Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"Crunchingly" conservative

Matt's talking about "crunchy conservatism" again, wraps it around the Target vs. Wal-Mart debate, and serves it up with a nice Tazo Green Tea. And I've been sitting here for two days trying to figure out what I can add to the discussion. But I can't think of anything to say, so I'll just link it, and quote a section.
Many people hold to this ideal, regardless of their economic status. They enjoy having "nice" things, whether or not it is something they can attain on an everyday basis. Perhaps these people do not have the money to consistently live the high life, but they appreciate nice or unique things: a quiet restaurant, ethnic food, good coffee, jazz or perhaps a movie based on something more profound than big explosions and fart jokes. David Brooks has certainly explored this phenomenon (see Bobos in Paradise) and while this is not a perfect lifestyle, I think these people can get more right than they get wrong.

Yet there is a flipside to this outlook, and I think it is the crux of the debate between Wal-Mart and Target. There is a large group of Americans, typically within the middle class, who feel that those "nice" things I just mentioned are for the rich, the spoiled, the bratty. To appreciate such things would be a betrayal of their own middle class values. These are the people who enjoy chain restaurants, not because the food is necessarily good (and it can be), but because they would not set foot inside a locally-owned eatery with hip decor because "did you see the cars in the parking lot? Those people wouldn't want me there. They're all stuck up and I don't want everyone staring at me. That's where rich people eat." This is to say nothing of the menu or prices at the eatery, but I do not think I am going out on a limb to suggest that this attitude is common, particularly in flyover country.

Actually, I'll say this. I don't think "Wal-Mart Americans" (Wal-Martians?) consciously think they're betraying their "class" by appreciating nice things.[1] I don't think it even crosses their minds. Rather, I think it's the "birds of a feather" phenomenon. They go where others like them go; they engage in activities that others like them engage in, not out of "class loyalty" but because it's comfortable. (This also becomes a chicken-and-egg question, though. Which came first? Cracker Barrel or the clientele with a need that Cracker Barrel fills?)

And as long as I'm speaking in aphorisms, you can lead a Red-Stater to NPR, but you cannot make him listen.
Right now pundits are studying the war of values between red states and blue states, but far more remains to be said about the battle between red state tastes and blue state tastes and the manner in which this might affect the economy and the voting booth.

I think there have been a number of assumptions about the tastes of Red-Staters vs. the tastes of Blue-Staters. New Yorkers (for example) operate on the assumption that no one who lives in the city and partakes of its culture could possibly vote for George Bush. Meanwhile, I'm surrounded by people who drive pick-ups with gun racks and vote Democrat.

Oh, that's enough for now. I want to examine this a little more, but it's getting late.


1. I find the "Target/Wal-Mart" divide to be much less pronounced than some people do. I guess our Wal-Mart isn't nearly as filthy as some Wal-Marts (just ugly) and I really never thought of Target as being upper middle class. (After all, Target exists because the Dayton-Hudson Corporation knows that not everyone can afford to shop at Marshall Fields.) But at the same time, I cannot explain why our region's homeliest people can be found at Wal-Mart and nowhere else.


At 2:43 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Dang it, dude. I thought I could get off this topic, but, alas, you've brought me back.

This is fun, though. I love it.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Sean Hackbarth said...

Dayton-Hudson no longer exists. A few years ago the company changed their name to Target since most of their business was from the discount stores. Then last year (or early this year) Marshall Fields was sold to May Department stores. Target is just Target and nothing more.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Thanks, Sean. I wasn't aware that the Dayton-Hudson Co. disappeared.


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