Sunday, August 06, 2006

Yuppiedom

During my teenage years, I frequented a juice bar (dance bar for underage kids) in an up and coming area. During my father's college years less than two decades earlier it was the ghetto. Since that time the artists and gays had moved in. And now the yuppies were beginning to populate the area due to it's proximity to downtown. The area was in transition. There was an energy on the street with that mix of artists, gays, and young professionals.

But I, like everyone else, hated the yuppies. In my mind, they were the rich suburban kids who came into town to goof off able to break the rules and pay to get out of it. And later the college kids who came to get wasted without respect for the city dwellers or their environment. They were now those same kids who had their own money (credit) to buy BMW's and were forcing long-time residents out of their neighborhoods. Self-absorbed and brash.

After high school I was able to go away to university. The school had an extensive Greek(fraternity/sorority) system. So much so that you were in the minority if you did not go. Again at the time I viewed them as either the evil frat house in Animal house, or a frat house trying to act like it was the Animal house. Either way, they seemed to me to be locales fostering the group mentality. Join the club and be like all the other members. Many with a price tag (literally) to enter. Grooming grounds for yuppies. I despised them.

There were some changes during those six years. People are less and less black and white. Although almost all of my friends were "independants", I knew many people who had chosen to be part of the Greeks system. I even went out with a couple. For the most part, they were like everyone else except they had their house functions to attend. Also during this time, I became interesting in many "college" things. The pagentry of some traditions. Music that was mainstream, yet still given terms like alternative or independant. I got a shoulder bag instead of a backpack.

After college, I joined the work world. To some extent it seemed all of us embarking on our careers we were all at the same level. Some may have come from more prestigeous schools, but we were all still newbies. All those previous concerns held less importance. OK, Freddy may not have a student loan, or Helen may have a slightly higher position, but we were still just starting off. If anything, it was our profession against all those higher paying ones.

It was a fun and interesting time. I was finally making a full-time salary instead of that of a part-time student. And I was now an adult in the city where I grew up. It opened up a new dimension. New freedoms to do what you want when you want as long as you have the money, you don't get arrested, and you don't get fired. Similar to college except now you have money and you have your nights and weekends free. We would go out drinking sometimes getting a little out of hand. We bought many of the cool new things (computer, cell phones, bikes). We got a place in that neighborhood that I was so fond of as a teenager. We weren't rich, but we could be a bit self-indulgent.

I came to a bit of a revelation on our past trip back home. Had I become the thing that I despised? Were we yuppies? Young... Check. Urban... Check. Professional... (sorta) Check. OK, by definition yes. But by the popularly held (hated) characteristics of yuppies it gets really hazy. It has been odd to read rants on yuppie lifestyles. They go into the characteristics of yuppiedom and I catch myself thinking: "Wait a second, I have (had) some of those things or did those things. I don't hold the same convictions as the yuppies the person is ranting about, but maybe I'm not that much different than the despised yuppies." In many ways, we were yuppies, but in many ways we were not.

And so here I am. As with many things in life, I find myself sympathetic to both sides. I completely agree with those that hate the negative things that yuppies do as a group or individuals. Yet I know them as real people and know that the majority of them are good-hearted people who are either living an honest life or caught up in a reality that others may not understand.

8 comments:

Mrne said...

It should come as no surprise that an architect has an aversion to living a simple box of just four straight lines; they would prefer (I think) a cube to those one dimensional four straight line boxes. And how much more interesting still would be an arrangement of a set of cubes to a single cube--because it gives more depth, more angles, more views...... Yet at the heart of it, in my non-architecturally informed opinion, it all rather boils down in essence to the original four straight lines--a box.

You're a yuppie but you're not. You're in the box, but you don't want to see yourself in the yuppie box. especially because (as you pointed out) you are deeper, have a diversity of views, you are more complex, than the off the shelf standard issue Yuppie box you want to eschew. Yet from inside the cube, you are able to recognize its relationship to the basic box. In this essay you reluctantly own up to the possiblity that perhaps you were in the box all along. Perhaps you were.

I think the real issue, is that as a dynamic, complex, intellectually and otherwise very curious sentient being, it may seem a contradiction that you sometimes do fit in a box. We don't want to be limited to a "label" or be viewed as being stereotypically anything, but the fact is sometimes the shoe fits. Yet, you may have a variety of pairs of shoes that fit nicely on your feet. Different occassions require different shoes.

Think of the shoe/boxes as sets. The different parts of your complexity each fit into a different set. You aren't just one set, but a group of sets, yet each set describes a part of who you are. You aren't limited to being a Yuppie, even though one view of you fits in the Yuppie set.

The trick is to be comfortable with who we are.

Vila H. said...

It's not the people, of course-- it's an amorphous but very real system that rewards certain kinds of privilege, and which makes life incredibly difficult for those who don't have access to the sources of that privilege.

I've been thinking a lot about these issues as they relate to gentrification, and will probably write about them soon. I think what bothers me the most is how unthinking we can be about the privileges we enjoy, and how unfeeling we sometimes are about what life is like for others. I've noticed this on the Metroblog recently--the assumption that of course everyone can afford a house (or condo, or loft) and a car and the gourmet tastes that characterize gentrified spaces. Those who can't become strangely invisible, as though they're not as much a part of the fabric of our cities as we are.

In any case, I still hate yuppies, but not because they aren't good people. Most of them are. I just hate the ones who can't seem to empathize with people who are less fortunate than themselves--or, worse, who can't even be arsed to try.

In any case, thanks for giving me something to chew on...

mrne said...

Dear Vila H,
I am no longer "young" so I'm not so much a Yuppie as Uppie, I suppose. I am a psychotherapist serving children and adults who have a great deal of trauma and or abuse in their histories, either as victims or perpetators, or in some cases both. All the people I treat are very far from Yuppiedom. The great priledge divide seems ever present in my mind, and it is not infrequent that in one way or another my patients will bring it to my attention.

My job is in many ways about thinking. Thinking about what the patient is saying, verbally and physically. Thinking about where my mind goes when the patient is talking and behaving. Thinking about their experiences and their aspirations. Of course I haven't begun to list the many things I think about in a session or between sessions, but I do often think about the great class divide, why it is that I am (seemingly) upwardly mobile and how they may never be.

Sometimes, my aspirations for them are higher than their aspirations for themselves. Perhaps this is because they don't aspire (they're depressed) or perhaps it is because they've rarely seen someone move up, because those who move up generally move beyond and out. And then there are times when I tell myself, I'm not an Uppie because of my own efforts, I'm an Uppie because, like Frank I was born into a situation where the socio-economic and educational trajectory is up, with each succeeding generation being more educated and (eventually) better off financially than our parents. Of course this not always the case in the family, but in a general way it is true.

In the final analysis, I generally come to conclude that my Uppie status is a synthesis of my efforts and a condition of birth. We were born into families which could envision, and often expected, that we would move up [expectations/encouragement], and we were fortunate to have the intellectual ability to succeed [tools], and we had opportunities which allowed us to succeed [opportunity].

Many of my patients lack one or all three ingredients. I privately feel discouraged for them, and it pains me that the best I can hope or predict as possible, for a child I see, is that they should finish high school, or if a girl, finish high school AND not get pregnant before she's 20.

Then there the internal conflict I have as an Uppie about enjoying my privledge. I like to dress well, I think it is professional and it makes me feel good. But how does it make my patients feel? I think it is a conflict for them as well. If I dress well, they may see it as a sign of my success, and therefore they are being treated by a "professional." However, if I dress well it may become emblematic of our class difference and all that may entail. The question for them then is can I help them if my experience (and current situation) is seemingly vastly different than their own.

From a shrink's pov, all the questioning is good; it's all grist for the mill.

Vila H. said...

Mrne,

Thanks for your thoughts on this. As someone who stands squarely in the middle of the class divide you mention, in awkward transit from one side to the other, I suspect that two things are important.

The first is, as I write above, the ability to empathize--to make the sincere effort to understand others as we understand ourselves. In a sense, it's to always ask the question: how would I feel if it was me?

The second is to recognize difference when it exists--to acknowledge and respect that difference, to insist that it remains visible. It's to perpetually ask the question, what is it like for you, and to truly listen when the other responds.

As a psychotherapist, I imagine that both of these imperatives are old hat to you, but in my experience they are far from commonplace. If they were, imagine how different things might be.

Frank said...

Thank you, both. You both brought up great points. So much more to think about.

I guess one reason I'm comfortable accepting that I was a yuppie is that I am so much more aware of everyone else out there. As you point out, not everyone was fortunate to have the abilities or opportunities that I have had. And for all those who argue that people like the poor and homeless should do something with their lives, my thinking is that they may not have had the chance to develop the drive necessary. It's quite a hill to climb that anyone of us would have a difficult time with.

It is for this reason I am reluctant to reveal anything that would suggest any kind of social status. I feel it is out of respect for those not as fortunate. The situation we were born into was basically a lottery. We all could have been born into a completely different situation.

That said, sometimes my eagerness to share myself gets the best of me. Like now I am sharing the photos of the time spent abroad or other places I have travelled to. It is something that excites me and hope others get pleasure from. I don't think individual material items can do that.

Vila H. said...

No, no, no, Frank--sharing is good! Besides, when has not talking ever solved a problem, or helped us to understand something important about each other?

Rather than take up any more space here, I'm going to continue my ramblings on my own blog. Bring beer.

Hashi said...

As far as not being a yuppie..., well, you grew up in the city for one. Your parents were not rich - they provided what they could (and sometimes more) but were not over indulgent. They instilled good morals, respect for others and gave you a sense of pride without being egotistical. You don't have a high end car, you don't have have complete disrespect for others and their thoughts, feelings and traditions. You are able to be yourself without putting on a front of superiority over others.

In my mind the term "yuppie" is associated with someone who has no concern for the human condition. They're disrespectful and inconciderate to others and their life situation. They act superior and scorn anyone that is not like them or doesn't have the privlidges that they have. Like you said they move into an established neighborhood and bring with them high end shops, Starbucks, and edge out the elderly and underprivlidged with no concern for their welfare. They are socially irresponsible and highly egotistical. Their only concern is money, partying, showing their wealth, and getting more money.

I felt like you did growing up in that I despised them for what they were and what they represented. They seemed to be contradictory to anything good. I now have the unfortunate situation that I work in a very gentrified neighborhood that serves a lot of yuppie clientele. I also live in a neighborhood that is seeing their like more and more. It gets on my nerves from time to time but I try to look past it and see them as individuals.

But, from your background and what I know about you, you don't fit their profile at all.

Mrne said...

I don't see or haven't experienced Yuppies as being monolithically insensitive, uncaring, pretentious pricks who only care about themselves. No doubt there are those kinds of people in every class, socio-economic group, race, and ethnicity, etc.

Young upwardly mobile professionals come with a lot of variety: marital status, sexual orientation, number of children, charitable giving (money and time), renters, home owners..............Democrats, Republicans, etc, and so forth.


Perhaps what people in the conversation are saying, is that they don't like selfish snobs who only care about themselves and what they can acquire, people who donate neither time nor money, and are devoid of empahty for others, and are egregiously infriendly to the environment. Again, folks like that are everywhere.