Monday, March 07, 2005

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How they Got There

The issue of change is more than ever a constant in the "paradigm shifting," "flavor of the month craving," "reality TV loving," society in which we live. And, so there is a book by David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise, that seeks to examine how the biggest and most powerful demographic group, aka. baby boomers, seeks to re-engineer themselves. When I first saw the tile, "BOBOS" I thought Brooks wanted a literal Spanish translation of the meaning of the word. "Bobos" in Spanish means "Stupid, Dumb." This caught my attention. However, I soon found out what he meant by "bobos" was "bourgeois-bohemians."

Unlike the 80's uber-consumer decade, the 'bobos' generation seeks to justifies its extravagant spending. In my opinion what we are living is the exploration of the 'bobos'class, by the more astute and driven entrepreneurs who understand what the 'bobos' want, yet have not been lured to become a 'bobo' themselves.

As food for thought I give you the following: Think about the rise in hybrid cars, there are waiting lists for this 'sensible,' environmentally conscious, anti-SUV product - a smart entrepreneur thought, hey these people want a car that is 'good' for society. Organic foods, the growth of Whole Foods, where you can find the perfect Quinoa, a product which by the way was consumed by the Mayan tribes thousands of years ago, has all of the sudden become the "new" good carb. Or a new line of high-energy, organic drinks called, Sambazon, whose main ingredient is Acai a berry that has grown in the Brazilian Amazon jungle as long as the jungle has existed - another set of visionary entrepreneurs. Even Starbucks, the favorite retreat of the 'bobos,' where the ability to order a Chocolate Creme Frappuccino, Raspberry Mocha Chip Frappuccino half-calf, machiatto.. ok (here is a little cheat-sheet of all the drinks, for all of those who are Starbucks obsessed. All these are little morsels of the reality of the 'bobos' growth.

According to the author, his motivation for the book was that after returning to the U.S after four years in Europe he was welcomed to a paradise of change: Smoking was evil, health was cool, alcohol was out, double lattes were in; obnoxious conspicuous consumption was out, inconspicuous (but still obnoxious) consumption was in. Sheryl Crow and her likes would not be playing at anti-war protests, but rather booking concerts for Goldman Sachs. The Bobos are here, growing, and indoctrinating new 'bobos' at lightning speeds.

And you would think that Brooks would have a lot to say in terms of comparing Europe and this new America (after all, Europe is the home of so much of what Bobos aspire to — or, at least, aspire to visit on vacation). But his silence on this point belies the his argument's biggest weakness, because if Bobos really were enlightened and caring and committed to social improvement (and not, as one might assume, self-absorbed materialists) then the United States would look more like Europe. (Hopefully the Dollar starts looking more like the Euro sometime soon.)

But despite all this supposed incorporation of anti-materialist values, we still work our butts off in search of "the American Dream." We still measure success by the size of our portfolio, the 'iconic' place where we live, the exotic vacations we take ( and I am not talking about Venice or Paris, but rather Machu Pichu, Tierra del Fuego, the jungles of Colombia.) In essence the "bobos" are making the world a better place not by exercising their votes but by slimming their wallets. ;-)

Entrepreneurs know that for "Bobos," their purchasing power is a modern-day spiritual exercise; they decorate their homes with authentic Balinese batiks, they cook with olive oil made by Tuscan peasants, and they eat ice cream made by fat, aging hippies. (Yes, Ben & Jerry.) They run businesses with slogans like "you can't separate your social goals from your business," and they tell everyone that they don't work 100-hour work weeks because they have to, but because they really "love" and are "passionate" about what they do. Materialism and self-absorption still rule the day, albeit wrapped in earth tones, handmade soaps, and a Vaseline rubbed smile from Martha Stewart. (Yup, the 'bobo' chic is out of the big-house and will soon be on prime time. Only in a 'bobo' culture. ;-)

It's good to live in a Bobo world. The Bobos are really a great bunch of people who "have the ability to go down in history as the class that led America into another golden age."


Blogger Graham Glass said...

The Bobos are a curious lot. The baby boomer generation gave birth to the Apollo space mission, the PC, and a host of other wonderful innovations. It all required a lot of smarts and hard work. At the same time, the children of the bobos seem to be hitting a brick wall, with daily reports of rising obesity, mental health problems, and declining education statistics. I wonder what the bobos could have done differently to yield a different and better subsequent generation?

Mon Mar 07, 10:13:00 PM  
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