October 16, 2004


So the other day, someone was at my house, and mentioned bobo's. Which he defined as people who are bourgeois bohemians, who won't buy extravagant stuff unless it has a practical purpose. And then he mentioned that these Bobo's typically like everything and so they don't just buy regular tomatoes, they buy heirloom tomatoes (we were eating a salad with 5 colors of heirloom tomatoes). They keep densely grained specialty bread in the freezer (I started laughing so hard because I had some dark whole wheat artisan bread in the freezer, with walnuts and cranberries and raisins) that costs ten dollars a loaf (mine actually was $2.39 a loaf from Trader Joe's, but still, I was totally nailed) and I admitted to keeping that, plus some sourdough in the freezer because it takes me a week to eat a loaf of bread, and in this climate, it will go stale in a day. And Bobo's won't buy a boat for $30k because that would be extravagant, but rather, will spend $30k on their bathrooms (he's not very familiar with the bay area, I guess, because I know many people here, who've spent more than twice that on a single bathroom -- though I have just painted mine, myself, for about $50 in supplies and put in some $12 Ikea lighting -- halogen! -- and added some inexpensive chrome towel bars.. but still! It's a faint yellow cream. And I refinished all the furniture myself, after buying it from garage sales...). I realize after doing some reading that there are also some counter-culture values that go along with this, but at the time, the definition I was given was purely around all this stuff. My stuff.

I have been labeled and I didn't even know this existed, a Bobo. I must have been in finals at school when that media event happened (the Trent Lott thing happened during one set of finals -- and I didn't even know he'd quit I was working so hard). But I've never heard anyone in the Bay Area talk about it. But he is totally right. Even though I like practical stuff, and do everything myself, I still have things around that fit the definition (it's actually also a delegation problem with the DIY, and too strong a sense that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, and the fact that I'm an insecure perfectionist.)

So then I looked around the house, and at myself (wearing, gasp, a suede shirt -- at least i had jeans on) and realized, he's totally right. I am a Bobo. I go OTT on many things, though I don't really shop much, never go to stores unless I need something which is rare, but when I do, I get that quality thing (the roast I made for dinner was not cooked in some cheap pan, but rather an Al Clad pan that cost a ridiculous sum -- and I admit, I have pans and knives that are really good -- though I'm not really into other kitchen gadgets -- the two that I have are like my kitchen aide mixer that is 80 years old, and came from an estate sale where it cost $2).

Anyway, you get from this confessional list that this is really bothering me. I don't want to be defined by some pejorative term, classified in some way like a consumer (I hate that term as well) of marketed products (I don't even get catalogues, that's how little I shop). And yet, I do have a few nice things, but now I question what they are here for, because I realize it is probably my ego that has been out of control, thinking that people would like more me if I had nice stuff in a way or that I would feel better with those things and it would gratify my ego and belief that I deserve nice things (the other reason I have these things is because I don't like shopping but once or twice a year, and I don't want stuff to break/rip/spoil and therefore also think these items will last longer -- back to the bobo definition of buying practical extravagant stuff that is justifiable somehow due to the practicality of it). The last example he pointed to was my 15" powerbook. Ack. It's true. I do spoil myself in certain ways. It's a combination of purchasing to self-indulge, a desire to be liked and respected, my overblown ego, and frustration when things break.

For a while I've been thinking I needed to get rid of more stuff (a few years ago I got rid of 80% of my possessions -- but I've bought a few things since then), and have less, be more practical, and live more minimally. But this makes me feel all the more transparently a faker with my things, and gives me an additional reason to divest from them, which have nothing to do with any of the things I really want, which is to be seen and loved for who I am. I guess I've felt that if I have certain things and do something useful, people will like me. If I didn't, they wouldn't.

I guess it's transparently obvious to others but I hadn't seen it or known the Bobo existed before. So I guess until I figure this out, you can refer to me as Bobo-at-Large.

Posted by Mary Hodder at October 16, 2004 01:03 PM | TrackBack

everything's got a label...and everyone.
And yes, a lot of information tech people fit into this category..i do, too,no doubt.
LOL, whatever.

Posted by: susan at October 16, 2004 04:46 PM

Run, do not walk your browser over to Amazon and get a copy of Commodify Your Dissent -- it'll help you sort it out a lot faster, and laugh while you're doing it.

Seems like everybody is trying to lay some trip on everybody else. I picked up a book called Confessions of a Slacker Mom -- which started out encouragingly enough, dismantling one bad trip by making fun of all the stuff your kid must have -- classical music for babies, the right preschool, enrichment activities -- or be stunted forever. But after taking off one trip she just lays another one right on down, saying that she has a 3X3 toy box for her kid, and if her kids' toys don't fit, they don't have them -- if they get a new toy, they have to choose to throw another one out. This sadism comes under the oh-so-respectable heading of Voluntary Simplicity.

The hell with that crap. Do you like your computer? Did the tomatoes smell and taste good? Are you having fun? The tomatoes and computers didn't cause bodily harm to anyone or defraud little old ladies of their pensions? No? Then who cares what anybody says. I mean that "everybody's got to be a rebel and utterly unique thing" is a trip, too -- it's the same one used to sell SUVs and identical Levi's. It's ok to have things in common with other people -- it's called community and shared values and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it as long as that community doesn't try to mess with the life and happiness of any other community. Last time I checked, heirloom tomatoes weren't a threat to world peace.

Just because David Brooks calls it bobo doesn't mean he knows what the hell he's talking about.

Say it loud, I love nice tomatoes and nice computers, and I'm proud!

Posted by: Lisa Williams at October 16, 2004 07:49 PM