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

June 30th, 2010 at 9:39 am

“Titans of the information age walk around comparing the size of their predictions.”

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks

The titular phrase Bobo has not caught on in the cultural lexicon as has hippie, yuppie, hipster, tween, millennial, etc, etc, et al.

It’s too bad, but understandable. Bobo is an abbreviated conflation of Bourgeois Bohemian and has the linguistic resonance of an Icelandic volcano. Though written way back in 2000 by David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise identifies a crucial element of our modern culture that is so pervasive it seems odd not to refer to it chidingly as often as we do hippies, yuppies, hipsters, etc. If anything, this book is more relevant and timely now than when it was written 10 years ago since the Bobo element has certainly reached its hegemonic stride.

Bobos are the educated, ruling class. They are a polymorphous, ill-definable demographic, but to get an initial grasp of this ilk, imagine an entity somewhere between Steve Jobs and your friend who wears a water-proof, reversible North Face fleece vest but never hikes, camps, bivouacs, or even spends much time outdoors, therefore successfully executing Rule #2 of the Bobo Code of Financial Correctness: “It is perfectly acceptable to spend lots of money on anything that is of ‘professional quality,’ even if it has nothing to do with your profession.”

Bobos are an element of our contemporary population that we can all probably identify in a vague way, but David Brooks has observed, reported, investigated, inquired, examined, and lionized the Bobo caste. Prior to reading this, the Bobos were merely an anomaly, mere coincidences and unaccountable convergences. It took this book to properly frame and explain a key segment of modern population that was until this reading, unnamed.

So who the hell are Bobos?
Read the book, you lazy slob.

Bobos are those who embody both the social liberalism of bohemians and the economic/political conservatism of the bourgeois. But unfortunately “Gone are the sixties-era things that were fun and of interest to teenagers, like Free Love, and retained are all the things that might be of interest to middle-aged hypochondriacs, like whole grains.”

Bobos are wholesomely ambitious. They are temperate and responsible. They are bureaucratic and utilitarian. They value organization, edification, purpose and connoisseurship. They are educated. They are affluent. They are Charlie Rose and David Geffen and Ken Burns and Al Gore and George W. Bush. They are NPR, Starbucks, Anthropologie, REI, Gap, Restoration Hardware, Weekly Standard, New Yorker, and Barnes & Noble.

Bobos know that “the best kind of money is incidental money. It’s the kind of money you just happen to earn while you are pursuing your creative vision.” And to be a Bobo, “not only do you have to show some income results; you have to perform a series of feints to show how little your worldly success means to you.”

Despite this demographics’ significance and impact on our lives, why after 10 years has “Bobo” not caught on?

Perhaps the name is simply too clunky.
Perhaps they are too big and too diverse of a group. We tend to obsess over outliers and homogenous groups who can be easily defined and therefore easily persecuted and/or praised.

Perhaps they are too moderate. In a way that the hippies and evangelicals and other radical groups can be lambasted and accused of committing deviant and unwelcome behavior, the Bobos are a pretty boring group. They can’t really be accused of being good or bad.

They just are. Dangerously innocuous in a way.

I propose that we revive the term Bobo as a slur. Or come up with a better one to slander this vile group. It has been during the Bobo rule that, “The rewards for intellectual capital have increased while the rewards for physical capital have not.” Except for athletes I suppose?

And it was the old order that asked, “Who are you?” But now the new (Bobo) order asks, “What do you do?”

They used to want our labor. But the Bobos want our soul.

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One Response to “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There”

  1. Why jesus allows this sort of thing to continue is a mystery.

    Sent via Blackberry

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