Bobos In Paradise
A little more than a year ago I wrote a column entitled, “Whatever Happened to Elegance?” In it, I decried what Letitia Baldridge, White House social secretary for Jacqueline Kennedy, labeled the “slobbing of America.” I also raised the question as to whether there was a connection between the then currently popular sloppy dress habits of so many and their personal discipline in work habits and lifestyle.
At about the same time, I read about a new book featured in the Washington Post, entitled, “Bobos in Paradise.” My immediate reaction was: “Wow! Maybe one of my relatives or perhaps a heretofore unknown ancestor stumbled upon a mother lode and struck it rich!”
My second thought was that instead, the author, David Brooks, was making reference to the biblical description of paradise and how my folks got there. A more sobering thought, to say the least. At any rate, I was overcome with curiosity and went right out and bought the book–the last one in stock at a local bookstore. I could hardly wait to read about this commentary on my family.
But, alas, it wasnt about my people at all. Rather, in a way, it was, among other things, an observation about the change in our culture that produced such things as sloppy dress. Early on in the book, Brooks makes the point that formerly there were two main subcultures in our society–the Bohemians and the Bourgeois.
The Bourgeois worked for corporations, wore gray and went to church. The Bohemians were artists and intellectuals and championed the values of the liberated 60s, while the Bourgeois were becoming the yuppies of the 80s. As Brooks points out, the distinction between them was clear and you could easily tell them apart.
But now, this has all changed and they are all mixed up in a way that their differences have become blurred. This merging of cultures has produced what Brooks calls “Bobo values.” The label derives from the use of the first two letters (BO) of Bohemian and Bourgeois.
David Brooks returned to the U.S. after a 5-year stint overseas and was struck by the contrast in the society he had left and the one to which he returned. Sometimes, when change is happening around you, it is so subtle you dont notice it. No doubt his 5-year hiatus sharpened his perspective on what had happened to us.
Brooks believes that the Bobos have reconciled some of the anti-establishment attitudes of the 60s with achievers of the money-happy 80s. Now the CEO of a major corporation shows up at work wearing Dockers and a blazer rather than a dark suit. “If you dont dress down on Friday, you wont make it to the top” has become a mantra for those looking for success.