The bobos project: introduction
Bobos in Paradise, by David Brooks, was published in the year 2000. Strangely, until now I’ve never read it. I think that I shrugged it off because it had the feel of Paul Fussell lite. (As you should know, Paul Fussell was the University of Pennsylvania English professor who wrote the book Class, and who sadly died earlier this year.)
These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern our social life. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives.
Boy did that sound pretentious the first time I read it! But in retrospect, perhaps David Brooks was right? I am pretty sure that Brooks is writing about the same class described in Christian Lander’s blog which he began in 2008 and unfortunately no long updates. (But Lander got paid a lot of money to write a book which was a rehash of his blog posts.) This also seems to be the evolution of the “class X” which Fussell described rather poorly in his last chapter, or perhaps class X has merged with the upper-middle class.
So it seems really essential that I should read David Brooks’ book to see if I might learn anything new about this very important class which does indeed define our culture because they control the New York Times and all other respectable media. Rush Limbaugh is, perhaps, not a bobo, but no one takes him seriously.
Let me say first, I’m a member of this class, as I suspect, are most readers of this book. We’re not so bad. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying.
I think that this sickeningly lovely tribute to the bobo class turned me off initially to reading the rest of the book. Clearly the book can’t have anything like the biting comedy of Fusell’s Class if it starts out in love with bobos.
One thing I do know is that David Brook’s attempt to coin a new word, bobo, a shortening of bourgeois bohemian, didn’t stick. I hardly ever see the term bobo used anywhere. “Bobo” is more likely to refer to Mike Bobo who is the offensive coordinator of the University of Georgia football team, or a French restaurant in Greenwich Village.
Stay tuned for a chapter-by-chapter review of Bobos in Paradise.
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Technologically, I am going to be reading this book on the Sony Reader app for the iPad. If you, too, have some sort of tablet or reader device, you can be reading along with me in minutes, perhaps even seconds. You’re probably better off going with Kindle because Amazon charges less money for the same books, but I had $41 of credit at the Sony store left over from a $50 gift certificate I received a while back.
If you are frugal, you can save a lot of money by buying a used dead tree book from one of those Amazon used booksellers, but then you’ll have to wait for your book to get snail-mailed. I am pretty sure a bobo would buy the e-book.
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Chucho writes in a comment:
I recently read “Class” and was wowed by its insights and humor until the final chapter. I think at the time it was written, the early 80s, the boomers were still pretty young and didn’t completely dominate US culture they way they would by the time Brooks’ book was written. What I think Fussell failed to anticipate was that the consumer, status-driven ethos that he thought “Class X” abjured would instead merge with that class’s bohemian, arts-centric taste and lifestyle. Fussell’s “Class X” was a marginal phenomenon of the previous generation (people like the Beats), but for the Boomers (a much richer cohort) a larger segment of the population was able to become “artists” or at least pretend they were. It’s almost laughable to read the “Class X” chapter because he essentially describes Bobo/SWPL/hipster taste but somehow thinks that these people are immune to status competition, when in fact those groups are precisely defined by their relentless drive to refine their tastes and lifestyles vs. the dreaded ‘middle class’. But what is more anxiously middle class today than driving a hybrid, shopping at a farmer’s market, listening to NPR, etc?