Charles Murray’s piece in the Washington Post today argues that yes, of course there’s a new elite, and yes, of course they’re totally out-of-touch. He describes the new elite in some detail. I was surprised to discover that apparently I’m half-plebe, despite having been sure that if anyone qualified as “elite,” it was me:
With geographical clustering goes cultural clustering. Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows — “Mad Men” now, “The Sopranos” a few years ago. But they haven’t any idea who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right.” They know who Oprah is, but they’ve never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.
Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.
They can talk about books endlessly, but they’ve never read a “Left Behind” novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).
They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn’t be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.
There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven’t ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn’t count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn’t count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.
So, let’s translate this into a “How Plebe are You?” quiz. I’ll go first:
1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?” No.
2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?” In great detail.
3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” No clue.
4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Yes.
5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Yes.
5. How about pilates? No way, that’s boring.
5. How about skiing? Nope.
6. Mountain biking? I’ve never been near a mountain bike in my life.
7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? No idea.
9. Can you talk about books endlessly? Sure, that’s why they pay me the big bucks.
10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel? No, but frankly, I’ve never read most of the books I talk about. Let’s keep that between us, though.
11. How about a Harlequin romance? Yes! I have! Start to finish!
12. Do you take interesting vacations? I’ll say.
13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? Nope.
14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Where’s that?
15. Would you be caught dead in an RV? I’ve been caught alive in one.
16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? I can’t afford to go on a cruise ship.
17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? Yes, but is there something I should know about it?
18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No.
19. How about the Rotary Club? Yes, many.
20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? What’s the cutoff for “small?”
21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? I’d be surprised if any of my neighbors did.
22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? No.
23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Yes.
24. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes.
25. Have you worked on one? No.
I really don’t know what to conclude from this. Murray suggests that the people who do poorly on this test are “isolated and ignorant.” Phew, I’m glad I did okay!
Who here’s more plebe than me? Pat, I bet you aced that Price is Right question. James, you’re totally suspect, you know way too much about “Mad Men.”
Dave Carter’s going to stumble on the Harlequin Romances, I predict, proving that he’s a secret elitist.
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