February 13, 2005


I don't recall where the comment thread was in which someone mentioned the book Class by Paul Fussell, but I found the book to be well worth reading. The book is still wonderfully amusing, but much has changed since it was published in 1983. The association of "Nerd" with "Prole" has faded, and his "Category X" of people who have stepped away from the class status ladder has expanded and even begun to stratify.

One item in the book, however, I found particularly timely. As an appendix, there is a fictional advice column for people who wish to present themselves as upper class.

Dear Sir: What about the class aspects of standing on the sidewalk in a large cityy and eating a hot dog or similar viand bought from a street peddler presiding over one of those little carts? Puzzled
Dear puzzled: Only people very expensively dressed or terribly good-looking can do this without impairing their status. Middle-class people demean themselves further by doing this sort of thing, but uppers can confirm their high status by it, like appearing at an afternoon ball game in a costlysuit, suggesting that you're doing the occasion honor. You also, in both activities, get high class-credit for your upper-class magnanimity in appearing to be democratic.

John Kerry failed consistantly and spectacularly at this, yet never stopped trying.

Posted by triticale at February 13, 2005 10:47 AM

We do have a class system in this country but it's much less important than in most other countries. I once heard an interesting explanation of our social classes: lower class people are paid by the hour, middle class people receive a salary, upper class people live off their rents, dividends, and other assets.

Another good one was you're upper class when you can't screw up badly enough to fail.

I grew up in a part of the country with a distinct upper class. And my family was, shall we say, in close proximity with its members. We lived next door (literally a stone's throw) from some of them, we played with their kids and went to school with their kids. Believe me, money alone doesn't designate social class

Posted by: Dave Schuler at February 13, 2005 11:26 AM

We were working poor when I was receiving a straight salary. Now I'm paid by the hour, thru a staffing firm rather than as a direct employee, and we are solidly middle class. I know a young man in Chicago who inherited a trust fund insufficient to support him who supplements it by working as a grocery checker.

Posted by: triticale at February 13, 2005 05:45 PM

Paul Fussell hadn't quite retired when I was in college; I didn't take any classes with him, but I worked in the English department. People were always calling for soundbites because of his books. If you haven't read them. BAD and Thank God for the Atom Bomb are good, too.

Posted by: Sean Kinsell at February 19, 2005 02:44 AM
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