Thursday, December 06, 2007

Decadence and realism

Withywindle of Athens and Jerusalem agrees that social conservatism implies middle-class values but disagrees that we can use the word "bourgeois" to describe these values in the American context. Too French? I'm all for accepting that French words exist in English--just because they're not keen on returning the favor doesn't mean we have to follow suit. But the point of this post is that middle-class/bourgeois values showed up in a big way in last night's Gossip Girl. Serena's uptight mother finally came around about Dan Humphrey, her rebel-socialite daughter's non-high-society boyfriend. She tells Dan that since Serena's started seeing him, she comes home at a reasonable hour, doesn't drink, and doesn't do drugs. He's what's known as a Good Influence, the dream of every teen parent, on-screen and off-. Dan, who is middle class-ish, brings Serena the middle-class values she so desperately needs, because as we all know by now she's not getting them from her mom or Blair, certainly not from Chuck... In the very same episode, which was, I should note, a bit more interesting than the accompanying pasta, Dan's mother, who has recently reappeared after some fling or other, also imposes middle-class values, announcing that Dan's sister, Little J, is grounded and cannot go to a debutante ball. To be grounded is, of course, very bourgeois. The other characters are above the middle-class law and can go anywhere they want, whenever they want, so long as they marry and go to college in ways that conform with what's needed to stay in the upper class.

But is the Humphrey family really as bourgeois as all that? The father is an aging rock musician, and he lives in Williamsburg. The mother, an artist, sleeps around, literally, and only lives with her husband and children when it suits her. That they nevertheless send their kids to school on the Upper East Side suggests that they might be bourgeois bohemians, but the more likely possibility is that... wait for it... the show makes no sense whatsoever.


Withywindle said...

Fame! Fortune! A blog-post reference!

Truly, I can't remember any American outside of a small set of humanities-educated college graduates who use the word "bourgeois." Nor "intelligentsia." I don't think most Americans find the concept strange, just the word choice.

My TV addiction of choice, however, is Heroes. I think one could argue for middle-class values here and there in the show--but I wouldn't go overboard on the argument. Noah Bennett is a Good, Responsible Father--and a Hitman for a Secret Corporation Seeking to Control the World or Something Even More Sinister. A little sui generis to be an exemplar for the masses.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the show - But I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that the reason a good work like "bourgeois" is not used more is that it has a Marxist taint - after being a rhetorical trope on the left for so long.

That's the politics of it. Even in France, Segolene was mocked for calling marriage a bourgeois value.
Can you imagine if HRC used that word - say when describing her love for Falubert or Balzac?

Anonymous said...

Excuse the typos above - Good spelling is a false bourgeois value anyway.