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Humorous Satire of the Educated Elite's Aspirations
on 13 May 2004
You get two books for the price of one here. The overall book explains how the social elite was transformed from old family, old money lineage to a mass elite based on education and social values. David Brooks isn't sure he likes the new elite, and lampoons them as savagely as Swift did the English aristocracy. Whether or not you agree with his criticisms, the material is often very funny and could serve as a comic's monologue.
His point is a subtle one that many will mistake. He is describing the arrival of an educational elite as the reigning class. Those who are older will get the Bohemian part of Bobo -- they've all seen pictures of the Village in the 50s or read On the Road.
It's the other "bo" that will confuse some people about this book. It stands for Bourgeois. To Brooks, Bourgeois is concerned with all the classic middle class values -- income, savings, uprightness, proper appearance and behavior in public, and hard work. Elites have always wanted to be set apart from those values, even though they might have to espouse them in public. So it's interesting that this new elite is connected to these values.
His thesis is actually pretty good. In these politically correct times, educated people have been conditioned since that first preschool class to look down on traditional patterns of the rich and powerful. When they, in turn, become rich and powerful, they want to have a little fun with it, but have to put on a social mask to make that fun acceptable. A variety of things work in this context: being environmentally sound; politically correct; and not having any connection to a status symbol of the old elites. Naturally, it's a cynical view that all of this is posturing. I'm sure that most of what people do is actually based on their own firm values about having a healthier, more open, and environmentally safer world.
One of the funniest parts of the book for me was how status and money play off against one another. It's okay to make a lot of money, but you have to do it in a noncommercial way to be esteemed. A writer can have a best seller about ecology and have high status, while a script writer for a James Bond movie might make 100 times the money and have very little status. Despite enjoying the humor, I'm not offended by that result.
The connection from where we were in the 1950s and earlier is much too long, and isn't really very necessary. The fundamental contradictions of the current lifestyle of Bobos has to be funny to almost everyone, including the Bobos.
The book could have done a lot more to talk about how the fusion of the two sets of ideals could be made better for all concerned. Hearing about the meetings of the leather-clad people to do B & D soon becomes tiresome. Surely all of this energy can be directed into something more wholesome!
Perhaps the funniest story in the book was about the woman who builds her dream house in Montana, and the Grim Reaper calls. I won't spoil it for you, but be sure to read that section near the end.
Enjoy . . . even if the humor is at your own expense! Learning to laugh at ourselves is a great lesson.