Sunday, October 11, 2009

The crime of LOOKING poor

The New York Times has a truly fascinating article on the battle over the right to hang your clothes dry. First off an interesting statistic from the article is at least 6% of household electrical consumption comes from clothes dryers. That is something that is maybe used for only a few hours a week. (Contrast that to refrigerators that are on constantly). It makes sense since they are basically super large incandescent light bulbs.

So a clear way to reduce one's carbon footprint would be to hang your clothes outside and benefit from the heat of the sun. But in most private communities, this is banned. The primary reasons is that it is thought to lower property values. But clotheslines themselves do not lower property values it's the really what they signal.

“The issue has brought together younger folks who are more pro-environment and very older folks who remember a time before clotheslines became synonymous with being too poor to afford a dryer,” said a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia, State Senator Linda T. Puller

So an item of choice, becomes an item of not looking poor. Note that it doesn't actually say that if you hang your clothes, that you are poor. Just that you appear poor. Americans for claiming to be a class free society are sure hung up on status. If anything, perhaps it's that we have imprinted in our collective psyche that profligacy equals success. Look at the mcmansions, the SUVs, the rise of disposables as signifiers of success.

Now supposedly there was a time when being wasteful was looked down upon, as being uncouth and a sign of being uneducated. Being prudent was viewed as having good common sense. Now it's looked as if you are being poort. So instead we hock our lives in debt to look wealthy instead of actually being wealthy.

Perhaps we need to rethink what status means, and how we demonstrate it.


At 10:37 AM , Blogger Jane said...

An article in the Straits Times tells of a young Chinese woman who dispatched 30 Mercedes Benzes to pick up her $580,000 Tibetan mastiff from the airport last month.

A survey by New York market research firm Pao Principle found that almost 90% of “well heeled” Chinese surveyed had purchased a designer handbag in the past year.

It said nearly two-thirds of the men surveyed and a third of women also bought a luxury watch in the same period, while another 30% said they had gone home with one of the signature blue boxes of high-end jeweler Tiffany.

The Americans, when it comes to showing off wealth, are soooo behind the Chinese population...

At 9:02 PM , Blogger Charles said...

True Americans are not the worst, I think in China it's about looking rich which is not the same thing as not looking poor. This may be a continuation of the idea of Middle class. I am curious what the statistics are for well heeled. I know that Kate Spade and Manolo Blahniks were popular among the young.

The Chinese want to show off their wealth, American's don't want to look poor. It's not quite the same. But the question of what is a definition of poor has changed over the ages.

At 10:46 PM , Blogger Joe W. said...

Tangent?: in college wasn't it cool to be a badge of honor or something? "We are so poor that..."

Anyway, interesting tidbits...nice points of departure for much deeper questions about culture and wealth. I am recalling the Potlatch tradition of many north american cultures of the pacific northwest - the most powerful families being the ones that invited their tribe members together for ceremonies in which they gave away large portions of their personal wealth...I dont want to get carried away in some naive exotification of these cultures, but i feel like this type of cultural practice seems so sadly foreign...


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