The cold season is upon me, and snowflakes descend like falling ash from distant burning woods. When I look up, I half-expect the skies to be a murky black, filled with dark, churning clouds spreading like goopy oil slicks, the air rich with a stench half-way between a Vegas gambling den and a gaping incinerator.
But… it’s not.
The bugs are gone, for now. Fly away, little bugs. Perhaps I ought to decamp to warmer climes myself? Maikäfer flieg!
But I won’t.
Instead, like rather less majestic insects, I will hunker down in my little hole, digging deep for warmth. And once ensconced, I will sup on defrosted lamb and all this Brisk Iced Tea (Brisk, goes down smooth and fast! A real thirst quencher!) I got for real fire sale prices.
It is a certain kind of bliss, I suppose.
Speaking of groceries, it reminds of that strange little box, Whole Foods. I don’t shop there, and I never have. Too rich for my blood. Well, I suppose that’s not completely true. When I was in school, I had a friend who liked to buy a particular brand of yogurt from Whole Foods. These trips were always brief, lest the Eye of Mackey gaze deep into our wallets and dispatch his legion of crustwraiths after our shekels. Would we, one day, be white enough to shop their hallowed halls without shame? Probably not, though he now is getting close. The day we graduated, we went and bought bottles of VOSS water and drank them. To be honest… it didn’t really taste that great. But that didn’t matter – it was the excess of it, the conspicuous consumption, the sheer audacious whiteness – it might as well been, no, indeed it was… the nectar of the gods. The culmination of years of effort, struggle, and pain. It was over, it was done. At long last, a deathly silence had settled over our lives, for the guns had stopped. And all was stillness on the Western Front.
We had won. We had won and we were drinking fucking VOSS water and we were reveling in it because, goddamnit, we deserved it. We were the fucking Masters of the Universe. Born to be kings! Princes of the Universe! That water was the ecstasy of gold in pure, bottled form. It was JUST. FUCKING. WATER. And that was the beauty of it, that was what we exulted in, that pinnacle of white-being. Water, this thing which was free, we had just bought and drank at great expense.
VOSS wasn’t water, it was liquid status.
After that, I didn’t give Whole Foods any more mind.
A friend of mine showed me ad for Brandless, which appears to be a store selling organic generics. Its claim to fame is that it’s cheaper than Whole Foods.
Yeah, no fucking shit. Having fresh fish flown to me from goddamn Alaska and pairing with caviar was literally cheaper than Whole Foods. It doesn’t make it cheap! What the hell!
Under my feet, seemingly overnight, had grown an entire class of people buying and doing lots of fancy shit. There were a few possibilities. One was that, while I was looking at the lint gathering in my navel, the rest of the country had become astoundingly rich and left me behind. Now, a trip to the national income percentile statistics strongly suggests this was indeed not the case, but there was always the chance that everyone but me is evading, like, a shit-ton of taxes.
The other possibility, which I strongly believe is true, is that the modern middle class spends lots and lots of money on ostentatious luxury goods. Literally speaking, groceries purchased from Whole Foods are food. But the price tag is not because of the specialness of the food you buy. Rather, fancy organic SWPL food exists as a *positional* good that elevates your status above others. When I wear my crappy suits, they serve as a visual statement that I am inferior to The Management in their crisp new Brooks Brothers. Similarly, when my peers at college shopped at Whole Foods, it was a statement of power and prestige – they were so king dick that they could eat shopping carts full of quinoa harvested by weeping Chilean babies in mist-shrouded mystic highlands, and treat it like no big deal. “Why yes, my father does happen to be close to the Philippine Department of Agriculture, now that you mention it,” as they take another bite of oven-roasted kale.
Meanwhile, I take another swig of tea-flavored high fructose corn syrup, that marvelous beverage, Brisk, a perfectly frugal choice for the modern shopper.
I call these creatures SWProles. That the SWProles so often live so luxuriously often places me in the unfortunate position of envying their lifestyle. With the ordinary proles, while I may shake my head when they buy a massive TV, ultimately, I don’t need or want such a thing. Not so with the SWProles, who often live lives that make me blush with furious envy. Casual Eurotrips, degrees in subjects so outrageously useless and expensive that they almost approach the platonic ideal of Veblen good, the kind of thing you’d be shocked to see outside of Lynndegarden, funny jobs making artisanal pottery and hipstercraft cereal, and the nicest not-nice clothing a thrift store can offer.
These days, I am more likely to identify one of my peers by their relative lack of ornamentation and luxury. So what has brought about such a state of affairs? The SWProle has come to believe that the luxury goods purchased by the overclass are not a signal of their prosperity, but instead are the cause. In short, a cargo cult. I’m not sure how this started precisely, but many SWProles blame their parents or society or their parents AND society. Apparently, there was a widespread narrative that these things were the road to wealth. Go to college and get an English degree and you’ll get a good job, probably. Did you know there are around four thousand 4-year schools in the US? I didn’t, and the figure horrifies me. As far as I knew, the USNews top 200 was *it*, all the schools in the US. It’s like finding out your map of the world only covers California. Or better yet, art school! Go to the city and slum around the fashionable parts of town, because that’s where the work is. A gap year is a great resume builder! It is a Frankensteinian pastiche of luxury status signalling and middle class earnest conscientiousness. People who go on vacation to Europe because… that’s just what is done. A too small apartment in Manhattan with a Studies Studies degree and a barista job (or some menial white collar position they cheerfully dub “professional”), that’s the way to do it. It’s like the industry that’s sprung up selling canned answers to prestige firm interviews – the point of the interview is to demonstrate your authentic UMC habitus, not to recite certain correct answers like this is a goddamn exam at a two-bit school.
Just as yesteryear saw the emergence of Class X, that fusion of bohemian tastes and bourgeois wealth, and that new creature of “BoBo” came to dominate the UMC, so too do we see conspicuous consumption wedded to MC conscientiousness, SWPL tastes and prole incomes. Behold, the New
Soviet Coastal Man, the SWProle, rising from the sea foam.
BUY BRISK. BUY IT NOW FUCKERS.
My life doesn’t go smoothly because I have the right taste in burlap (I don’t, which is why I have a Kinkade on my wall). It goes smoothly because I can collect some six thousand dollars of passive income from my investments every month, despite being in my early 20s. They pay me a reasonable amount precisely because it’s *not* an aspirational, fulfilling job. As my coworkers say, if we were having fun, we’d have to pay them. The professional work of the “creative class” may be more like fun, but it’s still WORK. It’s sitting in a cube and bathing your face in the eerie midmire blue light, day in and day out. I do this not because I love it, but because I have needs and wants that my passive income alone cannot satisfy. Like my Camry, which, foolishly, I bought at sticker price. Meanwhile, on various comment threads, I repeatedly see the insistence that more expensive Tesla’s Model 3 is a mass market car. Wha… what? What? No, it’s not!
When I buy my fucking VOSS water for $TOO MUCH, it’s not because it’s helping me be a good worker bee in the modern gig/information/UberEATS (gig-a-bite?) economy or whatever the fuck. I’M BEING AN ASSHOLE!
Good golly, my blood pressure is rising. Better take a crisp and refreshing gulp of Brisk, as sweet and airy as a summer day.
You can’t get rich through conspicuous consumption. You can’t! You just can’t! It doesn’t make any goddamn sense and it makes wonder if the whole fucking world has gone crazy. You get rich by refraining from spending. When I suggest such a thing, I am scoffed out. “You think I can afford a house by not buying avocado toast?” Har har har. That is EXACTLY how you can afford a house. That is EXACTLY how you get rich. You act like a SWPL to flaunt your affluence and social status. These SWProles have everything precisely backwards!
Of course, all that goes up must come down. Because these people are not, in fact, spectacularly rich, and they don’t actually know the COO of Kraftwerkgill, the Food/Electronica conglomerate, they must fund such a lifestyle through debt. Lots and lots and lots of consumer debt. Run up those student loans to go to a crappy state school (Yet another case of apparent conventional MC wisdom being totally bass-ackwards, since they often say more prestigious schools would be too expensive. 96% of Harvard students graduate debt-free. Even at my comparatively shitty tier 2 consolation school, the median student graduates without taking a single penny of student loans.). Get a payday loan to go on vacation (that this concept exists appalls). Work as a cabbie to chase your dreams (the Uber ads also appall me).
So we reach the next inevitable step in our downward spiral. White trash goods rebranded to have hipster/SWPL cred. We return to Brandless. Or, as my friend put it, store generics “but for hipsters.” Is Brandless actually that cheap? Their shtick is meant to suggest such – everything only $3! But I went ahead and compared their prices to Kirkland and Walmart generics. Kirkland generic products are actually of quite high quality. For instance, Kirkland wine is pretty much the same wine as the high class stuff, just put through less quality control and refinement. And I have been assured that, if you take the effort to properly age it in your own wine cellar, it really turns out top notch. Much like brewing your own booze, this seems to be a lot of effort to me, but if you already have the setup, might as well. The Brandless stuff was almost always significantly more expensive, except for chips, naturally. The SWProle is still a prole at heart.
Shorn of his wealth, with no income potential, and teetering towards bankruptcy, the SWProle must abandon Whole Foods for generics. But even there, his generics have to signal SWPL status with their elegant unbranded branding and design. And he will have to pay extra for that status.
Similarly, with no hope of affording a house on their own the proper way, the SWProle turns to a small movable abode placed on land, bought or rented, and makes do. They call them Tiny Houses. They’re trailers with hipster cred. The idea isn’t new at all, it’s just a rebranding of something poor people already do.
And we revisit Fishtown, Murray’s byword for poor America. Only now, it is being hailed as a symbol of revitalization, as artsy young white people flood in to provide artisanal services in a quirky, homey environment. Gentrification! Affluence! The only problem is that the median income isn’t budging. Brandless isn’t unbranding, despite its name. Brandless itself constitutes a brand, and thus, the act is an act of *rebranding*, not unbranding. So too, the new Fishtown isn’t an end to poverty.
Merely a rebranding.
And so, we arrive at the curious case of the DINK in the nighttime. Much as the life script dictated, they went to college, a sensible state school which would minimize their student loans, got professional white collar jobs, and waited until getting financial stability to have kids.
Only their school didn’t give them a leg up, their jobs were professional in MC minds only and didn’t pay worth a damn, and by the time they were financially secure, a truly grueling ordeal, they found out that the Obamas had to get IVF. Which they can’t afford.
DINK, but not by choice.
Even with all their decadence, I cannot truly envy the SWProle. It ends in tragedy.
Perhaps I can comfort myself with the idea that it was always so. There are some letters from the reign of Louis XIV where a lady of the court ventured to see the humble villagers, only to find a village woman in a dress that would cost about $40,000 in today’s money, and herself in rags by comparison.
In the end, will it all end by guillotine?
Dramatic in my thirst,
Monsieur le Baron