Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The Status Seekers, Vance Packard, David McKay Co, 1959, 323 pp

This volume is Packard's follow-up to The Hidden Persuaders. In it he posits that despite our fond belief in America being a democratic society, we are in fact not classless. According to his studies of sociology and observations based on his travels and interviews, he outlines a "system of horizontal social strata" consisting of five divisions. In addition he presents a vertical system of cross-strata based on differentness, such as racial (Blacks, immigrants) and religious (Jews.) In other words you can be a wealthy, educated African American but that does not mean you are wholly or truly considered upper class.

He also points out trends following World War II and their results as of the the 1950s: the growing emphasis on college education, the tendency of big business to hire college grads for management positions instead of people with experience in running their own businesses, and the increase in technology as it influences blue collar professions.

I was not convinced that all his data adds up in the way he seemed to think it did, but he is one of only a few writers at that time who tackled the subject. He presents his findings in everyday language, taking them out of academia and to the streets.

As I read, I realized the stresses my parents were under while raising a family. They were both college graduates from families who were blue collar, second generation German immigrants. Although they claimed to resist the marketing pressures of the 1950s, they were proud to be homeowners who could afford to put an addition on the house as we grew up and to raise us in a "good" neighborhood in Princeton, NJ. They sent me and my two sisters to college. I think they felt they had achieved a somewhat upper middle class status and wanted us to live that way.

Of course, we entered college in the 60s, all became hippies, dropped out and took up alternative lifestyles. Then those lifestyles ended up being mainstream in the yuppie 90s. We were also raised with plenty of encouragement and opportunities in the arts. Packard states that artists, musicians, and writers float more effortlessly among the classes and I have found that to be true.

The Status Seekers is slanted against big business because of its regimentation which he documents at length. Packard is also clearly on the side of the common man and considers himself free of racial and religious prejudice. I suppose today he would be called a bleeding liberal. 

The writing style is less lively than in his previous book. I did a good bit of skimming. He gets downright preachy in the final chapters and comes across as an innocent utopian. "If only people would..." People don't, in my experience. I admire him though, for telling it like it was and I hope he made some people uncomfortable. He provides a sociological perspective on how we ended up in a deep recession with the one percenters holding most of the wealth.

(The Status Seekers is out of print but can be found through used booksellers.)

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