Sunday, May 15, 2005

Class in America: NYT and WSJ attempting to eat each other's newsstand lunch?

For whatever reason, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal [subscription req'd] have launched series on class and social mobility (both upward and downward) in America during the past couple of days -- WSJ on Friday and NYT today. Why did they both decide to write about this now? There's no hard-and-fast news peg, but I guess maybe one started and the other copied, or otherwise they're both pulling from new research that shows the United States isn't as favorable an environment for upward mobility as Canada and countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia are. Both seem bent against coming to any real conclusions, and both seem reluctant to give up the all-empowering myth of the American Dream, perhaps to reflect how strongly Americans themselves seem optimistic about holding to the ideal.

Class exists. Let it be said. It may be hard to define, but it does exist in America. It's just that our mass consumer culture has lulled us into thinking that we can all have the same things as rich people, and therefore we are better off. We can all have the same cell-phone gadget that Paris Hilton has (which was supposedly "hacked"), so therefore we can all be like Paris Hilton. There's a great quote by Andy Warhol, that great prophet and observer of celebrity, consumerism, and (implicitly) class. To paraphrase: The Coke the president drinks is the exact same thing as the Coke the bum on the street drinks. And by extension: You can't get a better can of Coke (short of decorating it with diamond dust), just because you're rich and you know other rich people.

But this "equality" is a mere distraction from the idea that upper-class people have upper-class kids and do their best to ensure that those kids remain upper class, whether they be dumb or smart, lazy or hard-working, and that a working-class parent can raise a working-class kid who is really quite smart, and yet s/he might not get the opportunities to rise into the upper classes by intelligence and a strong work ethic alone. And yet we're taught to believe that this is how it works.

I could go on and on -- B. and I had an extended conversation on the topic this afternoon, which expanded to include globalization, world social systems and governments, basic human motives, etc. -- but as a media watcher, I'm sort of interested to know why we're getting this class discussion now from two such reputable organs. Are academia and governmental reports driving this news or is it just a matter of newspaper competition?

Oh, and if you like playing with statistics, you can go to the NYT's interactive graphic, enter your profession, education, income and wealth levels, and out comes a handy-dandy percentile figure. Class: simplified.

And here's an interesting tidbit from the NYT poll: They asked people how important having faith in God is to them, based on their incomes. 79% of those who make less than $30K said "very important," but that figure drops to 54% for those who make more than $150K.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I was reading that same article yesterday - fascinating stuff.

(PS, I can read your blog now because I found your rss feed.)