Friday, October 13, 2006

Social Descenders

"The great difference I observe when I visit Cambridge nowadays is that compared with my own time there, they are all-dons and undergraduates alike-on the run, and, as is the way with fugitives, tend to disgard more than they need to make a getaway. Whereas in my time, poor boys like myself were induced to copy others-their clothes, their ways, their speech-now it is the other way round. The upper-class boys copy the poor ones, decking themselves out in a weird kind of proletarian fancy dress, and speaking in an accent which sounds like a badly rehearsed number in a satire show. They are social descenders, who display in reverse, all the absurdities, and more, of social climbers. The most comical part of the whole thing is that when, to clinch the transformation, they adopt what they consider an appropriate ideology, it usually turns out to be a half-baked regurgitation of the Marxism and associated revolutionary notions which were fashionable at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Again, the parallel with the situation in reverse as I knew it is strikingly close. The social climber in my day felt it necessary to go to the extremes of Kiplingesque patriotic loyalty to King and Country, in precisely the same way that the social descender nowadays goes to the extremes of revolutionary disruption. It is difficult to decide which of the two attitudes is the more ludicrous; but on the whole, the latter seems to me to be the more deleterious. A ruling class may gain strength from its apes, but the forces of necessary change are weakened and discredited by jackals." -Malcolm Muggeridge

Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell are classic examples of the social climber and the social descender. Waugh was educated at Lancing and Oxford and Orwell was an Old Etonian, Waugh adopted the pose of the country squire and Orwell that of the working class, Waugh was Ultra-Tory and Orwell Marxist/Socialist...They were both born into the English middle class.

Today the 'climber' has virtually disappeared and we are left with nothing but 'descenders'. As one reader pointed out; "
It is when societies are in decline that this process reverses. Thus, in the United States today--indeed throughout Western Civilization-- we see the degeneration of those who are wealthier and better educated. Those who should know better now go around imitating the underbelly of society, the poor and criminal elements. As a result, you see rich suburbanites and prep school kids going about with tattoos and dressed like whores. And using language that's identified with drug addiction and prison life."

Mr. Udolpho had a brilliant post concerning the horrid state of dressing in the business world. We disagreed on his point that the men of the wealthy/educated classes were the worst offenders in this area, much more so than women of the same class. I felt that this was not true, except that yes, women probably dress better at work or in the office than men (but I have seen exceptions to this, as I am sure we all have) but outside of the office I think wealthy/educated women are worse than men. Mainly because women should indeed know better, much more so than men who are notoriously ambivalent about how they dress. But I think that Mr. Udolpho sees where I was coming from when I saw this update to his post:

Postscript: "A few people have observed that the general problem of informal and immature dress afflicts women as well as men. I think it is true that women do not dress as formally or impressively as they did 50 or 70 years ago, and there is a growing percentage of women (most with daddy issues) who get into tattoos, piercings, and skank couture � which at its bimbo-ish extreme leads to breast implants and pubic haircare and other Maxim-izatons. So I am open to being convinced on this point. A worse problem for the distaff sex is that of aging into their 30s, 40s, and 50s desperately deploying cosmetics, surgery, dyes, and injections to acquire that mummified youth look which is so unflattering. The worst of this are the punky hairstyles so many of them go for well into menopause. Very undignified."

Exactly. It was the tattoos, piercings and skank that I was trying to get at...This is ubiquitous and is being adopted by girls, I suppose with the support of their mothers, at younger and younger ages. And this goes back to the original post: middle aged women (and men) should act, dress and conduct themselves as middle aged people. Your youth is over, time to be an adult. Dressing like one might just help you to act like one.

***Hat tip (I actually wear one) to the Ladies High Tea...You know who you are.