Saturday, September 24, 2005

Everyone Wants To Be An X

Inside Higher Ed :: Class Dismissed

Fussell offered a nine-rung version of the class ladder...But far more interesting than the chapters on the lifestyles of the rich and famous was Fussell’s conclusion, which described what he called “category X.” This was a cohort that didn’t really fit into the status hierarchy he had just described...Fussell went on to write about the taste of X people — their need to live in a neighborhood with good bakeries, wine stores, and “a sophisticated newsdealer, for one needs British, French, German, and Italian periodicals.” In short, he summed up everything David Brooks ever had to say about the “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians). And he did in just under nine pages, written almost two decades before Brooks published his book.

I read Fussell's book. I recall that on his account the Upper Middle Class liked navy blue and that "high Proles" grew flowers in whitewashed tires. We readers were titilated by the taxonomy--and then Fusselli offered us the X option as an out, assuring us that unlike everyone else we couldn't be classified or put into boxes.

Everyone likes to classify, and no wonder: it was a significant evolutionary advantage to be able to classify mushrooms as edible or poisonous, animals according to species and humans according to tribe. But no one likes to be classified--prejudged by stereotype, constrained by conventional expectations, treated as a member of a group, in particular by an affiliation not of one's choosing, rather than as an individual.

We balk at the prospect of a homogenized, upper middle class Anglo universe. We dread the disappearance of rural villages and ethnic neighborhoods. But we wouldn't want to live there, not permanently even if we enjoy camping out. Unless we're satisfied with Potemkin villages, Colonial Williamsburg mock-ups, and Chinatowns, Greektowns and Little Italies run by suburbanites who commute in and put on their ethnicity to please the customers someone will have to sacrifice to accommodate us. If we want ethnicity, the peasants and urban ethnics will have to forgo being Xs.


Anonymous said...

the formatting on this is horribly screwed up. Somehow it's all in extra bold

H. E. said...

Thanks, Anonymous. One lousy little HTML tag... Sorry about that!

Andrew Brown said...

if I come out, will you reward me by making the main page accessible? At the moment I get 403 errors when I try to go to

Boofykatz said...

Classifying stuff - they call it heuristics these days, unless you are a biologist who calls it cladistics.
Seems to me the worldis a class war between 'tics and 'isms.

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