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Feature Story June 26, 2003
 
Elite versus Elitny
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
 
Page 4 of 9
 
The Left needs to understand how truly sweet this bone of affordable imitation-middle-class clothes feels to America's poor if it wants at least a hope of connectng. Their hatred of all things Gap, including Old Navy, is elitist. It's rooted as much in a cultural elite's disdain for "looking like everyone else" as it is in moral revulsion at sweat shops. That doesn't mean the Left is wrong, but it is not a popular argument among struggling wage slaves who watch Friends and dream that some day they might be able to afford Banana Republic.

By their fashion choices, their affected poverty, their disdain of all the material things beyond the struggling class's reach -- nice suits and ties, clean haircuts, SUVs -- the American Left seems to be literally mocking you at the same time that it tries to take away your Old Navy bone, and they add to the mockery by telling you that keeping you away is all for your own good, pointing to obscure statistics about stagnant real wages, wealth transfer, and so on. As if you don't know what's what. What's what is this: what you can afford. In Louisville, among the real bedrock suckers, I realized that those who attack Wal-Mart -- whether socially-committed activists or upper-class left-wing Manhattanites (like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickled And Dimed) -- must be living with the certainty that they're never going to need Wal-Mart. I too attacked Wal-Mart until I moved Stateside. Then I needed it, no matter how much its hands were soaked in blood.

Wal-Mart billionaire Sam Walton: looking like the bloodless oligarch he is for his fellow business elite (left); looking like a harmless, hokey old hardware store salesman to Middle America (right). No elitist here! Let’s keep looking!

Wal-Mart billionaire Sam Walton: looking like the bloodless oligarch he is for his fellow business elite (left); looking like a harmless, hokey old hardware store salesman to Middle America (right). No elitist here! Let’s keep looking!

The Left's elitism is manifest on a more personal level as well. No anti-consumerist or left-wing academic would want to hang out with the 19-year-old single mother data entry processor I replaced, and vice-versa. They don't speak the same language. At least billionaire Sam Walton wore baseball caps, spoke plain American, went to church and was clean-cut. He doesn't appear to be mocking the lower-middle classes. He just wants everything they've got, that's all.

If one thing came through in Ehrenreich's book, it was that she couldn't stand being around poor shallow losers who worked wage jobs at Wal-Mart and in maid services, largely because they weren't sufficiently aware of how horribly their lives sucked. So they were dumped as people, only useful to her as literary objects of pathos for her bleeding-heart bourgeois NPR readership. She even went so far as to attack workers who were fat, the greatest sin among America's elite. For Ehrenreich, fatness is a choice, not a Schopenhauerian symptom, a secondary disease of poverty and a dead-end life. Junk food is cheap and easy, the fats a tiny buzz of legal pleasure.

So my near life-long revulsion for consumerism was really a kind of elitism, one I was able to maintain not because I got rich but rather because I opted out of the whole paradigm when I moved to Russia. That doesn't make my "elitism" wrong. Not by any means. It just means that it is valid under certain conditions, and irrelevant under others.

The Left is an elite. Let's admit it. From bourgeois liberals like Ehrenreich to Hard Leftists like the anti-globalization activists or even us at the eXile (though I'm never really sure how deep our Leftism runs.) Take Debbie, the data entry processor whom I replaced at NPC. I don't ever want to be like her. Or around her, if I can help it. Or the tens of millions like her. Like many Kentuckians I met, she loathed Clinton for being a two-timer and respected Bush for being "real." This is as good a reason as any to stay away from the disenfranchised.


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Ames
Browse author
Email Mark Ames at editor@exile.ru.
 
 
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