Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Bobo Generation

The Bobo Generation

David Brooks book Bobos in Paradise is a hilarious account about the new upper middleclass which he calls Bourgeous Bohemians or "Bobos".

According to Brooks, once upon a time, it used to be easy to distinguish between the bourgeoisie and the bohemians: the former were square, practical, elitist and they represented the traditional boring middle-class morality; the bohemians on the other hand were free unconventional free spirits--rebels, artists, hisppies, beatniks and intellectuals who enjoyed flouting convention. These were two opposing lifestyles. Each group have a certain contempt for the other.

Today we find a new breed of class called "Bobos". Bobos in Brooks' words are "highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success". And signs of this new phenomenon of Boboism are everywhere.

In some ways, this class of Bobos sprang from the bohemians of the sixties who have finally grown up, and achieved a measure of bourgeois respectability but yet refuse to admit that they have betrayed their former values. So they have infused bourgeois institutions with bohemian sensibilities.

This Boboism is most evident in the taste of consumers today. Bohemians showed their solidarity with the working class by choosing to live a life of poverty; Bobos today tend to spend huge amounts of money on things that used to be cheap. One of the rules of Bobo "financial correctness" is that one should never spend lavish amounts on luxuries but by all means, spend lavishly on "necessities".

So we end up sipping coffee at Starbucks instead of the traditional Chinaman kopitiam. We attire ourselves in designer workman clothes which used to be fit to be worn only by the neighbourhood mechanic or plumber. (we needed those pockets to stuff our latest Sony Clie PDA and Samsung camera phone). Spending a fortune on a executive leather briefcase is vulgar but lugging our Centrino notebooks in an equally expensive designer camouflage backpack is cool.

Home furnishings shouldn't hint at any aristocratic opulence but should instead have the patina of peasantry. The rough natural look is in. We don't seem to mind paying a premium for textures and veins. The same thing goes with our diet: we jostle with the weekend crowd at upmarket malls to replenish our ration of fibre and organic food--things we used to grow in our backyard under Tun Abdul Razak's Rancangan Buku Hijau. As David Brooks put it, "unrefined sugar is now considered by many to be the height of refinement".

There's nothing wrong in being a Bobo; it is just a reflection of the times. We are becoming a more affluent and educated society and have gotten a bit comfortable with our middleclass luxuries--yet we do not want to abandon the bohemian idealism of our youth. In the end, we end up living a lifestyle that attempts to fuse the best of both worlds. Most of us, in one way or another, are Bobos. It is fun to laugh at ourselves a bit and learn to acknowledge and perhaps even celebrate, our Bobohood.

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