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40th Anniversary

Yuppies in Eden

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In Patrick Bateman, Ellis created the grown-up evil twin of Alex Keaton, a man for whom an Armani suit has more reality than the human being within it. Mergers and acquisitions? Murders and executions? Easily confused, as are Patrick’s nearly interchangeable friends, lovers, colleagues, and victims.

As much as the term conjures the eighties, the yuppie has never quite faded into history. In 2000, David Brooks tried to refine the concept, coining the term BoBo to describe an allegedly more enlightened consumer who combined the self-interest of the eighties with the liberal idealism of an earlier era, using the Y-word to denote a less enlightened group. In the meantime, the yuppie family tree has thrown off another branch, the hipster. Hipsters believed they were the ultimate anti-yuppies. Unlike their forebears, they wanted to be known not by their job or ambition but by their self-conscious disregard for either. If anything, the cult of connoisseurship was even more exaggerated in this subgroup. Their code, enshrined in Robert Lanham’s hyperironic 2003 Hipster Handbook, was inherently elitist, defining itself in opposition to the mainstream. Hipster consumerism championed the notions of alternative and independent, rejecting the yuppie embrace of certain consumer brands in favor of their own. So it was vintage T-shirts rather than Turnbull & Asser dress shirts with spread collars, Pabst Blue Ribbon over Chardonnay. But ultimately, whether you love Starbucks or loathe it, a world in which we are defined by our choice of blue jeans and coffee beans owes more to Alex Keaton than to Abbie Hoffman.

And as if to prove that the hipster and the yuppie are brothers under the skin, borough-bred columnists like Denis Hamill and Jimmy Breslin still find the yuppie label useful for bashing a certain breed of interloping effete New Yorker, the kinds of people who may in fact identify themselves as hipsters.

There probably are a few Budweiser-drinking union members left out in Brooklyn and Queens who guffaw at the idea of anyone belonging to a gym or buying coffee at any place other than a deli, but generally speaking, yuppie culture has become the culture, if not in reality, then aspirationally. The pods have pretty much taken over the world. The ideal of connoisseurship, the worship of brand names and designer labels, the pursuit of physical perfection through exercise and surgery—do these sound like the quaint habits of an extinct clan?


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