Economists say that the middle class in the United States shrinks every year. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, those left in the average income no-man's land struggle to come to grips with an American dream fading faster than the paint on a mid-90's Ford Tempo. The storied middle-American ideal of the two-story house with the white picket fence in suburbia is no longer a fortress of solitude for the average man. It has become the cave of the unwilling hermit, hiding from the polarizing socio-economic forces that threaten to tear his world apart.
As these pockets of brick-front/vinyl-sided housing break down across the United States and are replaced by mansions and tenements the middle class is sadly losing its identity. Children growing up in this climate, constantly being bombarded by the media with imagery of the rich and famous or the ghetto-fabulous, have no appreciation for the stable and comfortable lives they have been afforded.
Rather, they are pulled towards one of those two glorified economic extremes. While these poor, misled children build up the facade of rich or poor with designer jackets, gaudy jewlery or baggy pants, they lack the soul and attitude of true members of the fringe social classes. Middle class kids are too poor to afford the vast wardrobe, expensive automobiles and pridefull recklessness of their upper class peers, and lack the grit and determination of their poorer ones that comes from years of struggle and street life.
Unable to truly attain either goal, the children continue to try in vain, ultimately taking the most stereotypical aspects of their ideal and twisting and contorting them into a truly unique and evil middle class entity: the poser.
Posers cluster around two modes on the graph of socio-economic wannabe-ism. Naturally, these two modes correspond to lower and upper class posers. Lower class posers, the more entertaining of the two groups, are those middle class kids who spend their free hours watching a crazy amalgam of professional wrestling, NASCAR and MTV. The gigantic headphones hung around their oversized sports jerseys blast gangsta rap or perhaps the latest Linkin Park single direct from some useless pocket in the endless sea of cotton provided by enormous gray sweatpants. They are filled inside with a faux inner rage which mirrors the attitude of anger, violence and hopelessness that pervades the urban landscape, but their souls aren't pockmarked with toil and want. Their Reebok Classics are a little too clean, their hair combed a little too straight, and their vocabularies a little too self-consciously ignorant.
Even a casual glance reveals that these poor fools wouldn't last five minutes on the streets of a ghetto or the gravel paths of a trailer park. While lower-class posers cannot achieve the attitude of their idols, they can after a fashion achieve the style, which is sometimes enough to gain a minute amount of acceptance.
Tragically, upper-class posers are unable to attain either the attitude or the style of their wealthier counterparts. Despite this ultimate futility, the upper-class poser remains a persistent fixture in the American adolescent landscape. For entertainment, these specimens enjoy fawning over the ideal of great fame and fortune in such time-honored television shows as Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210. Their mp3 players follow the dance pop mainstream of Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake with a dash of Dave Matthews and John Mayer for some slight rock credibility.
Though there are occasional outbursts of designer clothing, the dominant trend in rich posers is an attempt at trying to appear down to earth. Armed with either a leather satchel bag from the Gap or a North Face jacket and backpack, these posers dress religiously in plaid and khaki, piling on enough t-shirts to survive an arctic excursion. Their cell phones are packed to the brim with the numbers of people they barely know and will never call.
And yet, despite the posers' best efforts, the true upper class constantly finds ways to confound the attempts of posers to blend seamlessly in the atmosphere of fast money. Layers of clothing designers with varying prices force posers to surface like oil in water, while the constant opportunities to spend quickly reveal the limitations of the posers, forcing them into a state of open ridicule. Always conscious of their truncated funding, the upper class poser can never appropriately feign the innate attitude or much-envied style of the truly rich.
No easily conceived plan can rescue these children from the confusion of their doomed middle class existence. The best we can possibly hope for is to pray that when they enter the workplace and have children of their own, the tax bracket they enter will reflect an attitude and identity that kids can easily latch onto and emulate, lest they too spend their lives feeling isolated from the realm of cool.
Andrew Waugh is a Trinity junior and a Chronicle summer columnist.
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