Niagara Gazette

Columns

February 23, 2014

SINGER: The demise of the middle class

Niagara Gazette — Most everyone who disserts these days on problems of the middle class — its growth, diminution, even survival — does so in purely economic terms; however, this kind of focus is too narrow. Yes, the middle class seems threatened, but not simply due to dollars and cents, or the lack thereof. One can’t simply “grow” this supposedly beneficial status via infusions of cash.

For being bourgeois (aka middle class) is really an attitude, and it’s one that people formerly yearned for and carefully cultivated. Becoming middle class was in most cases, synonymous with becoming something of a gentleman or lady, and not only dressing the part, but naturally convincing people in those sartorial choices. Not to mention in how one spoke, and in what one did with an education or manners (with only time-outs to whoop it up at New Years’ parties or don bathrobes Sunday mornings).

Now? It’s a constant dress-down Friday? You can paint a jalopy, but it remains a jalopy? That sounds strong, but at the same time, anyone who thinks grunge can simply be turned off at some point and be quickly transmogrified upward is possibly deluded.

To become authentically middle class, there has to be a certain deference from the get-go, i.e., from childhood; and that deference, fear, respect, whatever you want to call it, has diminished. Even if it’s a cliche, people who lose respect early on for authority end up more basically losing respect for themselves.

In fact, grunginess you see in large towns and small towns, too, seems a kind of how-low-can-you go critique of conventionality — and we think money alone will somehow make such people “middle class”? It ain’t going to happen. Being bourgeois is again, a feeling that most-of-the-time respectability has value. Money? No question that many want to score the dough putatively necessary for a leap into the bourgeoisie; but the discipline to clean up language, looks, deportment and the rest to go with it? Nope, it’s basically “gimme the fish, but hold the fries” in this domain, which doesn’t create true middle-class status.

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