Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I'm now reading the book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell. Absolutely fascinating, and sure to raise hackles. Fussell divides Americans into six classes:


Upper Class

Upper Middle


High Prole (Proletariat)

Mid Prole

Low Prole


Some of you are probably offended already. And really, this book does descend into the superficial and silly, as Fussell uses long lists of exterior markers to define the classes people belong to. According to him, even the flowers in your garden advertise your class:

Anyone imagining that just any sort of flowers can be presented in the front of a house without status jeopardy would be wrong. Upper-middle class flowers are rhododendrons, tiger lilies, amaryllis, columbine, clematis, and roses, except for bright-red ones.... prole flowers include anything too vividly red, like red tulips. Declassed also are phlox, zinnias, salvia, gladioli, begonias, fuchsias, and petunias. Members of the middle class will sometimes hope to mitigate the vulgarity of bright-red flowers by planting them in a rotting wheelbarrow or rowboat displayed on the front lawn, but seldom with success.

This book, while at times exasperating, has had me relating almost everything I do to what it says about social class. For example, we have been shopping for a new couch. First of all, “buying a couch” is a quintessentially middle class activity, especially if you do so at national chains or mail order like Pottery Barn. Stores like Rent-a-center serve the “proles.” The Upper and Top classes probably do not buy couches as such, but “discover” them at auctions, or else the same couch has been in the family since 1817. In fact, if the shabbiness of one's couch is a class status indicator, then I am the Queen of England:

So anyway, there we were at Better Living, with its “tasteful” “rooms.” The front of the store held the middle class couches—those that ape the style that might be seen in upper middle living rooms—although there was a surprising number of stiff little T-cushioned fussy plaid or floral couches that I thought went out of style in the 1980s. We wandered into the back of the store and I could see we were in the Proletariat room. All the couches had those big waterfall-like cushions such as you see on reclining chairs, and many came with built in cup holders. After considering the options available to us at Better Living, Grand's, Bassett Furniture Direct, Artful Lodger, and Under the Roof, we selected something called the “khaki classic” at Grand's. With matching love seat. To be delivered Thursday.

I know it's mass-produced crap—but when you have four children and two dogs, mass-produced crap is a sensible option. I know, the more sensitive person would buy a second-hand couch, but I have always furnished my house with hand-me-downs or items from Circa and Second Wind—even a few garbage picked things—and for once, I'd like some upholstery that will bear only the stains of my own family and not someone else's.

Who knew that buying a couch could be so intellectually intense?

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