Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teacup violins

I think the NYT heard me claim that I wasn't going to read any more of its lifestyle articles beginning Jan. 1, and decided to do whatever the newspaper equivalent is of when tobacco companies increase the dose of nicotine to keep addicts from abandoning ship. They are providing these bloggable delights that I mustmustmust read and respond to. Resolutions, alas. I have until the 31st.

First, there is the couple that decided to turn its wedding into a celebration of every trendy do-gooder variant of smug. My mind, it explodes. They hate stuff! They sell t-shirts! Sample quote: "During the reception, Mr. Friedlander asked his guests to please recycle their cups, 'because we’re really in a serious situation with climate change.'" Those writing novels set in present-day yuppie NY milieus are now kicking themselves because they did not come up with this line. It's also a "Styles Style" first, in that the journalist actually lets on what she thinks of the people she's covering.

Next, the paper actually asked readers to provide their thoughts on issues at the intersection of dog breeds and Manhattan real estate. Maybe readers would have opinions on this? Maybe! Opinions such as:

-It's imprisonment to have a dog in any apartment of any size, any breed.
-Dogs experience "horror and humiliation" if forced to defecate on cement.
-It's dog abuse to have dogs without 300 acres for them to roam on.
-It's wrong to ask which breed goes best in an apartment, because rescue! (Never mind that there are breed-specific rescues.)
-It's wrong to ask which breed goes best in an apartment, because there are so many wonderful pit bulls in NY shelters.
-Dog breeds are like races, and to make distinctions among them is racist.
-If you have a preference re: dog breed, you should instead get a cat.

My own take is that, while I still don't understand the logistics of initially housebreaking a dog in a high-rise (everything we read explained that you need to scoop your puppy up and outside quickly in that initially stage, which we did, and now she's housebroken), I'm not sure how living outside the city would be better for a dog. Yes, it's a problem to leave a dog alone all day in an apartment, but are dogs left alone all day in a house or yard so much happier? The yard solves the "bathroom" question, but doesn't mean there are other dogs to play with, or that there's anything much to do, or that the owner's around.

If anything, suburban owners probably feel that because their dogs get enough "outside" time, they don't need specific exercise or socialization. Dogs in the city can go to dog runs, meet lots of dogs and people, have quick and easy access to emergency (and routine) vets, dog sitters/walkers/day care/grooming, etc. And yes, I'm aware that actually owning/leasing/something a car would make the suburbs more manageable, and if all goes according to plan, soon, but the convenience of city life seems like a good thing for dogs as well as for people. I know that the muck through which I walk Bisou is meant to be "good for dogs," but I kind of think she'd prefer things in the city, with better access to croissants and Uniqlo. Or am I projecting?

Finally, there's the requisite cue-the-tiny-violins discussion of privilege. What, in this "Occupy" age, should rich parents tell their kids? This from, of course, the parenting blog. And just as every post with the word "dog" in it leads to scolding about rescues, here it's a predictable enough response about how rich people should really be giving to charity, as if there's some reason to believe that the rich people in question are not already doing so.

The official WWPD assessment: It would seem the answer depends on the age of the kid, etc., but that what would need to be explained is that "rich" means two separate things. One is intangible, cultural, educational, etc. privilege, which is there for rich kids virtually whichever choices their parents make, simply by virtue of raising kids in wealthy surroundings. The other is the question of whether the child is wealthy, as in whether the child has much of the freedom that comes from having money to spend. For adults, one big perk of having lots of money is, it can be spent on this, that, the other. A child from a super-rich home, with a minimal allowance or (in less quaint terms) no credit card might have all the cultural privilege, but doesn't have the independence that comes from actually, personally, having access to money.

Of course how much money a family has available matters, but among the population not experiencing genuine need, it doesn't matter as much as one might think. There are plenty of kids with the "wrong" jeans because their well-off parents don't want to be buying $100 jeans for their kids (b/c of the values that promotes, b/c it seems like a waste, etc.), and plenty of kids in the "right" ones as a result of their parents' sacrifices with that particular goal in mind. (Growing up, the kid in my class who had the toughest time of it, clothing-wise, was from a very wealthy family, and her parents no doubt spent gobs on her clothes, but made her wear those little-girl smocked dresses when everyone else was wearing flannel in emulation of Kurt Cobain. What "privilege" that must have been for her.)

And, unless a family is so rich, and is 100% confident about passing along that wealth to the kids, it would seem that there's a danger in passing along an idea of noblesse oblige, "we" are so very very lucky, let's give thanks, blah blah, when the kid could perfectly well grow up and not have these advantages, and needing to do such radical things as clean his own bathroom and check what things cost at the supermarket. Nothing will change the fact that a kid grew up rich, but any number of things can happen later in life. I mean, when a kid from a wealthy home gets a typical teenager job, this is in part to "build character" and to make him less of an ass to food-service workers in the future, but it's also giving him life skills should he need to be at the mercy of bosses in not-glamorous situations in the future. Social mobility isn't the well-oiled machine it ought to be, but it's not entirely non-existent, and cuts both ways.

So I suppose I don't think it's being refreshingly honest to tell a child how rich "he" is, when the relevant fact is how rich his parents are. Which is still a very relevant fact in terms of his life experience, but which isn't the same as his being rich.


Jenny said...

Very interesting re: rich kids. But I think you're forcing the difference between a rich child and rich parents a bit much. It's not about the granting or denying of a generous enough allowance to buy the right jeans. The most salient factor for the psychology of the wealthy is a deep sense of security, of having a safety net to keep you out of truly damaging poverty no matter how hard you fuck up. Kids from poor families and from working class, paycheck-to-paycheck families don't have that, and in my experience they understand their lives differently because of that.

Phoebe said...


I mostly agree with that, but with two caveats. First is that parents also get to choose what to tell their kids. Kids might figure out the truth, and parents can't fake security where there's insecurity or vice versa. But you do get plenty of parents raising kids to think they're X socioeconomically, when X has nothing to do with the family's true situation. So you get families where the parents are professionals, raising their kids to believe no safety net exists, or perhaps that it could, but it would be so shameful for the kid to seek that out that it as good as doesn't exist. And you get families that try desperately to give their kids the impression that there isn't need when there is, and depending just how needy they are, and what things are like for other families they know, this either will or won't be convincing.

The other caveat is that, unless we're talking the super-rich, there isn't a safety net that gets passed along from generation to generation. All it would take is one kid squandering a not-enormous trust fund, the parents making a few ill-considered investments, and so forth. In a country without much in the way of a safety net coming from the government, one need not be all that paranoid to come from a not-poor family and fear poverty. It's a different kind of fearing poverty, for sure, than what someone who'd actually experienced it could have. But those who are middle class, give or take, and feel impervious are, to some extent, fooling themselves.