Another essay which forms part of the Now series by Pluto press. In this essay journalist and Bob Carr biographer Andrew West looks at the tastes and ‘values’ of the upper middle class. The tone of the essay is more that of a mild joke or ribbing, rather than a serious investigation.
Essentially, West breaks this affluent group down into two types. There are the ‘culturists’ and the ‘materialists’. The culturists go for status symbols that are imbued with authenticity. If they went out to spend their money on a kitchen table, they’d buy some ‘authentic’ piece of furniture made by third world peasants, paying a bomb for it in some trendy inner city shop. Or they’d buy an antique table with loads of history, even better if it has some impressive story behind it.
On the other hand , the materialists would go for the latest boutique brand name, something you’d probably see in the trendy Wallpaper magazine. For these types it’s all about money, and showing how much of the stuff they've got.
West concentrates more on the culturists in this essay, due to the fact that they are more complex. They want to be superior to everyone else, in their tastes and values, yet have to keep up democratic and human rights values. If they take a job that earns them a bomb of money, they have to offset it by making sure the job has some sort of socially redeemable value.
Culturists I guess you could accuse more of hypocrisy, whereas at least materialists are completely open about what they’re after.
Recently I was staring through the window of an up market second hand shop (not quite an antique store), staring at an old wooden bench that quite took my fancy. After a few moments of contemplation I realised that I liked the bench because I was seeking the ‘authentic’, a heavy old fifties wooden bench replete with original pastel colour paint job. Alas, I found that I am a hypocritical culturist!
I found this essay to be a bit of a let down. It’s just a tad glib. This is an essay that focuses on the superficial, and in the end comes off as being superficial itself.