Thursday, February 2, 2012

"The Short Life of the American Yuppie"

In Nicholas Mills 1990 book, Culture in an Age of Money: The Legacy of the 1980s In America, Henry Hertzberg writes an interesting critique of ‘The Yuppie’ in 1990s America. Former editor of magazine New Republic as well as chief speech writer for President Jimmy Carter from 1979-1981 and correspondent for both Newsweek and the New Yorker, Hertzberg writes The Short Life of the American Yuppie.

Hertzberg defines the Yuppie figure as a baby boomer, “born between 1946 and 1964” he states that “people who make $40,000 or more, live in cities, and work in professional or managerial jobs” may be defined as ‘Yuppie’, suggesting this would account for approximately one and a half million Americans in 1990. However, he also states that the Yuppie may be categorised less specifically as “baby boomers who went to college, live in metropolitan areas, and work in offices”, in which case he states that they would account for approximately twenty million of the population of the United States in 1990. Hertzberg states that to define a Yuppie you have to consider lifestyle as well as statistics, suggesting that the identity of the Yuppie may be defined by what they consume as well as what they produce - they are tangible.

This loose definition of the Yuppie along with Hertzberg’s concept that the Yuppie is a tangible figure suggest that the Yuppie identity is one that can be achieved by any (to one degree or another). The fact that during the 1980s the Yuppie identity was consumed to such an extent indicates that it is an ideological identity – characterised by success, wealth, fashion and fitness. It appears that by consuming the Yuppie identity a person would have all aspects of life under control – an understandably appealing concept.

However, while this may have been the case during the 1980s – an era of Reaganomics – Hertzberg states that the concept of ‘Yuppiedom’ is no longer prosperous entering the 1990s, suggesting that it was about to experience “imminent collapse”. He states: “The intimations – political, demographic, cultural, economic, journalistic and culinary – are everywhere that Yuppiedom is (to use a popular Yuppie phrase, possible connected with the well-known Yuppie preference for grilled fish and crunchy vegetables) dead meat.” – pp68.

He goes on to state that “something that began as a demographic category with cultural overtones and ended up as a moral category the term Yuppie in 1990 is understood more as a term of abuse.” This suggests that the values associated with the identity of the Yuppie have changed, something that Hertzberg puts down to the Stock Market Crash of 1987 – where the ‘period of prosperity’ had been undermined by “wild borrowing, excessive consumption, decreased savings, and unbridled corporate cannibalism” – in other words, Reaganomics. He likens this 'collapse' of the Yuppie to that of the 1960s Hippie and the 1970s 'Yippie', suggesting that it is inevitable that we move on to new identities relevant to the time in which they are formed. In turn this suggests that the role of the Yuppie in 1980s America was significant and a reflection of historical and cultural context of the time.

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