general. If you can’t have a decent conversation about Carmen Electric or Tail Light Sonata… (not saying you have to like ’em, but listen and discuss, man).

        Classics are classics for a reason — some of them are just plain awesome.

        But opera has always been popular music, same thing with orchestral.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        In a way this feels a bit like a retread of the convo we had over at BT about ‘pop culture you just don’t get’. Where I do agree with Mike and JB (and NewDealer has also made this point repeatedly) is that I DO think it’s worthwhile to stretch yourself out to attempt to appreciate “high” or “adult” culture that you might not otherwise have experienced; but this needs to go both ways.

        It’s easier IMO for someone well-versed in “high” or “adult” culture to experience “low” or “youth” culture, simply because the latter is so accessible – both in the sense of “easily-accessed, because it is ubiquitous” and in the sense of “usually easily-understood, since it uses modern vernacular and even when it doesn’t, we have internet resources to help us puzzle it out.”

        Going the other direction (from low/youth to high/adult) can be harder, due to translation issues as Chris alludes, or availability/exposure. It generally takes more effort to both acquire, and apprehend. But it can be worth that effort, and putting effort into things that may not be easily accomplished or provide rewards that are immediately-apparent on the surface is one definition of “adult/mature”.

        If consuming culture is at all like the equivalent of consuming food, there’s times when, instead of just sugary snacks, you should try to eat your greens too. They’re good for you. There’s accumulated wisdom & knowledge there. And you may find you like them.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Kazzy, hey, I like Debussy and Kanye. You won’t get any argument from me that people stuck in the stratosphere are missing out on the cool stuff happening down here. And it’s also a translation issue, and while I agree with Glyph to some extent that the translations are more difficult moving up the ladder than down it, I don’t think it’s always particularly easy coming down, because pop music changes fast enough that if you step out of it for a bit, you’ll come back completely lost.

        One of the things I have found difficult is, precisely as my parents predicted I would, is keeping up with what’s going on in the moment in popular music. I just do not get dubstep. I do not get it. I mean, I like having my ear drums vibrated into submission as much as the next person, but seriously, do I really want to listen to music that makes me feel like my eyes might start bleeding (the Key and Peele dubstep skit is pretty much my impression of it)? Am I missing out? Is something lost in the translation, given that my pop music education came with music several iterations prior to dubstep? Or does dubstep just suck?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        But Glyph, why are we conflating high with adult and low with youth? There are a number of adults who don’t listen to classic. In fact, I’d venture to guess that more don’t listen than do. Are those people not really adults?

        I’m all for people being stretched. I’m a believer in, “Don’t knock it ’til you tried it.” The more you can experience of life, the better, as you can then decide what it is you want to pursue with your time.

        Is someone really “better” for listening exclusively to classical music because they never took the time to hear anything other? Is there life more full, more enriched, because that have a concentration of this supposedly essential element?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Chris,
        Dubstep is a unique beast.
        It’s what happens when an engineer invents a music genre to get laid.

        This is not music meant to be enjoyed through your ears.
        It’s played at a particular frequency, and is meant to stimulate through vibration.

        In short: a little like how even the greatest 1960’s music is quantitatively worse than other decades… when listened to using sober (non-high) ears…

        Every musician tunes towards the effect they want on the audience (much like a comedian).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Glyph,
        By high, it seems like you’re looking at Arrested Development, or the Simpsons, and low would be something more “popcorny” like Funny Farm or the Three Stooges.

        I do think that the former does take a hell of a lot more concentration to appreciate than the latter. But ten year olds watch the Simpsons, and laugh their asses off.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        At SXSW, my girlfriend and I, who were at this point exhausted from a constant barrage of sound, stumbled into a club that was technically not part of the festival, and which was hosting a series of DJs (we’d seen some really good DJs, so our thought was, “We can sit here, drink a beer, and listen to some more really good DJs”). The DJ we’d walked in on, though, was doing dubstep, and I swear to you there was a point where I thought my blood vessels might be about to burst. I have never felt vibrations like that, and I’ve been to a lot of shows with a lot of bass. I don’t think people with heart conditions can go to dubstep shows. I can’t imagine how it works with some of the drugs people clearly take at them. Yet the crowd of people who were all probably at least 15 years younger than we are, was really, really enjoying it. Dancing, throwing their hands up in the air, and seemingly oblivious to the hearing loss and internal bleeding they must have been experiencing.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris – try burial, because he’s awesome.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlEkvbRmfrA

        “This is not music meant to be enjoyed through your ears.
        It’s played at a particular frequency, and is meant to stimulate through vibration.”

        you’re confusing dubstep with brostep, bro. unless you’re going to argue that rustie et al fit into this description.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        dhex,
        I’m merely explaining “why there is such a genre”, and the reasoning behind its creation.

        Musicians can do fantastic things within “arbitrary rules”, and I don’t doubt that there’s some decent music in the genre.

        But if you don’t understand why that particular genre got created…. well, you’re missing out on a whole hell of a lot of “why folks listen to it” — “cause it feels good… if you know what I mean”Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy – I agree I am doing some conflation, which is why I put quotes around the terms as I used them. The barriers are permeable. What is avant-garde today will be pop tomorrow. And vice versa. Switch out high/low and youth/adult as needed.

        To your question, gettin’ it done is what makes one an adult. If you are paying your bills and raising/supporting your family and etc., then whether you listen to dubstep (funny sketch Chris) or classical whilst you are gettin’ it done matters not a whit.

        I do believe most people would be better off at least giving things that are outside their cultural wheelhouse (whether “low” or “high”) a try once in a while. And this willingness to try is *itself* a marker of maturity (and maturity is a marker or proxy for “adult’).

        Think of the kid who looks at their plate and says “No! I don’t like broccoli! I’ve never tried it, but I know I won’t like it!” vs. the kid who says, “OK, I’ll at least give it a try with an open mind.” Which one is acting more “mature” or “adult”?

        IOW, it’s not the broccoli itself that makes the adult – it’s the open-mindedness and willingness to give previously-unexplored things the old college try, whether that thing be dubstep or Beethoven. And I think it’s often easier for people to avoid coming in contact with Beethoven than it is to avoid whatever the current cultural trend of the moment is; which is one reason why things seem so one-sided. You may have to seek out Beethoven; you’ll probably run into dubstep whether you like it or not.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Good points, Glyph.

        Where I start to get… itchy… is when the dialogue goes as such:
        “Do you listen to classical?”
        “No.”
        “Well, you clearly don’t know what you’re missing. You’re like a child.”

        Because when I say “No” to that question, what I’m really saying is, “I’ve heard a good amount of classical music and think there is some real beauty to it. But it rarely moves me viscerally, which is how I like to experience music. So I very, very rarely seek it out to listen to.” So, yea, I’ve tried and it didn’t stick. Should I get the opportunity to explain it, I’m often told that I simply “Don’t get it,” as if I lack some mental facility necessary to get it.

        Basically, the snobbery comes to pass.

        I’m curious how much play our little hip hop symposium gets among the crowd here. How many people will say, “Ya know, I don’t really know the first thing about it. Let me check it out,” and how many will say, “Hip hop? Why bother?” Are folks who say the latter any better than people who dismiss classical music out of hand?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Kazzy, would you consider taking a music appreciation course to help you learn to enjoy classical music, or is that going too far? (I don’t mean to imply there’s a right or wrong answer.)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Kazzy,
        Why do you suppose classical fails to move you, when other styles of music do?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        (Brief Aside: The Mindless Diversions Hip Hop Symposium is a minor attempt at a Hip Hop Appreciation Course. There is subtlety and nuance and richness in there that you’d likely be surprised by if your knowledge of Hip Hop is limited to Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.)Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to roger
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      says:

      The middle class is disappearing!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        A family with $75K/yr is upper-class now? Usually the AEI is cleverer about hiding the BS.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Okay, so the middle class isn’t disappearing?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Actually, wouldn’t $75k in 2009 dollars have been considered upper class back in 1970? The upper class will always be small by definition because it’s defined in relative terms, but the fact that the number of people with standards of living that would previously have been considered upper-class is rising is a valid and meaningful observation.

        At best, you’re quibbling about the boundaries of the classification, but the left-wing claims of a disappearing middle class don’t even get the sign right.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Being serious (for once), to me the difference between lower class and middle class is their level of financial insecurity. A member of the middle class can make long-term plans based on having savings, a stable income, insurance, etc; a member of the lower class cannot, and is a layoff or family illness away from financial catastrophe. Stagnant wages, reduced benefits, the current level of unemployment, and the trend of replacing full-time employees with contractors (which we see even among accomplished members of this community) is pushing people from middle down into lower.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        According to the inflation calculator at http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl, $75K in 2009 dollars was $13.5K in 1970, or about $6.75 an hour. That was definitely not upper-class.

        And yeah, I’m questioning a report about the size of the middle class by disagreeing with its definition of middle class. Oddly, I feel OK about this.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Ah, you’re right. Looks like $75k in 2009 dollars would only put you at around the 80th percentile in 1970. I think he was reaching for the ironic headline about how the middle class really is disappearing but in the other direction. The basic point that he’s making—that the middle class is not falling into poverty, but in fact becoming wealthier—is solid.

        There is a kernel of truth in the claims of the left. For a generation or two, white, male, American workers held a position of privilege in the global economy due to living in a country rich in largely immobile capital, and to cultural norms that shielded them from competition from women and racial minorities. Globalization, feminism, and the civil rights movement have eroded that privilege, leading to slower growth in compensation for white, male, American workers than they enjoyed during that period of privilege.

        This process has been surprisingly gentle. Compensation hasn’t actually declined, except in the short term due to recessions, and many men are reaping the benefits of women’s entry into the workplace in the form of a second income earned by their wives, even as competition from other women suppresses their personal wage growth.

        To say nothing of all the gains made since by those who weren’t members of that privileged class. It would have been nice to see the wage growth of the 50s and 60s sustained indefinitely, and extended to everyone else, but this was never a real option.

        Stagnant wages, reduced benefits, the current level of unemployment, and the trend of replacing full-time employees with contractors (which we see even among accomplished members of this community) is pushing people from middle down into lower.

        Except it…well…isn’t. Again, household income is rising, as fertility is falling. If people aren’t saving, it’s because they’re choosing not to. Unemployment is high now, but we’re still recovering from the biggest recession in 80 years. There’s not much evidence that this is a secular trend. I was a contractor at my last job, and it was great. Best job I’d had in years, and I only left because I moved. My current job as a full-time employee is far less secure, due to the risk of the whole company going belly-up.

        I guess in some sense it’s nice to have a guaranteed job even when there’s no fiscal justification for keeping you on, but it makes for a pretty lousy economic system.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Great comment, Brandon.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Well, of course people exist to serve the economic system, not vice versa. It rewards us by making us all better off, except when it doesn’t and after all, why should it?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        BB,

        Do you think that period of privilege is over? Or do you think that those white, American males enjoy less privilege now than then, but still moreso than their non-white, non-male counterparts?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Mike,
        “. A member of the middle class can make long-term plans based on having savings, a stable income, insurance, etc; a member of the lower class cannot, and is a layoff or family illness away from financial catastrophe.”

        1) Okay, so only 1/3rd of americans have $1000 in their bank account. I suppose that puts a decent threshold on how much of America is middle class doesn’t it?
        2) If you’re counting layoffs as financial catastrophe (and for nearly everyone they are), then you’re defining middle class as more “single proprietor” or “owns own business”. Maybe the top 10% of folks could really be counted as Middle Class.

        No shame in being working class.Report

  10. Avatar Art Deco
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    says:

    Here is someone who had no time for Sinclair Lewis’ view of her surroundings:

    http://www.ohioana-authors.org/santmyer/highlights.phpReport

  11. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    In every age, in every society, there’s been a certain vision of common gentility, something resembling Babbitry. Going back to the most ancient of times, to escape the blank ceremony of their lives, the high-born would affect the mannerisms of the ordinary folk, often the very poorest. In turn, those who could afford to do so aped those mannerisms as evinced by the high-born, leading to a doubly artificial modus vivendi. The pharaoh carried the symbols of a shepherd and a grain farmer, the crook and the flail.

    Every Egyptian, from the pharaoh to the lowliest ploughman shaved his head and wore a wig. Granted, some of the poorest of the Egyptians only wore straw wigs, but social pressures led thim all to the same end.

    Bourgeois thinking is everywhere, high and low. The grass is always greenest over the septic tank.

    George Babbitt isn’t exactly a Lear in tweed. He’s an Edmund in tweed. Lear gives up his crown and goes mad, Edmund’s hyper-rational, naturalistic approach is a form of mania from which he is eventually freed. Edmund repents. George Babbitt only goes from one set of ideals to another — and back again. He repents, too. I’m not even sure the novel Babbitt has a plot. It’s just one long set of incidents.

    We can’t put too much stock in this myth of the American Middle Class. They’re quite rare in history, actual middle classes. They only arise after some huge change in society. The first one I can think of arose after the Black Plague, when the serfs just wandered away from their feudal estates. If they came back, it was under considerably better circumstances and on different terms. Middle Classes never last: inevitably they either move up into the landed gentry or they sink down into the lower classes again, especially if they didn’t inherit any land.

    America was where Europe started over. Long before the 1920s, long before Julius Caesar and the pharaohs, mankind had dreamed of Eden, a world where there was enough of everything for everyone. The Old Testament is a story written by shepherds who hated cities and what they implied. There’s an inner shepherd in everyone who sees the falsity inherent in a world where image trumps substance. We know seeking such things is unwise, that even in our rebellion against them we are only recapitulating the Journey of Jacob, sleeping under the stars, seeing the double helix ladder connecting earth to heaven.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    The Sinclair Lewis book from the 20s that I like, but which is almost forgotten, is The Man Who Knew Coolidge. It’s told entirely in the voice of Lowell Schmaltz, Constructive and Nordic Citizen, and allows him to hang himself with his ignorant, bigoted, narrow-minded provincialism.Report

  13. Avatar DRS
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    says:

    If you want a first-rate account of the 20’s, including Babbitt both as novel and social commentary, get thee immediately to amazon.com and check out Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday and Since Yesterday, his social histories of the 1920’s and 1930’s, respectively. The huge advantage of both books is that they were written so close to the actual events (1931 for Only Yesterday; 1942 for Since Yesterday) that it brings an immediacy that you will not find in books written much later covering the same ground.

    And Lewis describes many social changes that we assume came about post-1945 but really started happening in 1910 or even earlier. The decline of the middle class being one of them. The kindle version for Only Yesterday is less than $2.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to DRS
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      says:

      Only Yesterday is a trade book published in 1931. It is interesting as an insight into the mentality of the times, but caveat lector.Report

      • Avatar DRS in reply to Art Deco
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        says:

        Well, that’s the point. It has the advantage of being written immediately after the decade ended. So there’s no revisionism from several decades later re-interpreting things. And as I said above, many of the social problems that we think of as post-WWII, 1950’s or 1960’s based, in fact were prevalent in the 1920’s and 1930’s.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Art Deco
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        says:

        DRS,

        I haven’t read either book (though perhaps I should!). My bias as a historian is to see continuity over change, so I would be inclined to see antecedents for the 1920s social problems much earlier. (Of course, one disadvantage of my bias is that I tend therefore not to see change as quickly as others see it.)Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to DRS
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ve read Only Yesterday. I should read Since Yesterday.Report

  14. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    Moderation blues again, if someone feels like fishing it out, I’d be obliged.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to zic
      Ignored
      says:

      I freed one of your comments over at “The Inequality President”. I don’t see any trapped ones for this post.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, must have had two tabs open as I searched for links & posted it there by mistake. I will transplant; please forgive the duplication:

        Discussions like this always seem to miss something rather staggering.
        Household income, at least since the late 1960?s, has remained relatively flat, though it has increased some. But during that time, women have entered the work force in great numbers; and that flat income comes from having two wage earners in the family. If you care to read about this in more detail, the Minn. Fed. did a study and detailed report in 2005, available here: http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/SR/SR397bw.pdf

        The point here is that much of the image of ‘middle class’ we think of when we look back before the late 1970?s is a world where there was a bread winner and a homemaker within a family. Attaining the same level of middle-class wealth now requires two breadwinners; and that entails a great deal of social change.

        I cannot help but wonder if one of those changes might be in who has the free time to define ‘trendy’ and ‘cool.’ If Moms and Dads are too busy to consume, then it’s teens and grandparents, and that’s what I think we see today.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        And moderation again. Thank you, Mike.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Which means that married households with children have gained less than the raw numbers suggest, since there’s a new expense called “child-care”.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        zic, I think that teens started to define what was trendy and cool sometime before a middle-class income started to require two-sources for most families. It was sometime in 1950s with the birth of rock. The 1960s clinched the domination of teens and twenties on whats cool.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike, yes. And other expenses; cleaning and cooking, for instance, still fall far too often to women, so they’ve shouldered an enormous burden, though I think there is some signs of equalizing.

        Diet is a big concern.

        Also, volunteerism; in schools, neighborhoods, churches, etc. Homework. I suspect at least some of the decline in educational outcomes may root here. I would not send women back to the kitchen barefoot and pregnant, but I do think it’s crucial to actually evaluate the things they contributed when they were not in the workforce; and to do so without the mantle of ‘traditional,’ and find better ways to provide those benefits instead of just pretending they didn’t matter.

        And Lee, what you’re describing sounds more akin to the change in social media; starting with TV and radio, and the record-company performance circuits.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike, one other cost: mortgages were typically approved, at least since 1980 or so, based on two incomes for most families. Before that, it typically took only one income.

        So there’s a possibility that a single job loss was enough to exacerbate the the foreclosure crisis, since a larger portion of those mortgages required both parents in the family to work. I suspect the same is true for areas with rapidly escalating rental costs, as well.

        Just a thought, really, that I wish we’d spend more time pondering. A family whose standard of living requires two incomes suffers the loss of the stay-at-home parent’s attention, both in the home and in the community, and is at risk of more economic destabilization if one of those incomes is lost. And for the growing number of single-parent households, it’s possible economic stability will remain, for most, out of reach.

        Funny thing is that these are conservative observations; but my remedies would not be conservative, they’d be extremely liberal; and make investing in families a priority.Report

  15. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    Here’s my take on Lewis’s treatment of Babbitt and his anti-bourgeois’ism. (spoiler alert)

    He (Lewis) skewers a lot of what Babbitt stands for, but he recognizes Babbitt’s underlying humanity. Babbitt’s lost dreams–the faerie girl or his quiet (or not so quiet) desperation as he experiments with the pseudo-bohemian culture toward the last 1/5 of the novel–are something to be mourned. It’s not just that Babbitt is wrong, it’s that he’s not really happy or content, despite his frequent declarations of self-satisfaction. And remember that toward the end, when his son elopes, that’s a slap in the face to the proponents of bourgeois weddings (with the rental of the banquet hall, showers and gifts galore, and rehearsal dinners), but it’s still an embrace of marriage. We (that is, I) have hope for Babbitt’s son in part because he rejected part of Babbitry and in part because he keeps one foot on the ground in choosing to marry.

    Same thing with Main Street, the only other Lewis work I’ve read (spoiler alert, again). The protagonist (I forget her name), eventually accepts her life as a medium-sized town doctor’s wife and realizes the error she might have committed had she ran off with the actor/artist (remember her seeing that guy as a caricatured extra in a movie?)

    It’s quite possible that the apparent (to me) bourgeois-friendly endings of Babbitt and Main Street were inserted, deus ex machina like, to appease skittish publishers by putting a respectable veneer on Lewis’s overall critique. (A friend of mine, for example, insists that Main Street’s protagonist is “defeated” by Gopher Prairie.) Even so, the reader can’t discount them altogether, in my view.Report

  16. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    Rufus,

    I’m still very curious about what you think distinguishes adult-hood from non-adult hood because they post would seem to indicate that adulthood means more than being over the age of majority.

    Do you think adulthood means getting rid of certain cultural likes or dislikes? Using more judicious language? There is a facebook page called “I fucking love science”. Most of my friends seem to love and they do post cool pictures/facts but I really don’t understand why the word fucking is necessary for the group. To me unncessary cursing sounds like trying to be “Edgy (TM)” or for people who use them too much. However, I get the impression that mine is a minority opinion based on the amount of times people tell me I am wrong and a bit priggish for not being amused by excessive cursing. I rarely curse and it tends to startle people though because they are not used to it.

    Another example, I recently went to a wedding. The wedding was slated as being semi-formal. I wore a gray suit, white shirt, dark tie, brown shoes, etc. There were some members of the wedding that were dressed a lot less formally. One guy wore a Blues Brother’s bowling shirt. Others were wearing denmin shirts. Everyone’s manners and behavior was impeccable but I was still a bit shocked to see people dressed in what I would consider “casual” not “semi-formal” attire.

    Critics would say that I am showing my class here because I can read semi-formal and know what it means. They would also probably argue that it is wrong for me to expect that semi-formal have universal value and to expect people to follow it and own an expensive suit that might be worn rarely.

    I suppose we need to ask what is the better society. Should it be expected that people know that “formal” means tuxedo and gowns, “semi-formal” means suit and tie. Or is it better to have a society that does not care about such things?Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      “However, I get the impression that mine is a minority opinion based on the amount of times people tell me I am wrong and a bit priggish for not being amused by excessive cursing. I rarely curse and it tends to startle people though because they are not used to it.”

      You might be in a minority, but I’m right there with you. Like you, I rarely (though not never) curse, and people are startled when I do (even to the point of falling nervously silent even when what I say is exactly what one of them would say under similar circumstances). And in Chicago, where I’m convinced the f-bomb is used much more frequently than in my hometown of Denver, there’s a side of me that sees it as not very…..nice.

      I am open to the idea that I’m sometimes a judgmental prig, at least in those moments when I forget that language is conventional and not everybody has to observe the same registers of speech I do. Still, I share your distaste for such language, and there’s usually no harm in self-regulating.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        I think there are valuable questions to be asked about whether it is better that society is much more casual now and to what extent.

        My mom is perplexed by the popularity of Mad Men. She was in high school and young adulthood during the time and dislikes the period (at least pre-1967). She said it was no fun needing to dress up every time you went to the city and things are much better now when everything is casual.

        I had a professor in law school who went to law school in the early 1960s. He said when he was in law school everyone wore suits and ties and carried around briefcases like mini-associates. He added that he thinks it is better now that people can wear jeans and such to law school.

        On both things I agree. I also think it is better about the range of materials and subjects that the media can talk about now. Better than it just being Ozzie and Harriet.

        Perhaps extra-cursing is just a side product of these changes that I need to accept.Report

      • Yeah, you’re probably right.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        i fucking love dressing well.

        and yeah this is mostly a class thing, or the ghost of a class thing, plus time. we live in less formal times. on the plus side people are far less controlled by their social/neighborhood environments. on the not so plus side people wear bowling shirts to weddings.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        DHEX,

        I see what you did in your first sentence and raise my eyebrow to an appropriate level of wryness.

        More seriously, I would somewhat question whether people are more free from their social/neighborhood environments.

        I know a woman on-line. She seems to hang out in geek/gaming circles. Every now and then, she would make a post about wanting to wear on a sun dress or some such but felt self-conscious about it. I would always say that sun dresses are pretty casual and she should go for it. Her constant dissent was that it would be too nice/formal with her group who never wear anything more than jeans, shorts, and various geek t-shirts.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        “Her constant dissent was that it would be too nice/formal with her group who never wear anything more than jeans, shorts, and various geek t-shirts.”

        increasingly relaxed social conventions can only compensate so much for being completely spineless. you gotta be in it to win it.

        if they complain the next week she shows up in a ball gown. with normies you can just show up in steampunk and the good taste receptors in their brains overload causing permanent vegetative states, but i fear steampunk would be harmless against nerds of this magnitude.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        increasingly relaxed social conventions can only compensate so much for being completely spineless. you gotta be in it to win it.

        Motherfuckin goddam right!Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        Ozzie and Harriet were no more indicative of life in the 50s and 60s than That Seventies Show is indicative of the 70s. What the hell are people these days thinking? That the 50s were fun or something? They weren’t. They were segregated, they were scary (duck and cover!) the politics were terrifying — the fashions were uncomfortable, especially for women, the cars were unreliable, and a whole generation of war-scarred people wandered the world, just plain faking it.

        That’s the one part of the era Mad Men got right at the beginning. Don Draper’s entire identiy is predicated on one lie followed by a whole life of lies.

        People use “Babbitt” as if they never read the book. They know about the earnest, clubby Babbitt. Babbitt the Seeker, Babbitt the Cheater, Babbitt the shallow little ideologue — everything in his life is emulation. There isn’t a genuine note to him except his dreams, except out there at the lake, where he wants to preserve one moment.

        All this talk about Spinelessness is intriguing. The ultimate acts of conformity are Teenage Rebellion which comes to the coda for Middle Age Crisis. That’s where we revisit the axioms of our lives, not so much in rebellion from them but to re-run the experiment to validate them. We know what it means to dress up and go to the city: everyone who goes to a nightclub thinks through what they’re wearing.

        The American Middle Class is a cliche, a Metaphor of Things, no different than the materialism of any age. Everyone played Fake It Till You Make It. Every generation goes through the same tiresome key change and twelve bar break. Half our lives we spend trying to act so Adult but when you’re on the far side of the halfway line, you’ll see children in even the oldest people.

        I carried the briefcase for years. I wore the suit and tie. Back then I looked up to older people and I had some wonderful mentors, men who understood the classic values. But it seems to me society is no more casual than it ever was. People work longer hours now. Jobs aren’t secure. The hypocrisy of those times has not gone away, the Machiavellian treachery of today’s workplaces and societal mechanism is even more obvious. Maybe I just see it more clearly now.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      “Or is it better to have a society that does not care about such things?”

      As if such a thing were possible!Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LWA
        Ignored
        says:

        You are right that such a thing is not completely possible because people are people and it seems built in that we care about such things.

        I would certainly care if someone came to my wedding in bowling shirt. But the question is whether my caring is acceptable or not on a moral/ethical level. Is it a sincere showing of consideration or is it simply my socio-economic class speaking?

        All these things are largely relative but subject to very heated debate. Others include whether it is a faux-paus or not to get something for a couple that is not on the registry.

        Humans are silly…..Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LWA
        Ignored
        says:

        I’d argue that its acceptable to care if its your wedding. The people are your guests and they are their to attend your event. As the host of the wedding and the certain of attention, the couple has the right to demand that the guests keep in the spirit of the wedding. If the happy couple decides that they wanted something elegant and formal than the guests have to honor that or not show up. Anybody who argues otherwise deserves a whack on the head. They are wrong.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LWA
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee,

        As someone who just celebrated his wedding, I agree. We wanted something casual (it was a backyard wedding in hot weather…and it was all fun, too). But I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a couple requiring formal attire.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      Dhex and ND, this is part of what I was talking about in regards to Babbitry. In the recent past, knowledge of dress and the differences between formal, semi-formal, and informal were somewhat more universal despite class. If anything, Golden Age Hollywood movies gave people a certain idea of what fancy dress was even if they didn’t travel in socio-economic circles were it would be important. Getting dressed for the occasion used to be an important part of life even if it was simply to do your holiday shopping. It was as Chris and Jaybird put it, socially expected. I think part of the nostalgia for the 1930s and 1940s that a lot of people in Gen X and younger feel, despite things like the Depression, WWII, and the early Cold War, is from missing the ability to dress up in somewhat elegant or fancy clothing.

      I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, I’m really glad that I don’t live in an age where I have to wear a suit even when I’m not at work. At the other time, its nice to dress up really fancy once in awhile for a non-work occasion and something events requires a bit more elegance and formality.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        “At the other time, its nice to dress up really fancy once in awhile for a non-work occasion and something events requires a bit more elegance and formality.”

        so why not just make it happen? you’re in new york, right? it’s totes simplicotes. even if you’re in oh i dunno the middle of nowhere maryland you just find the most expensive restaurant in the area and tell the lady/lad/(s)/etc to dress to impress to undress.Report

  17. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    Perhaps we can see the loss of a bourgeois mindset in American politics, where the traditional William F. Buckley country club conservatism that once thrilled the Babbitt heart has been replaced with brasher, more boorish locker room bluster aimed at any type of “elitism.”

    This is kind of beside the point (or maybe not) but William Buckley *himself* was instrumental in that transformation. He spoke as and like someone from the country club (or more precisely the yacht club) but was the first to formulate the attacks on elite institutions (and/or elitism in institutions) that drives the right wing political machine to this day – most notably the University.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      Agreed. Buckley strikes me as one of those transitional and transformative characters, difficult to pin down exactly, but for that reason, interesting.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      Which is why a lot of liberals think of Buckley (and many subsequent leaders) in the conservative media/movement as being hypocrites. Many of them came form upper-middle class (or above) backgrounds and have upper-middle class (or above) tastes. Yet they make a very good living by attacking those tastes and mores.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      Kohole,

      There is starboard literature for every taste, as there is portside literature. It has gotten more difficult to sustain publications, so the discourse is to be found more in venues without much editorial control. All elements of the political spectrum face this. The MacArthur Foundation and tech gazillionaires are willing to finance the deficits of Harper’s and The New Republic, which otherwise would have gone under long ago. Starboard foundations are more impecunious, so some of the more engaging publications have folded (e.g. Policy Review and The Public Interest). This has happened to some non-aligned publications as well (e.g. Wilson Quarterly).

      Still, if you are interested, the output of the Hoover Institution and the American Enterprise Institute is much more readily available than was once the case; they just have not been assembling it in serial format.

      One might also note that National Review does not differ from it what it was a generation ago in any gross way. The current editor is a fairly banal figure and no one on the masthead is erudite in the manner of Erik v. Kuenheldt Leddihn; otherwise, it is not much different. Buckley was highly unusual at every stage of his career due to his facility with language. None of his peers published more or spoke with more eloquence. Barbara Ehrenreich, Lewis Lapham, and Norman Podhoretz were peers who published a mess of books, but little of quality and nowhere near the quantity. William Whitworth was an opinion journalist at least as consequential as Buckley during the middle portion of the latter’s career, but confined his output to his editorial work and published very little. Same deal with Robert Silvers. There was just no one then or now quite like Buckley.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Art Deco
        Ignored
        says:

        “One might also note that National Review does not differ from it what it was a generation ago in any gross way.”

        If you’re defining ‘a generation ago’ as the Reagan era, you’re right, but crime and commies are no longer ascendent, which creates a dissonance in their worldview (or rather, to its reception). But if you’re defining ‘a generation ago’ as the actual generation in which Buckley founded the magazine – and they editorialized *for* Jim Crow, for instance – yes, they do differ from that.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Art Deco
        Ignored
        says:

        Your complaint was about intellectual quality and style. Please follow your own argument.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Art Deco
        Ignored
        says:

        Your complaint was about intellectual quality and style. Please follow your own argument.

        Errr. I think his complaint is about the content, and the relevance of the content to the time-context in which it’s published.Report

  18. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    I think the idea that the contemporary fashion for informality and casualness is evidence of egalitarianness is wholly erroneous.
    .
    In fact,this entire strain of faux-casualness in society seems pernicious to me. I see it in the fashion for “non-hierachical” workplaces where everyone is called by their first names, where corner offices are shunned in favor of loose open plan layout.

    It seems pernicious to me since it is demonstrably false- these cool software companies where the CEO is hangs out in shorts and a baseball cap, are actually very strictly hierarchical, arguably more feudal than Henry Ford’s company in 1920.

    Dispensing with the corner office is easy, a simple frill- yet deciding who makes decisions, who holds a stake, how power is wielded- These things have not been improved in the new economy. The seeming casualness and informality is a veneer that hides the underlying power dynamics.

    Further, by ignoring the issue of power and the relationship of the employer to employee, the subservience of the employee is not lessened one bit- yet the duty and obligation by the employer to the community is conveniently erased.

    The faults of Babbit- the smug ignorance, the fixation with material well beaing and status- have any of these things lessened, even one bit? Yet Babbit’s strengths- the committment to community, the sense of duty to something beyond oneself- haven’t these been damaged and eroded?

    Isn’t Rufus’ observation remarkable, that in reading a bitter critique of early 20th Century social life, a millenial’s first impression would be wonder and amazement at the comfort and stability of the bourgeoise?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      I believe that I have fallen in love with this comment.

      I don’t agree with it, mind… but it’s an interesting position.

      I read it and I find myself boggling that, just a few days ago, we had a fun argument over a politician who sent pictures of his naughty parts to acquaintances who weren’t expecting to get naughty part pictures.

      One of the defenses given was that this is something that a lot of people do. It happens all the time.

      And libertine that I am, I found myself waxing nostalgic for the days when I could reasonably have said “DON’T FREAKING SEND PICTURES OF YOUR JUNK TO PEOPLE” and have the response be “say it, don’t spray it… besides, no one disagrees with that position. It’s banal. Sit down. Jesus.”Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I wasn’t defending Anthony Weiner or anyone else doing it!!!!!!!!!

        I was merely stating that it seems to happen a lot based on what I’ve heard from female friends on OKCupid.

        Or any conversation with a lawyer who handles a lot of sexual harassment claims.

        Just because something is common and I wasn’t surprised, does not mean that I find the behavior acceptable.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        How can anybody possibly think that this is a good courtship technique?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        How can anybody normal, acculturated human being possibly think that this is a good courtship technique?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        See also: “The Neg”.Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        How can anyone think P3N1S ENLRAGMENET P1LL5 BUY N0W! is a good marketing technique?Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        [attempts to give @fnord his credit card number]Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Stillwater, if anything the internet taught me that I overestimate the number of normal, acculturated human beings.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee, Jaybird, and Stillwater,

        When I was in college, I went to see a lecture by a couple on sex and all very sex-positive things. They mentioned that there was one guy who kept getting sex all the time at their undergrad and no one could figure out why because he was not well-liked and a known jerk. Eventually somone just figured out that he would ask hundreds of women for sex and the law of averages just worked in his favor.

        Likewise on OKCupid or other dating site, perhaps these guys are going for something different. If you simply ask “Wanna go out?” or “Wanna have sex?” a million times, eventually someone will say yes.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      LWA,

      Good points. Almost everone* might wear jeans and such but there are jeans and there are jeans. Jeans now range in price from maybe 40-50 a pair on the low end to hundreds of dollars or more for jeans from premium denim lines. The Silicon Valley guys might wear jeans to work but they could come from expensive and obscure Japanese brands (note I also like this stuff for sake of disclosure)

      There is also the new fashion trend towards “Heritage” clothing based on early-20th century workwear like this:

      http://www.sunnysportsclothing.com/Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      “It seems pernicious to me since it is demonstrably false- these cool software companies where the CEO is hangs out in shorts and a baseball cap, are actually very strictly hierarchical, arguably more feudal than Henry Ford’s company in 1920.”

      I agree with the spirit of this comment, although Ford’s 1920 company was very hierarchical, and I’m not sure the cool software companies are really in the same league.

      Also, I would prefer to work at a place with more casual dress code.

      Still, casual dress codes (and the faux familiarity of first naming, and “open door policies”) do service to a lot of hierarchical power maintenance, and it’s not all benign.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        I thought that the drive to informality in the office came from the tech sector. This might be more urban legend than anything else but what I heard is that the early computer programmers did not like traditional office attire for a variety of social reasons and simply refused to wear it. The companies needed them and had no choice but to let them dress casual to work even if they preferred them to be in a suit the entire time. This causal wear eventually spread to other industries because of tech influence. Its a pretty recent thing to. If entertainment was accurate, the concept of office appropriate attire existed to at least the late 1980s.

        In more traditional industries like finance, law, and more you are still expected to dress kind of traditionally.Report

      • Lee,

        You might very well be right about the origins. Another item about “the epidemic of casual dress” (not your or anyone else’s words, I admit) is that the lower on the food chain one is, the less one has a say in their dress code, ceteris paribus, mutatis mutandis, und so weiter.

        And yes, I think you’re right descriptively that in traditional industries, more formal attire is still de rigueur.

        There might also be a regional variance at play. My purely anecdotal observation is that in Chicago, formal attire is much more necessary than in Denver, even accounting for industries.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        I vaguely remember seeing a Time or Newsweek cover story about the Slacker Generation in beginning of the mid-90’s (92-94) that basically focused on, “oh my god, these college graduates want to wear tshirts and jeans to work!”

        Obviously, it was happening in tech circles before hand, but I think that’s when it began to bubble over to the rest of the corporate world. Ironically, those graduates from the slacker generation are now bitching about their Millennial Age children staying at home. 🙂Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Pierre Corneille
        Ignored
        says:

        Pierre,

        New York is much more traditional than anywhere else in the nation probably. People simply seem to have to dress up more for work here than elsewhere. I was in LA visiting my older brother and sister-in-law recently. My sister-in-law took me to the airport on the way to work and what she saw wore wouldn’t fly even in her industry in NYC. I think one reason why NYC remained traditional was that the tech industries were weak compared to others and the traditional industries strong enough to remain in control of the dress code.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      “It seems pernicious to me since it is demonstrably false- these cool software companies where the CEO is hangs out in shorts and a baseball cap, are actually very strictly hierarchical, arguably more feudal than Henry Ford’s company in 1920.

      Dispensing with the corner office is easy, a simple frill- yet deciding who makes decisions, who holds a stake, how power is wielded- These things have not been improved in the new economy. The seeming casualness and informality is a veneer that hides the underlying power dynamics.”

      … umm, most cool software companies are actually pretty cool. One game company managed to lose their money and go bankrupt (days later they found their money). Does this scream “ceo is acting like a dictator?”

      The new economy? The wealthiest metro in America is washington dc. This “new Economy” looks suspiciously like an older economy mentioned on these boards quite frequently in the last few weeks.Report

  19. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    What happened to Bobbit?

    Brother, you don’t want to know.Report

  20. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    I was thinking more of a compare and contrast- Grey Flannel Office in the 1960s versus DisruptiveTech in 2013.
    One one side of the ledger, being forced to wear a tie, white shirt and black slacks;
    On the other, shorts and flip flops;
    On one side, graduating from UCLA for free, courtesy the taxpayers-
    On the other, graduating from UCLA with $100,000 of non-dischargeable debt
    On the one side, a defined benefit pension plan;
    On the other, a foosball table in the office;
    On one side, earning 1/75th of Mr. Smithers, the CEO;
    On the other, earning 1/450th of Dudemeister, the CEO;
    One one side, lifetime job security;
    On the other, being an independent contractor and changing jobs 7 times in 10 years

    In the financial world, there is the maxim that reward follows risk. Over the past 30 years, the American middle class has ammassed a tremendous amount of risk- the loss of job security, safety net, bargaining power.

    Yet what reward have we gained in compensation?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      I am not sure you can do a head to head comparison and say that the we would still have all the nice things in the office.

      I think the number of offices which allow jeans all the time and have company rec rooms are greatly exaggerated. I still know people who need to be suit and tied in the Bay Area.

      The college education cost thing is even more of a precarious connection….Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Even in Tech, clothing is status-related. Management, Sales, and Marketing dresses well because they need to impress each other and the customers. Engineers dress down because we impress everyone else that we can (and because a tie and too many layers of clothing is distracting when you’re trying to concentrate creatively. No one paints in a fishing suit and tie.), and there are castes within that. Developers tend to well-fitting jeans, with the more senior ones wearing decent shirts (polo or buttoned) and only the junior ones logoed T-shirts. It’s the Unix system admins that look homeless.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @newdealer, I have longed for the employer that didn’t allow jeans. Alas, I work in tech. I think LWA’s characterization is exaggerated for effect, but I think it’s hard to deny that the office place has become more casual over time (outside of certain fields, anyway). And he’s describing something that is.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Dude, sometimes you have to go under the tiles. If you were wearing a suit and tie, you’d look homeless after 10 minutes under there.

        Best to wear stuff that you can just throw in the wash the second you get home.

        Not all of us spend all of our time with a keyboard. Some of us actually have to do stuff in meatspace. Better to wear something comfy.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        My very first job in computers was in a refinery, programming an ancient thing called an IBM 1800. (This was a heckuva long time ago, and it was ancient even then.) The operative term there is “IBM”. When it broke, the IBM guy who came to fix it, which might (literally) mean changing the oil in the disk drive, had on a suit, a white shirt, and a tie. He might take off the suit jacket and clip the tie inside his shirt, but those were his work clothes.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        The only job I ever had that required a suit and tie was the one it where it was least appropriate. It was as a night operator for The Third Worst Employer In The Nation (“Bregna”). Actually, you only needed to wear a suit and tie if you didn’t wear the (very nice, I must say) button shirts that they give you when you start (or something else from the company store). The job description was actually to sit there in mind-numbing boredom for eight hours a night except for fifteen minutes and hour, where one of the three of you went around the server room to check and verify that certain lights were statically on, blinking like they were supposed to, or off. If you were lucky, you got sweeping duty. Or better yet, you could tear the labels off the backup tapes so that someone else in another shift, if they were lucky, could paste them on. Games of rock-paper-scissors were involved.

        Anyway, this was the job where I had to wear a suit and tie. And it was just so wrong on so many levels. Including that I was on my knees and back checking lights. And that I was sweeping. It was all a part of the maddening work environment that, in another context, would be called hazing. (Basically, you worked in the operations room for 6-9 months before you could get promoted into a job where you actually did stuff.)

        Jeans would have been great for that job. And I would actually say for IT-IT jobs, as opposed to jobs in IT, it would be appropriate to simply require jeans. Even in my QA position at A Very Large Software Company, I was sometimes on my knees setting up various configurations. Maybe jeans would have been appropriate. But flip-flops? That was more wrong than requiring a suit and tie.

        Anyhow, the only other job that required a suit and tie was one another one where it was inappropriate. Working the phone bank (which doesn’t require you on your back, but come on, it’s uncomfortable enough as a job as it is). I saw that on the paperwork that the woman on the front desk handed me to fill out while I was waiting out for my interview. I saw that, and various other policies, and thought “This is Bregna all over again.” I gave the paperwork back to the secretary and left.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        My current school is the only one I’ve worked at with any real sort of formal dress code. And it is rather formal. Men are required to wear jackets and ties. Women are required to wear something “similarly appropriate*”. Technically, I am exempted from this dress code as early childhood is among a few areas where we are only required to wear clothing that is suitable for the nature of our work, or some such thing. I usually go with slacks and a polo, button up shirt (no tie), and/or sweater. My first year, I wore a tie most days just because I wanted to establish myself. That was also under the old regime, which were sticklers for that stuff; it was part of the employee evaluation. The new boss is pretty lax on it.

        * I’ve been told that older copies of the handbook instructed women to dress “as if they were going for a night out with their husband”; it has also been said that this wasn’t in the handbook but was announced by the Head of School. It is amazing they did not get sued. Also, it is amazing that none of the woman walked in in a slinky black cocktail dress, just because.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Will,

        I don’t deny that many office environments have become more casual but I think LWA was arguing that if we were more formal, we would have all the good stuff from the 1960s like low-tuition and lifetime employment.

        I don’t think that is the case.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      Yet what reward have we gained in compensation?

      We’re less racist, less sexist, and less homophobic. We also have better televisions.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Better beer.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        And better stuff on the television (at the high end). When there were only four channels, there wasn’t really a niche for quality with bigger budgets than PBS or the BBC could muster.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I’ve been reluctant to admit this, but the expansion of the number of networks has definitely improved the quality of TV shows. And I don’t necessarily mean the introduction of HBO, tho that certainly played a role. I view this as evidence supporting Roger’s general thesis that expanding choice leads to better outcomes.

        At least wrt TV.

        And beer.

        Maybe some other things.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        You know, beer was hobbled by the government for, like, half a century there. God Bless Jimmy Carter because he allowed for microbreweries to, like, exist.

        And I know what you’re saying “why in the hell would someone need the government’s permission to brew beer?” but, like, seriously: THE GOVERNMENT CLAIMED THIS AS ITS JURISDICTION.

        It was only after the government said “you know what? Ferment what you want” that beer had its revival.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater, I have actually had to argue the point on television as recently as three years ago. Which just blows my mind. They keep saying “But look at all the junk!” “But you don’t have to watch the junk! There’s so much great stuff that you can avoid the junk entirely! That’s huge!”

        Of course, even if I could convince them that there’s better stuff on television, that itself is dreadful because it means that we’re not reading books and/or engaging the community or somesuch.

        I hope to write something tracking the decline of movies and advent of great television and how they’re related.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I hope to write something tracking the decline of movies and advent of great television and how they’re related

        There’s the obvious point that two of the few thing movies do much better than TV are

        1. Spectacle, which is why so many are nothing but.
        2. Attract the biggest stars, which is why so many are star vehicles first and stories second.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        A bit of a tangent, but I often wonder how those rockabilly fanatics deal with this issue. I mean those people who try to dress and live by 50s aesthetics- if you live in a reasonably sized metropolis, you’ve seen them. Because it seems to me that, when people champion the norms of the past, there’s a pretty quick assumption that they either don’t get how racist and sexist the time was or champion that part of it too.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Rufus F., I think that most people who champion the “norms of the past” do so through the model of the Society of Creative Anachronism; they embrace the past how it should have been rather than how it was. Rockabilly fanatics are bit less able to get away with this than Renaissance Faire people or Steampunkers because we have plenty of people who remember and were victims of the racism and sexism of the 1950s and 1960s. In a century or so, being a Rockabilly fanatic would be like being a Steam punk fan.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I just wonder if they find it necessary to issue disclaimers: “I really like the music and clothes of the 1950s. Just to be clear though, I don’t like the racism and sexism of that time period.”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Rufus, I never met any rockabilly fanatic but based on my observations from Renaissance Faire members or steam punk people, no. The SCA fans really don’t seem to care about the “Jew hacked by Crusaders” or “people dying of plague” part of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Its just lords and ladies, chivarly, and fun customs for them. The steam punk fans don’t care about the exploitation of the working class, genderism, and colonialism; they just want to have fun and wear elaborate customs. Rockabilly fans are most likely the same.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      I was tempted to say “white people questions,” but that’s not really fair, and Jaybird covered it in a less confrontational manner below.

      But they are white people questions. Imagine the answers you’d get to “what have we gained since the 1960s” from pretty much any group but white men.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      Huh. I think I liked your previous comment better when I misunderstood it.

      Not that this comment is bad, mind you. But I thought you were driving at something quite profound with the other one. I was going to try to write a post on it, in fact.Report

  21. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    @glyph

    Writing down here because it was too much at top.

    I’ve discovered that a lot of people (especially in geek culture) are very fond of a C.S. Lewis quote. It goes something like this and is a variant on the New Testament “When I became an adult, I gave up childish things including the overwhelming desire to be an adult all the time”

    My issue is that too many people seem to be taking this quote to the logical extreme and making it about being a kid all the time and not wanting to give up childish stuff at all or experience any adult stuff.

    There is another CS Lewis quote from An Experiment in Criticism that comes up many times. This is on literary prose and the nonliterary reader:

    “… because it is immediately recognizable. ‘My blood ran cold’ is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn’t want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.”

    Perhaps this is true of all culture and goes both ways. I’ve made the arguments you did about how culture should be like a well-balanced diet and include some junk and that people might find they enjoy their greens. This gets me called a snob. Likewise it might be the same to me, perhaps I just don’t want or need a movie with lots of explosions, just like I don’t want or need to spend time in a dive bar blasting heavy metal and I am perplexed by the neo-Burlesque revival.

    A lot of people seem to think that entertainment/culture should be passive. They don’t want things that require the extra effort whether it be classical, jazz, a film with subtitles and is non-narrative, abstract painting, conceptual art, etc.

    Now I do go to pop culture movies and they can be entertaining enough but I am also bored by them at the same time. I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness and nothing was surprising to me. I knew what would happen and when it would happen and how because it follows a formula. The same was true for the Avengers. It was entertaining but there was always a voice at the back of my mind about every major plot turn. These things are predictable to me now.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      While watching the Avengers, did you notice the byplay between Stark and the Hulk?
      First time through, did you understand that Stark had figured out (way before everyone else) that the Hulk was actually in control of his transformation? And that he was choosing to stay silent?
      Did you get that Captain America was actually going to do some B&E (before you saw it on screen?)

      “Predictable” he says. Me? I say bullshit.

      The fancy explosions may be filler, sure (and they are), but Avengers is a movie that’s paid attention to movies like Memento, and wants to have a bit of depth, nuance, and “watch me again!”Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes.

        Now Mark Ruffalo delivered a very good performance as Bruce Banner, I will give you that. He probably had my favorite performance in the end.

        And it is always predictable when the locked up bad guy, gets out and tricks the protagonists whether Kahn or Loki. The punch out on the end (often on a moving vehicle) is always predictable.

        It was also predictable when the agent from SHIELD died, Nick Fury got everyone to rally around the flag via bloody Captain America cards, and it turns out to have been a trick.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        After Life by Kore-Eda Hirokazu was not predictable. Still Walking and I Wish by Kore-eda Hirokazu were not predictable. There were reveals in the plot that were actually surprising.

        All of those movies are very low on explosions. I imagine most people would consider them dull but they had plot reveals that I did not expect.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        The scene where Mark Ruffalo says “He is angry all the time” was very good. It hit the right amount of melancholy.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Newdealer,
        Yeah, see, that’s my point. The big plot points here, the character interactions, are subtle and hiding in the background. The explosions serve as filler and distraction — it’s a sleight of hand sort of thing.

        Those movies that you’re citing sound fascinating. If I get a chance, I’ll watch ’em.
        But why not review them on Mindless Diversions?Report

  22. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    @rufus-f

    Re: Cool

    Why do you think it is unfathomably sad when parents are desperate to impress their kids with how cool they are? How do we determine when this is the case and when people are merely expressing their preference?

    I say this because I am a bit conflicted on the issue and a bit on your side. In San Francisco/Bay Area, you see “cool” parents and adults all the time especially in men. You see there salt and pepper hair but they are still wearing expensive jeans, hoodies, cool sneakers and boots instead of a conservative oxford shoe, etc. If they have small kids, the kids might be dressed in mini-Ramones or other indie/punk band t-shirts. You can repeat this scene near any cool city: Portland, Seattle, Brooklyn (and now Hipsturbia in Westchester County according to the NY Times), etc. They will take their kids to the Outside Lands music festival or drink around a beer garden with their friends and kids on a weekend afternoon.

    There is a part of me that sometimes thinks they should “grow up”* but another part of me wonders why should we think they are still kids. If they pay their bills, go to work, care and raise their children. Why does it matter? Should I stop listening to indie rock or trying to find new bands and other culture because I am 32?

    These are tricky questions….Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s not really the adults who enjoy cool things and have kids that get to hear about those cool things that depress me, since I’m pretty sure any kid I had would hear about the MC5 and Ramones pretty often. It’s really the ones that radiate insecurity and self-doubt that get me- the ones that seem desperate to win their kids’ approval. I feel like the biggest reward of adulthood should be getting to finally be comfortable with who you are and I see these adults who seem so unhappy with having reached adulthood, as if aging had a social stigma attached to it, which of course it often does.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        The ones that bother me are not so much desperate for their kids’ approval, but it seems like they are hell-bent on molding the kids into “cool” (which means of course “cool” for their gen, not their kids’ gen) with things like the aforementioned Ramones onesies or whatever. Little versions of “cool” from several decades ago.

        My wife and I have been very cautious, to try as best we can not to artificially force our preferences on our son – as it happens, he DOES like the Ramones, but not because we got him a shirt or said, “hey, listen to this” – rather, he heard their songs playing in the car, and without any prompting from us, volunteered that he “likes that rock and roll music that is crazy and fast”.

        NOTE: he also likes the Spongebob Squarepants theme for many of the same reasons.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        I should say though, I don’t see anything wrong with taking them to concerts etc. so long as the music and environment is reasonably family-friendly, and hearing protection is available if needed.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        Glyph,

        I was the kid in my middle school who discovered the Ramones in 8th grade. I don’t know if this made me cool in 1993. People in HS thought I knew a lot about music but it was through very serious and pre-Internet study. Interestingly, it was largely brought on by being massacred at sleepaway camp for not knowing anything about music. I came home and promptly turned on MTV and the local alternative radio station. This is when places had local alternative radio stations.

        The little Ramones and CBGBs shirts are perplexing to me. In many ways, it seems like the end of transgression and cool. How cool can the Ramones be if there are now upper-middle class parents buying CBGBs and Ramones shirts for their kids. Cool has been co-opted by the corporation.

        Though I am told this concern on co-opting is outdated and quaint. I find it odd when hip and hot rock bands play at corporate/tech events in the Bay Area. Whatever happened to saying no to corporate cash? A lot of people seem to take it on face value that corporations are cooler now.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        To me it’s not so much a co-opting as that they are seemingly sort of using their kids as fashion accessories, like another cool handbag or something. I don’t want my kid to look like a total dweeb, but I think there’s a line between getting them things that are age-appropriate and reasonably a la mode, and making them into some sort of little mini-me’s from my lamentably lost youth.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        “Though I am told this concern on co-opting is outdated and quaint. I find it odd when hip and hot rock bands play at corporate/tech events in the Bay Area. Whatever happened to saying no to corporate cash? A lot of people seem to take it on face value that corporations are cooler now.”

        i think it’s fairly understandable. cash = not going under. hell, toyota/scion does their wacky sponsorships:

        http://www.scionav.com/project/21/Scion-A/V-Metal

        is that selling out? or is that a bunch of acts flying under the radar getting some cash to put out cds and tour? both? neither? i think the distinction is like slap bracelets and cavariccis – best left in the 90s.

        full disclosure – i bought my son a swans shirt to wear when he was two, because it meant 20 bucks for more gira and the gang and because it’s hilarious.

        http://shop.younggodrecords.com/media/catalog/product/cache/8/image/260x/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/s/w/swans_teeth_shirt_1.jpgReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        Glyph, its getting impossible for me to tell the difference between how people treat their babies and toddlers and how they treat their pets. I think the internet and facebook are making this worse. The generation thats growing up in the age of You Tube, facebook, and blogs are either going to have serious issues (meaning that you might want to encourage your kid to go into psychology or pshchiatry if you want them to make a good living) or that the concept of privacy is going to disappear completely.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        Sonny, in my day if you wanted to scream “METAL RULES!” at random pedestrians, it would be more appropriate to do so from the passenger seat of this, not a Scion.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        ND, I think the idea of not wanting to sell out was an Anglosphere and European one and only limited to rock musicians and actors. People never thought that athletes were selling out when they endorsed products. Pop, R&B, and maybe hip-hop fans never mind their artists selling out either. Its only in a few genres and in acting, where authenticity is deemed important for some reason, do we get the idea of selling out and that taking corporate money is bad for your soul as an artist.

        Asian countries seem to be a bit more pragmatic about it. Its why Woody Allen, Brad Pit, and others would go to Japan and do a commerical while they would never think of doing one in the Untied States unless it was a public service annoucement or a political endorsement of some type.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        When you look into just how difficult it is for musicians to survive these days without being independently wealthy, it’s harder to accuse them of selling out, I think. This was just the most recent thing I’ve read on the subject and found interesting.
        http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/how-musicians-really-make-money-in-one-long-graph/249267/Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        @dhex – I don’t begrudge an artist taking the money and running, exactly – they gots rent to pay and food to buy like anybody else (and so much the better if they plow the filthy lucre into further artistic ventures).

        But I don’t think it’s coincidental that the ones who do this frequently seem to lose control of their image and therefore their mystique – the Lips got dang close to using up all the goodwill they’d built up over many years; my piece on the Furs talked about how them agreeing to re-record “Pretty in Pink” for the film really does seem to pretty-closely coincide with the point at which they lost their way.

        Artists that have been very protective or tightly-controlling of their image/brand/music (Beatles, Zeppelin, New Order), not often-licensing it for the commercial purposes of others, tend to age better, in part by preserving their mystique.

        Though Johnny Rotten’s butter commercials were HILARIOUS.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s an interesting graph but it doesn’t really lay out how musicians pay the bills. To make any significant money in the music industry, you have to tour. A lot. Like constantly. Can’t sell recordings without touring, either. It’s the one part of the music industry still doing reasonably well, though the swine at Ticketmaster should all be loaded up on trucks and sent to a slaughterhouse.

        Touring bands do reallyreally well. Always have. It’s a hell of a lifestyle but it works if you’ve got a good manager.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        @glyph – i’m generally of the mind that you do what you do to survive and if i like it, fine. if not, probably fine. there’s a moral dimension somewhere but it falls between jackass in a che shirt and burning down norwegian churches*.

        i admire the scion thing in two ways.

        1) it’s a brilliant campaign. cheap (i’m assuming it’s low to mid six figures), no real possibility of blowback (e.g. they’re not going to underwrite a new burzum ep) and sets a brand recognition seed in kids who won’t really be buying new cars for another five to ten years. it’s money down a goodwill hole with hopes of a future payoff.

        2) a free wormrot ep!
        http://www.scionav.com/collection/794/Wormrot—Noise-EP

        i’m jealous of their marketing department.

        * unrelated and probably unknowable to most of the fine ot folk but watching williamsburg hepcats try to grapple with boyd rice’s old man fascist schtick is hilarious. talk about your 90s redux!Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        dhex, I wasn’t making “selling out” into a moral question; more instead a practical one. That is, doing so may net you some short-term gain, at the expense of long-term gain in terms of “cred”. Being taken seriously as the very image of the “artiste who never sold out” (however manufactured or false that image *itself* may be) has its own rewards – certainly critical rewards, which can translate into commercial rewards.

        I actually didn’t know anything about Boyd Rice until I saw some item on Brooklyn Vegan about the Cold Cave shows he is opening for getting cancelled. I read a little bit about him, but not enough to tell whether he’s seriously off or just trolling. It’s not like that whole contingent of late 70’s/early 80’s post-punk and industrial bands weren’t sometimes playing around with fascist/Nazi-type imagery at times – for the Brits I feel it was *sort* of understandable, if you were a teen looking for a symbol to reliably piss off your parents, you might go with a swastika.

        But for Americans? I dunno. And he’s not a teen anymore, you’d think he could clear up once and for all what his deal is. Unless he just likes messing with people.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        @glyph

        “dhex, I wasn’t making “selling out” into a moral question; more instead a practical one. That is, doing so may net you some short-term gain, at the expense of long-term gain in terms of “cred”.”

        i dig that, i just think the whole concept of cred is basically dead and gone, like winona ryder’s elfin charm.

        “I actually didn’t know anything about Boyd Rice until I saw some item on Brooklyn Vegan about the Cold Cave shows he is opening for getting cancelled. I read a little bit about him, but not enough to tell whether he’s seriously off or just trolling.”

        well, i find it amusing because that was the soup of my late teens and early twenties. and because “transgression” is a value until actual transgression occurs, and then it’s all hissy fits in the air.

        i am not much of a boyd rice fan, but i am a fan of watching certain kinds of people react to boyd rice.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      After the hippies grew up and had the Gen X kids, the line between Older People and Kids blurred. My kids listened to (and routinely stole) stuff from my music collection. Surprising the stuff they liked. They gravitated to stuff I didn’t much like, either, my oldest daughter liked Frank Sinatra. Every kid likes the Ramones at some point. If they didn’t, something would have been wrong with them.

      Kids are great. There’s no particularly good reason not to treat them as equals when it comes to matters of taste. My oldest daughter had exquisite taste. Conservative oxford shirts? She would go with me to buy my clothes and roll her eyes at some of my choices — and back on the rack they’d go.

      Cool is being comfortable in your own skin, knowing what you like, being open to new things. Nothing more. But nothing less, either. They were my kids, they turned out all right. If they didn’t embrace all my values, I raised them to make their own choices, to be leaders, not followers.

      There’s a brand new talk,
      But it’s not very clear
      That people from good homes
      Are talking this year
      It’s loud and tasteless
      And I’ve heard it before
      You shout it while you’re dancing
      On the old dance floor
      Oh bop.
      Fashion
      Report

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