This is going be a slightly schizophrenic article today because…CLASS is one of those words, that has myriad definitions. We’re going to examine two, the first one serious, the second one…snarky and irreverent, but fun.
Class, as in…showing a bit when the chips are down. I semi-seriously believe that if you were to corner someone under, say the age of 30 right now and ask them what CLASS is, they’d snap back that it’s the name of a Canadian rock band. Well, sonofagun…so it is! Anything else? “Yeah,okay. It’s where you go when you’re in school…you know…like math class.” I see. Anything else? “Well, there’s middle class and low class and upper-class.” That about it? “Yeah, dude… Ya ever heard of Googling?”
Has CLASS Gone Completely? You can quickly see the result of this concept of class gradually disappearing from our lexicon and from our minds like a shrinking iceberg. Turn on the radio or TV and observe…its absence. It’s not here anymore. It’s on sabbatical. The concept of Class, as well as Graciousness, has depreciated to such a point that it isn’t even an abstract consideration to entire generations. Big mistake.
Class = Grace Under Pressure: My encounter with the term, class, began during the Kennedy administration when JFK said that, Class is: Grace under pressure. Yes, he borrowed (stole) from Hemingway who was attempting to define courage…..which though equally noble, is a degree or two different than class. There are now entire generations, perhaps your kid or your grandchild, for whom the words Class equals Grace under Pressure carry as much meaning as: Duck equals Pencil under Rutabaga. It’s just jibberish to them…and to a whole bunch of us, who should know better.
A Tiny Example of Class just to get us going: You’re in a coffee shop or perhaps a bar…doesn’t matter. A man is sitting quietly at the counter and a guy plops-down next to him and begins ranting about the political situation and how terrible the senator of the state is. “The S.O.B should be horse-whipped, better yet, taken out and shot. What a dumbass.” The first gentleman continues stirring his coffee and says, “Interesting opinion. What’s it based on?” A conversation ensues and a rudimentary give-and-take begins. Strangely, it ends amicably. At the end, the first man gets up, pays his tab and leaves. Then the buddies of the second man swarm over. “Wow! That was weird! We thought there’d be a fist fight. You hate our state senator. You really layed into him , but then you also had a pretty long discussion.” What gives??? The guy looks up, stunned. “Huh???That was the senator???” Yeah. “I never even knew……”
Class, Graciousness, and Keeping your Cool can manifest itself in a thousand different ways…all of them good. Yet, it’s a muscle that’s rarely used anymore, not on TV, not in Congress, nor is it in action across our nation. That muscle has slowly atrophied. Class and Graciousness are like the oil in your car’s engine. Drain that oil out, and the engine overheats…really fast. For the most part, the entire District of Columbia is running without oil and it’s chewing itself to bits. We desperately need some class, a bit of old-fashioned graciousness and the ability to keep our cool for minutes on end.
Cyber-bullying and Trolls vs. Decency: If life is a slow-growing Petri dish for humanity, the Internet is that same Petri dish, turbocharged and in warp drive. It’s now officially dangerous and scary. Young teenagers now eat, sleep, and live on the internet. And they’re beginning to kill each other, focusing on someone they don’t like and then, creating a campaign to make them literally kill themselves. And afterwards? Not even an ounce of remorse. That’s sickness bordering on insanity.
Trolls: Anonymity plays to the very worst in our character. From the invisibility of cyberspace, decency and graciousness are the first things to go. An individual can launch a vicious attack, say any lie or half-truth they like, and hide in their anonymity. I would LOVE to see a scenario where the victim of such an attack could suddenly appear in the basement or bedroom where the perpetrator was tippling on the keyboard and have to face the person he’s attacking. Trolls have one thing in common. They are cowards. Bullies, Trolls, knock it the hell off. One more degree of technological progress, and….you just might not be anonymous anymore. Love to see that.
But Class isn’t just about politics and arguing. Here’s a different non-political example: Up until a month or so ago, if someone asked me what anal bleaching is, I would have thrown up my hands and said, “Huh??? Beats the hell out of me.” This month, unfortunately, I know what it means. Photos are plastered everywhere. Now, I really, really couldn’t care less whether someone wants to bleach intimate parts of their body. But…going on national TV and showing and telling the entire universe about it is a pretty good example of a lack of class or grace or graciousness. Some things really don’t need to be aired in public. They just don’t. Spare me… I don’t have a need, nor a desire to know.
Friends: I have a diverse cadre of friends of whom I’m very proud. Collectively, they’d make an excellent poster like that Coke commercial in the 60s: A little jingle, “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.” In the commercial you see every possible color, race, size, gender, religion, age, nationality you can think of…all getting along. I’m proud that my friends are that diverse and can still get along (sort of). We need to actively start working that muscle again. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening your mouth to speak…and then quietly closing it again. We don’t personally have to set the world straight…on EVERYTHING.
Can We Put the Genie Back in the Bottle? I have my doubts, but I also have a hopeful feeling that we’re at a tipping point, not as republicans or democrats or any particular religion or ethnicity. Down deep, I have an abiding faith in this country. Right now, no one is having much fun and no one seems to like or trust each other very much.
It starts with us, you and me, not going for the jugular at the drop of a hat, and not pushing our view to the point of actually weakening our country. To paraphrase a song from James Taylor, Since we’re only here for a while….we might as well show some style…class. Anybody sick of all the fighting?????
Now to the Second, Snarky and Fun Definition of Class!
There was a book by Paul Fussell a bunch of years ago, cleverly titled: CLASS. It’s irreverent, insightful, and funny as hell, until he comes to whatever class you happen to see yourself in. Then, of course, he’s a complete ass. The most redeeming aspect is, he seemed to bear no more ill will to any one class more than another.
The Brits: Now that we’re in the gratuitously snarky section, I have a friend, who is my token Brit. From him, I learned quickly that we Americans pale in the mountainous shadow cast by British caste-consciousness. If you really stretch it, we have as many as nine classes in America. (see below) In London, however, turn a corner, or back your car up a little too far and you’re in a different class. This may explain at least some of my friend’s inherent though amusing toadiness. Fortunately, Alfred, like Paul Fussell, seems to hate everyone with approximately the same zeal.
That to Which We All Must Aspire: Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot: Here’s your goal, folks. This is the ne plus ultra, the crème de la crème... What is hopeful is, they all seem to be a bit soused, showing a bit of leg, and having a ball!
Nine Classes: Here in America, we have: Top out-of-sight, Upper class, Upper middle, Middle, High proletarian, Middle proletarian, Lower proletarian, Destitute, Bottom out-of-sight.
Which Class are YOU in? From my own jaded perspective, 95% of Americans see themselves as either Middle Class or Upper Middle Class. The other 5% is reserved for the upper class, which, according to Fussel, is actually about .0000237% in America. To be in the true upper class, first off, you need to have inherited all your money. Working is a no-no, very declassé. Even the White House is considered to be just barely upper middle class. They’re trying too hard for one thing with that extravagant façade and…everyone is working (heh heh heh, yeah right).
Your Car as a Class Determinator: You aren’t gonna like this. That Mercedes, BMW, Audi in your driveway? Nope… You’re still middle class because……… you’re trying too hard. The truly upper class, could not care less about such things. For one thing, they probably have a chauffeur. Second, that old beat-to-hell Rolls in their driveway is perfectly functional, though strangely, so are a lot of other very common cars. In short, cars don’t register to the true upper class.
Proletarian cars: Beat-to-hell cars (see the full-circle pattern?) only with Honk if you Love Jesus on the bumper, Playboy Bunny Emblems or, America: Love it or Leave it! Fuzzy dice, or anything hanging from your rear-view mirror and you’re demoted. Large patches of rust or entire fenders painted with grey primer…also not so hot.
X-CLASS: Yes, it sounds like the newest über-auto from Mercedes…and it isn’t. After poring though 95% of Fussel’s book, Class, I had a couple of real scares, though thankfully, ole Fussel-Face hadn’t successfully pegged me. Didn’t have nearly enough $$$ to be upper class, much less upper-middle, though a bunch of their attributes were sticking. But then: I have this horribly proletarian habit of liking to keep my car shiny and waxed. Not good at all. But…there was hope! As it turns out, one of the secret handshakes of the upper class, is basically not giving a flying foo foo about what other people approve of. Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. If I were to stop shining my car in a pathetic attempt join the “upper crust” I’d be instantaneously demoted to…well…pretty far down. By continuing to truly not give a shit, I’ve managed to save my X-Class status.
Sooo… What is the X-Class? Hard to pin-down a definition that works for everybody. We tend to drive weird cars, just because we like ’em… old Saab Turbos, Morgans, really old pick-ups. Music… we’ll segue from a Chopin étude to classic Led Zep to God-knows- what in a minute-and-a-half. We tend to be too stupid to wear socks in the winter and yet we’re adept with a chainsaw. We keep our vodka in the freezer for the perfect martini, and then blow it with box wine. We used to be called Bohemians. We’re artists and writers, philosophers and musicians. We’re also carpenters and shoe salesmen, sell Electrolux door- to-door or pump gas, depending on which end of the telescope you peer in. What we have in common is a realization that: This isn’t a dress rehearsal. You might as well do what you’re gonna do. Nobody’s looking at you…they’re all looking in the mirror.
A Topsy-Turvy Trip through the Class Gauntlet: I didn’t make this stuff up, though possibly ole Fussell-Brain did. Decide for yourself:
Do you race out at the first site of a dandelion in your yard so you can quickly stomp on it? Sad to report, you’re middle or below. The upper crust could not care less about weeds or dandelions….primarily because they own so many acres…and the horses will probably eat them anyway. (I always thought they were kinda pretty…magical.)
Do you say, Grandma passed away or…Susan is expecting? Too bad. The upper uppers don’t participate in such bourgeois euphemisms. Grandma died. Susan is pregnant. And if you say, “Maggie is in a family way” or “Uncle Fred was taken by Jesus”…well, you really don’t want to know.
Swearing: Strangely, swearing is quite all right in the upper echelons…if kept to a minimum and interspersed with nebulous words. Just never, ever drop the G in fucking. i.e., My attorney is the simulacrum of an attorney qua human being…the fucking imbecile!
Christmas tree lights: Think all-white is classy? Or perhaps you have a color-coordinated mauve or aqua Christmas tree? Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Instead, throw on every damned thing you ever bought or little Muffy ever made for you.
Saving the good stuff, as in the good crystal, the good silver, the good china. You only use the good stuff. Coating anything at all with plastic, as in plastic sofa covers, well that’s just hopeless. Your dog chews your chair legs? AOK. They’re part of the family.
Showing Off: This is the one unforgivable sin to which there is no salvation. Having the longest, most expensive mink coat in the room…you are toast. Gold-plate your copper gutters…toast. Exceptionally large and expensive jewelry. Believe it or not…toast. We have large black gates at the entrance to our “estate”. The only redeeming thing for us as X-Classers is that you can’t see the gates from anywhere at all…ever. We’re too deep in the woods for anyone to even know we exist. If we only had drastically more money…and didn’t have to work, we might squeak into the upper echelon. As it is….not ever gonna happen. Thankfully…we don’t give a shit.
P.S. On a related topic: When I was very young, my dad decided….that I would play the accordion. God…shoot me. Kicking and screaming and dragging my feet I learned. Later, in college, I discovered this definition: Gentleman: A person who knows how to play the accordion, but refrains from doing so. In this regard, I am a true gentleman.
P.P.S. I poked a bit of fun at Paul Fussell’s book, CLASS. Having done so, it’s really pretty enlightening and a lot of fun. He did his homework. It’s an older book, but you can probably still get it on Amazon, for probably a buck or so. You won’t regret it.
They snub him here, they spurn him there,
The righteous hate him everywhere.
Henry: Me thinks thou doth protest too much…about not giving a s__t. Why else would you “wax your car”?
I protest your comment about protesting too much in the strongest possible way. I’m protesting…just the right amount. Yeah, you got me. Once a prol, always a prol.
I agree with your article. We desperately need to bring back some class to our society. It seems the celebrities in the media, who get the most attention, are sometimes the lowest examples of moral character. Now more than ever, we need some (good) role models for our kids.
I composed a list of people I consider to have class…and no class.
Class: Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Christiane Amanpour, Michael Bloomberg, Michael J. Fox, Helen Mirren, and Olympia Snowe.
Sans Class: Kim Kardasian, Snooki, Lady Gaga, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Mylie Cyrus, and Ted Cruz.
If anybody wants to add on to either list…or disagree, have at it.
Good one Henry!
You mention that basic civility has disappeared over the last 5-10 years. I don’t know if one can fundamentally change one’s class, but it seems like you are saying that there are exterior forces bringing out the worse elements of each class. If this is the case, do you think that this can be reversed? And if so, what would cause people to rise to the best parts of their respective classes?
Nuanced questions require nuanced answers. What I did say was that it’s disappear-ing, (like the melt-ing iceberg I used for a metaphor). The “ing” is what gives us hope, in that, yes, there are things we can all do.
In your second sentence you say, “change one’s class” which could mean either one of the two definitions we were examining. The answers might be different for each of the definitions. For the sake of argument, it sounds like you’re referring to it as showing graciousness (showing a bit of class) and yeah, I do think exterior forces are having a profound effect of people showing class…graciousness. As I alluded a bit farther down, in the Genie out of the Bottle double paragraph, I think our very technology is shooting our society in the groin. The younger the generation, the bigger the dose they are getting. The trend to now give little children cell phones, is analgous to giving them a loaded gun. Damage can be and usually is done. Example: death by cyber-bullying. Death by anonymous trolls. Rampant cyber-porn for all. Rampant hyper-real killing games. It’s a diet and not a good one for breeding…..class, or graciousness.
I’m hopeful, technology will catch up with the trolls. I’m hoping people will eventually pause a moment before going ballistic. It can’t maintain this horrible downward arc. It has to pull out sometime. Why not now???????
I agree with the first half of your article, as in showing class. The second half is humorous, but seems a bit stupid and really arbitrary. If I want to have a purple Christmas tree, who’s business is it?
I don’t disagree one decimal point…but then I didn’t create human nature. It’s the nature of the beast to want to be…just a little smarter, cooler, richer than our fellow man. That’s why we have 650 hp. Mercedes, creeping along the same 45mph roads as the Priuses. It’s not bright, but it’s there. I’m hiding out in my X-Class life, doing what I want to do and trying to have a bit of fun along the way. Pax, to you, Paul
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