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An Interesting Book or Two,
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This review is from: Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Hardcover)
"Bobo" is author David Brooks' acronym for a Bourgeois Bohemian, a synthesis of Reaganism and Woodstock, the folks he says are running the country today. Bobos are new money--the meritocracy of smart folk who have become rich as fast-track professionals, clever enterpreneurs, start-up capitalists, or visionaries like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Some Bobos are capitalistic hippies and some are mellowed-out business people; Bobo is their common meeting ground. True to their mixed heritage, Bobos love oxymoronic concepts like "sustainable development," "cooperative individualism" or "liberation management." Reconciliation is their middle name.
Bobos dislike showing off, but of course all rich people do, so they are allowed to show off in discreet ways. Mercedes are out, but SUV's are in. Jewelry is out, but eco-tourism is in. Bobox buy the same things the rest of us do (bread, chicken, coffee) but pay from 3 to 10 times the mass-market price in search of something better, organic, or more planet-friendly. In fact, anything that shows one to be a friend to the planet is fair game, no matter how silly. There's even a toothpaste that encourages germs to leave the mouth.
Needless to say, it takes a huge income to be a true Bobo. Brooks almost had this reviewer feeling sorry for the poor U. of Chicago professor forced to live on a "mere" household income of $180K, barely enough to cover private schools for her kids and a nanny. The wretch suffers from what Brooks calls "status-income disequilibrium" or "SID" because her pay, while handsome, pales before her similarly educated peers in the professions and business, with whom she has to socialize at symposia.
America teems with the newly rich. Bobos are most easily spotted in "Latte Towns" like Madison, Wisconsin or Northampton, Massachusetts. Ideally, such venues have "a Swedish-style government, German-style pedestrian malls, Victorian houses, Native American crafts, Italian coffee, Berkeley human rights groups, and Beverly Hills income levels." That's where you'll see the businessman wearing hiking boots patiently explaining 401(k) plans to the aging hippie who's making a killing selling bicyles, or software, or sandwiches.
Brooks is at his best describing the furbelows and follies of Bobo-dom. But Bobos in Paradise is really two books in one. Massive amounts of this text could have been computer cut-and-pasted from a work called something like American Intellectual History: 1955-2000. Sometimes Brooks maintains a light tone (without being truly funny), sometimes he is merely factual. I really didn't need to hear three times how tendentious the old Partisan Review gang was back in the fifties. I didn't really need to hear how a Bobo should act on a political chat show (smile a lot and be positive). I didn't really need to hear how TV has coopted intellectual life (that process began in the fifties with J. Fred Muggs and Steve-a-reeno, before most Bobos were born, and it was dealt with much better in the book Nobrow, anyway).
Don't get me wrong, the funny parts of this book are quite funny, and for that reason alone I'm giving it four stars. If it had been consistently funny and satiric I would have given it five. I came real close to giving it a three because the slow stretches, while not inaccurate, did little to further the author's thesis. If you intend to write pop sociology, better to write first-rate pop sociology than second-rate academic sociology.
One point to ponder is whether the term "Bobo" will catch on. In 1945 no one had heard of a "Highbrow" and in 1980 no one knew what a "Yuppie" was. And there were plenty of columnists who said that we didn't need such words, yet they became coin of the realm anyway. If it strikes you that your local rich people are starting to act like a fusion of Richard Gere and Bill Gates, or Al Gore and Jerry Garcia, then maybe the Bobo moniker might just cover them all. Hopeless trendoids, take note and read this book before the inevitable paperback edition.