26 October 2013

The Curse of the Middle Class



It’s a terrible idea for a woman to marry a man for whom she believes she is settling. Conversely, it’s usually a good idea for a man to marry a woman who is below his station in life. The relative classlessness of America (on both counts) makes opaque what would be fairly transparent in a more firmly stratified culture.

Perhaps this is true, but I think Cane is describing more of a middle class phenomenon.  In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy paints the picture of sociological change in Russia, in which marriages transition from being arranged by parents (the old tradition) to being arranged by the participants(?).  This was also a time in which the upper society was starting to become flatter, if memory serves me correctly. Anyhow, the point I’m getting at is that a less-stratified society makes it more difficult to make “smart” marriages (which was the lament of Kitty’s parents, IIRC).

To add weight to my claim, does anyone think that elite Americans have a difficult time figuring out who to marry?  Wealth and status at the higher end of society is pretty clear-cut, thanks to Forbes.  Everyone basically knows who’s wealthy and how much they have, and beauty isn’t that difficult to figure out either. Since money and influence equals status among the elite, it’s fairly simple to figure out who ranks where.

In contrast, it’s harder to discern this in the middle class, where people are basically equal and interchangeable in terms of status.  If women are trying to marry up and not settle, they are basically left to nit-pick over very minute differences, which will likely be irrelevant in less than a decade.  Perhaps, then, this is why women seem so picky.  If most middle class men are basically interchangeable, how can one distinguish among them?  Well, the men must distinguish themselves.

Of course, it’s easier to discern status in the lower class, where having the only functional car on the block, or the largest television in the neighborhood, automatically makes you king of the corner.  This sounds ludicrous, and also explains why poor blacks and trailer trash throw status symbols like being tacky is their full-time vocation.  Being the big fish in a small pond is tacky, but it does have its rewards.

Thus, the problem Cane describes isn’t an American problem per se but an American middle-class problem.  And the solution, as always, is more cowbell Game.*

* Funny how the solution to the problem of equality and its twin sister feminism is increased hierarchism. You can’t know your place until you admit that it first exists.