Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Newest Social Class: The Poorgeoisie

So I'm reading this fascinating article that I found by jumping from link to link starting from the newsfeed on my Yahoo email page...

[Tangent Alert: Interesting how one can simply become so distracted from things based on curiosity! Lookout, all those kids being told to "read, read, read!" I was one of those kids that, for example, curled up with Where the Red Fern Grows until 2:00 in the morning as a 5th-grader, and silently cried myself to sleep only to wake up at what seemed like an ungodly hour to start the next day... Ouch... In my day, scanning the internet wasn't possible, so reading-distractions had to come from magazines and comic books and novels---easily to put down with some self control. Somehow, the internet and self control don't seem to go together, nowadays... Damn my curiosity in reading!!]

How Looking Poor Became the New Status Symbol by Steve Kandell for

Anyway, I'm reading this article about our newest social class to hit America: The Poorgeoisie, aka "those that spend a lot of money to look humble." This article talks about how flash and gaudiness are out, and the simple look is in. But the ironic thing is that luxury is still very much in as well. So we have a whole segment of society that spends a lot of money on organic foods & homemade toiletries, or what the author calls "virtuous consumption".

And I'm looking at the craft movement, and feeling that there is a real link there somehow with this new social movement... I'm not at all sure how to articulate it if I even can... The drive that's big right now is to feel that one is green, to feel that one doesn't extravagantly indulge, that one cherishes the nostalgia of growing up when life was somehow simpler or less materialistic... Big business is spending a lot of money to appear homey, intimately connected and personal, because we are seeking that in our own lives. At some level a huge cultural shift is occurring, thrusting us toward a more basic & simplistic outlook on life, because the mechanism of civilization got too complicated, bit the hand that fed it, and then sorta broke. Which resulted in an economic downturn. "Creative Accounting" has given us not-so-creative consequences. "What do you call 20 Bankers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?" "Good company for the Lawyers already down there."

So it's no wonder people are looking to appear somehow more virtuous by buying, wearing, and eating simply. And that includes wearing modified "trash-to-treasure" clothing with embellishments and redone finery.

The problem is that the Poorgeoisie are still paying $250 for distressed jeans that look like they're 15 years old. I recently went to Target, and for $39 one can buy a pair of Converse tennis shoes with frayed-edged stitching, which look very retro and very stylishly "lower class". And what's further, it seems that the newest trend is the smaller, individual, non-mass-market items with backstory and personality that can't be found in most stores. Music is going that way--the era of big record producers is gone, to be replaced by word-of-mouth marketing that will never result in the massive profits of yesteryear. Instead, we have individual tastes being catered to because there's suddenly something for everyone, instead of everyone conforming to the mass marketed things that were the only things out there.

Right now, as I type this, I'm thinking this could be the advent of a new interest in Arts clothing. I think consumers are looking for items that are beautifully rendered and reeking of simple artistic creativity. I think people need to feel individually expressive as part of this new movement, because to appear part of the mass consumerism machine is to advocate the status quo that has put us where we are. I think there is a danger of being overtly "crafty" (and therefore appearing to try too hard to seem simple) and being too artistically expressive to the point of nonsense. I think it's possible to give that homemade, earthy validation to customers who desire that virtuous feeling without relying upon blanket stitching and felt with wooden buttons and raffia, for example.

I'm not sure I know what I'm saying, but I'm somehow excited about the future. And the potential for the arts in general. We'll see.

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