Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Class, Part VI: This is not my beautiful house.

In a couple of previous posts, I've alluded to "passing," which could probably use some illumination. One of the great games in our supposedly classless society is figuring out someone's background without asking him/her directly. I suspect that people with backgrounds like mine are much more likely to play this game, because we have crossed over in some ways, we ARE liminal, insofar as we have one foot in our class of origin and one foot in the elite classes (and keeping in mind that, relative to a lot of the rest of the world and the rest of the country we are completely elite, no matter our class of origin). People with both feet in a single class have a different perspective than does someone who has crossed a boundary or border in some way. I don't pretend to understand the gradations among the truly elite, mind you--the people whose families have been rich for a couple of generations now--because that's so far beyond my experience I wouldn't know where to begin. I also have no experience among the big-city elites--the people who have buildings named after their grandparents, or the people whose comings and goings make it into a newspaper, for example, or the people who live in the truly rich sections of a city. And I don't mean "celebrities," who are a different entity entirely.

So I want to get to the question I posed at the end of the last post. That is: what counts as success? For the liminal among us, and, really, maybe for everyone, we've had to come up with our own definitions, because the definitions that worked for our families probably don't work so well in our current situations. At the same time, the definitions up with which we have come have certainly been shaped by our families, for better or worse, as well as by the surrounding cultures in which we have been embedded and schooled.

There are several possible categories for a definition of success: The things one owns or can buy. The status, among people whose opinion matters to one, of the position one holds. One's ability to provide for oneself and/or for others. Accomplishments (degrees or titles, for example). And, really, we probably use multiple categories in evaluating our own or others' successes (or failures, I suppose).

I've been struggling to write this particular post, though, and I think it's because, on many levels, most of this doesn't mean much to me. Do I like some of my stuff? coughcoughiPodcoughcough Well, yes. Do I think I'm a success because I have it? Well, no, not really. Do other people judge my success on the basis of such things? Some do, I imagine, but not my friends. On the other hand, to someone who's trying to figure out how to cobble together money to fix the car to get to some really crappy job, I and my iPod look pretty damned successful, and I understand that, and it would be insulting to say to someone in that situation, "Hey, but I'm really working-class at heart! And I've had crappy jobs!" How fucking condescending could I possibly be? As Bruce (Springsteen; I'll get to him eventually, too) put it, a "rich man in a poor man's shirt."

I also remember when I was a lot more broke than I am now (despite the not-getting-paid thing that's STILL going on): I had two or three luxuries that I allowed myself (decent parmesan cheese, decent coffee, and decent soap & shampoo) that helped me convince myself that I wasn't really in that bad shape after all. They were small luxuries that made the rest of it bearable. I imagine everyone, no matter his or her income level, has some version of that. But did (or does) my life revolve around more luxuries, now that I can afford them? Um, no, not really.

Christ; I just about deleted that paragraph, too. I'm not getting anywhere with this, so if someone out there can throw in $.02 that might help, I'd be happy to try to go on from there.

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