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R U a Pomo Bobo?

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I am a pomo bobo — and every day in every way I'm happier and happier about it. I'm betting you are one too, though you may not know it — yet.

There's no arguing that we live in a postmodern, or pomo, society, but we live and breathe a bourgeois bohemian (BoBo) zeitgiest as well. In his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, David Brooks traces the development of a hybrid cultural "upper class" first generated from the baby boomer generation after they put away their frayed bell bottoms and acid tabs and became "responsible" adults with a house, a mortgage, two cars, and 3.5 children, mostly in the 'burbs.

But they didn't merely "become their parents," for their hippie ideals stayed with them even as their fortunes grew and they obtained professional status. They are what the right wing would call the "liberal elite," and Brooks maintains that their belief system colors our cultural, moral, intellectual, and economic world inexorably.

For starters, I'd surmise that typically their paper is the liberal "paper of record," the New York Times.The Times' television ads, though populated by Gen Y and X'ers, are chock full of bobo: A 30-something man in those deliberately ugly pomo glasses that are supposed to make you look brainy says, "I'm fluent in three sections, actually…" Another Asian 20-something says she used the travel section to help plan her trip to Spain, and a young couple who apparently met over the Times swaps the book review and the magazine while lazing on their couch on a Sunday afternoon.

The Times' leftist, liberal leanings are not the only thing that makes it the bobo bible. I started to have the Times delivered every day recently, which I love, along with the fact that it comes wrapped in a PC, recyclable blue baggie.

I failed to get the Sunday weekly TV section which I thought they included as the Post and News do, so I peruse the daily TV page in the Arts section. Just as I remember from my precocious childhood, Times movie reviews are delivered in pithy, snarky sound bites. But to my dismay, I saw that the one-page listing only went from 7PM to midnight — reflecting, I suppose, the bobo's reluctance to admit to too much TV watching — and the typical bobo's schedule: dinner at 6 with the family, settling in for a dose of prime time at 7, to bed at midnight to gird one's mental loins for another day of lucrative work that might entail something suitably bobo like software development or college dean, or something more bourgeois such as a doctor, lawyer, professor, banker, trader, journalist, or other New Yorkish profession; up at six for a jog, and off to the rat race.

And of course New York City and the surrounding tony metropolitan area is the ultimate bobo's playground, being both incredibly bourgeois in its offerings for the rich who can afford the best, and bohemian in that there are an unlimited number of things to do for free from concerts to the library to museums and so on. Millions of young folks flock here each year, as they have for generations, to get a taste of the boho culture and pursue, at least temporarily, a "career" in the arts — musician, painter, writer — while sharing cramped quarters in a Manhattan apartment or moving to lower rent boroughs such as Queens or the Bronx.

The book jacket for Bobos in Paradise supplies some bullet points analogous with the "you may be a redneck if you…" sound bites, which include the belief that spending a large amount on a media center is "vulgar," but "spending $15,000 on a slate show still is a sign that you are at one with the Zenlike rhythms of nature;" your kitchen looks like "an aircraft hangar with plumbing" and you selected "your new refrigerator on the grounds that mere freezing cold is not enough;" you'd "spend a little more for socially conscious toothpaste – the kind that doesn't actually kill germs, it just asks them to leave;" you work for a "hip, visionary software" company where folks come to work in "hiking boots and glacier glasses" (or perhaps just torn jeans and a slightly dirty Pogues t-shirt); and you think your alma mater is just as good "as those of the shimmering couples on the New York Times wedding page."

The conclusion, in a nutshell, is that today's ruling, upper class is intellectual, environmentally conscious, and politically correct. They spend a lot, but their purchases are always "practical" and utilitarian but also state of the art and aesthetically luxurious.

As a baby boomer, born in 1957, my precocious, brainy self became fascinated with hippie countercultural phenomena at a tender age. By age six, I was an ardent Beatles fan. In the summer of '69, when I was 12, I read avidly about the summer of love and longed to be a teenager. I wore bell bottoms, and in high school wouldn't let a guy pay for a date. I embraced the women's liberation movement, rooted for Mike and Gloria on All in the Family, worshiped Mary Tyler Moore as the ultimate cool single working woman, watched foreign films on PBS, and listened to the cool FM stations playing the latest music on the cutting edge, like Procol Harum and the Who. I read the Village Voice and Rolling Stone along with Cosmopolitan with equal voraciousness.

As I grew older, much of my boho idealism was preserved. I never managed to bag a rich guy, so I continued to pay my own way. Though I had two long-term relationships which outlasted most marriages, I never had children. I majored in Psychology and Sociology with a minor in English. I went to college from 1975-79, where I was a "hippie" rather than a "disco duck," and pursued sex, drugs, rock and roll, and my studies with equal ardor. I then went on to NYU where I got my master's in British and American literature while working in the publications department under a graduate assistantship. I stayed at the (very liberal/PC) university where I did editing, production, and copywriting for 20-plus years until I became disabled. Now I'm free to pursue my bobo leisure activities with abandon.

Having always eschewed the 'burbs (though it's nice to visit, and I loved going to Montauk, the less bourgeois version of the Hamptons), I moved from tony Manhattan (where I'd lived on the Yupper East Side after college, and then the funky Lower East Side) to a decidedly boho section of the Bronx (read: mostly minority and poor). Here I live in a gated community of primarily middle class African American/Caribbean shareholders, and shop for bargains at the numerous stores on Fordham Road.

The trademark of the bobo is the politically correct tendency to buy "useful" things, no matter what their price. I have bought some expensive furniture from Crate and Barrel (couches, bedroom set), but for the most part I am thrifty but tasteful in furnishing my coop (Gothic Cabinet Craft, Target "put it together yourself or have your boyfriend do it" furnishings). I've acquired numerous houseplants (beautiful and also healthy, since they supply oxygen); I treasure the dirt cheap purchases I find at the ubiquitous 99 cent and up stores in the 'hood and at Rite Aid's dollar daze bins (anything from a three-dollar mini hair dryer to a three-piece paring knife/carrot peeler/pizza cutter to dollar nail polish to half price cosmetics and coffee to three-dollar dresses to half price designer polo team shirts and designer jeans to five dollar plants to yearly memberships at the nearby Botanical Gardens and the Zoo). In this way, on my modest but adequate pension income, I can live like a bobo queen in my ghetto 'hood where the cost of living is suitably modest.

Though the vast majority of the immigrant and African American and Latino population here have a high school education at best, I boast a double major and a master's degree as well as continuing to write when I feel like it (for free) at Blogcritics. My attempts to "befriend" some of the local boyz ended disastrously when I got robbed online and off, so I'm content to schmooze with the local immigrant merchants who are by and large delighted to see me, since I always take my shopping cart along whenever I go on my daily rounds. There's just so many unbelievable bargains, and all have an aesthetic and utilitarian worth so essential to the bobo sensibility.

In a documentary about his life, Kurt Cobain was quoted as saying that he missed the days when he was poor and would scour the secondhand shops and flea markets looking for little rare treasures. Now that he was rich, he could buy whatever he liked, price be damned, and it took all the meaning and joy out of it for him. Well, we all know what happened to Kurt who, despite having lived out the ultimate boho dream, didn't live to enjoy it, because, well, he didn't enjoy it.

I, on the other hand, live in true middle class splendor, amongst residents of the 'hood who know where the local White Castle is but don't know where Fordham University, the Botanical Gardens, or the Zoo are, though they are all nearby. I am like those urban pioneers who move to poor 'hoods and begin to inject their bobo cultural preferences into the 'hood, save for the fact that I am far from rich, I enjoy the diversity and the flavor of the 'hood just as it is, and have my own pseudo-suburban retreat (my gated, 24/7 security protected coop).

In fact, I'm doing so well that I'm applying for a mortgage to get a second coop on the water in Throgs Neck, also in the Bronx (the last holdout for cheap real estate in the five boroughs). Though some in the 'hood may resent my white girl (aka Americano) intrusion, I have no desire to alter the existing zeitgeist, save for prosecuting those who ripped me off a few years back.

But enough about me… how about you, BC reader? You are typically college educated, middle class, but with an interest in the arts and the finer cultural offerings in life. Perhaps you, too, have the Times delivered and enjoy doing the crossword on a lazy Sunday morning while enjoying freshly brewed coffee. Maybe you have a state of the art fridge and stove (as I do, though they cost hundreds rather than thousands) since you like to tackle some of those NY Times recipes rather than eat out and be served like a petty bourgeois tyrant. Perhaps you and your kids swap Ipod tunes or attend concerts together. Could be that your cookie jars, flatware, furniture, and rugs are carefully selected for comfort as well as beauty, for their utilitarian value as well as aesthetic charm. Could be that even your knick-knacks (or chotchkes, as they say in Jewish) can serve an essential function: salt and pepper shakers shaped like baby chicks, or kitschy photo frames, flat screen TVs with full cable access, modern lighting, matching bathroom towels and mats, environmentally correct toys, and so on. And if you're like me, you rinse your cans and bottles before recycling them (you do recycle, don't you?).

I may be more boho than bourgeois since I don't have a car, I'm an artsy fartsy writer, I live in a ghetto and like it, and 99 cent stores are like Tiffany's to me. But I'm willing to bet that most of you can relate to what I'm talking about. Discuss.

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About Elvira Black