Fuck this essay and fuck this writer.
"Oppression of the lower classes by the uppers" is a tried-and-true complaint dating back to Dickens or before. There's nothing new under the sun. But it takes a special kind of choad to attempt the argument using opposites.
Roll that beautiful bean footage.
Today, spin classes, artisanal food, and the college application process have replaced Sunday promenades, evening lectures, and weekly salons.
We've got a theme here that will reappear and reappear throughout the essay: access.
Spin classes - I took those at the Redmond Athletic Club, as many as I wanted, for $20 a month.
Artisanal food - available at your nearest food truck or city fair for pocket change.
"The college application process" - I mean, fuck right off with that shit.
Compare and contrast:
"Sunday Promenades" - wherein the author points out that Victorian parks required a permission slip to visit
"Evening lectures" - wherein the Victorians are simultaneously slammed for educating themselves and for attempting to keep up with the upper classes and holy shit it's not like "evening lectures" ceased to exist
"weekly salons" - WTF is a salon?
They spent a fearsome percentage of their incomes on home décor that showed affluence, taste, and modesty simultaneously. They knew that they had made it once they had a salon — a room in the house devoted entirely to entertaining guests that the residents would never enter alone.
So. The Victorians, by the author's admission, locked out the lower classes by doing "rich stuff" with an insurmountable barrier to entry for the lower classes. "Twenty First Century Victorians", on the other hand, apparently have a gym membership. Hey, shit-for-brains: let's talk Lululemon:
Once I arrived, I immediately realized that I was the only person not wearing exercise clothing. This is not to say everyone was exercising — most were out for a stroll, much like their predecessors — but they were dressed for the gym.
Let's not for a minute pretend that rich white people wearing athletic wear wasn't appropriated from poor black people. Sure, not much Pearl Izumi in the 'hood but if you've ever priced Air Jordans you know that it's a status symbol that doesn't exactly cater to the poor. But let's continue:
Marathon running has become the ultimate signifier: competitors can post photos on social media to prove to everyone that they have tortured their bodies in a highly virtuous — and not at all kinky — fashion.
I mean, I guess it's a rich thing because there was no Instagram in '36 or some shit.
Consider the gluten-free movement — those who choose to eliminate gluten from their diet, not those who have celiac disease and must eschew wheat entirely. A few years ago, I joked that finding a gluten-free resident in my rural Nebraska hometown would have been akin to finding the collected works of Peter Kropotkin in the local library. Now “gluten- free” food appears on nearly every local supermarket shelf.
If I can buy gluten-free Ronzoni for 30 cents more than not-gluten-free Ronzoni it has ceased to be a signifier. More to the point, the fact that I can buy gluten-free Ronzoni hasn't elevated the status of Tinkyada - it's destroyed it. Nobody wants to pay $7 for fuckin' rice noodles anymore. That's not elitism, that's market forces.
It is hardly coincidental that these new expectations require money and time. A working mother who has to juggle multiple service-sector jobs will find it much harder to pump breast milk at work than a woman in an office job. (Not to mention the disparity in parental leave between white- and blue-collar workers.)
Again, not elitism, market forces. That whole "go to college, get a good job" thing is about landing in a place with family leave, rather than juggling multiple service-sector jobs. And yeah - there's plenty of elitism, there's plenty of privilege, and there's plenty of shutting out the poor... but you're describing a symptom, not a cause. So far, the argument is "if you want to look rich, put on bike shorts, eat gluten-free and nurse your kid." That beats the shit out of having to build a salon.
Of course, exercising, eating organic food, and pushing children to use their spare time usefully are not inherently bad things. However, they become markers of bourgeois values when they are marshaled to assert one class’s moral superiority over another and to justify social inequality.
ONLY IF YOU SUPPRESS THE ABILITY OF BLACK PEOPLE TO EAT ORGANIC FUCKING FOOD.
Social signifiers in the Victorian era were not available to the poor. They included things like chauffeurs. Check it out: "telephone sanitizer" was an actual thing." Social signifiers in the modern era are there for the effort of it. But hey - let's hector "the rich" because we're Jacobin mag:
Imagine if all of the energy used to get mediocre, upper-class children into prestigious colleges was redirected into making higher education more accessible and affordable across the board. Imagine if access to healthy food for all was prioritized over attaining status through buying the most virtuous products. Imagine, in short, what our world would look like if socialist values — not Victorian ones — dominated.
Over 50% of college students are on some form of financial aid. Our former first lady spent eight years on nutrition for children. And boy howdy - enjoy your letters section when you imply to the Jacobin Magazine audience that shopping at Trader Joe's somehow makes you a Victorian elitist.
It's one thing if you can pull off an argument like this. It's a whole 'nuther thing when you faceplant in dung.