Monday, April 27, 2009

On Frugality

Since the country plunged into "the worst economic crisis since the 1930s" (a claim which could not possibly be validated until we have the benefit of historical perspective...but news organizations have never shied away from hyperbole) there has been a lot of attention on frugality and a return to Depression-era living.  

Frugality has taken on a new garish hipster quality in a "Stuff White People Like" sorta way.  The New York Times loves to write pieces on what they've dubbed "The New Frugality" and ways its readers can save money (hmm, not living in Chelsea seems an obvious place to start).  Style.com even has a trend report on Depression-chic runway looks from the spring RTW collections -- I hate to be a Grumpy Gus, but I'm not actually sure that women wore hand-beaded Alberta Ferretti cocktail gowns as they were fleeing Dust Bowl-ravaged Oklahoma in search of food and employment.  And I'm not trying to be a Populist, but isn't it a little absurd for the NYT to write a glowing article about how the pampered wife of a plastic surgeon "loves" growing her own vegetables and getting movies from the library instead of Blockbuster because it's a way to connect with her parents' values?  I'm the last person to frame a situation as "Joe Sixpack versus those New York Elites" but I find it condescending and tragically silly to fritter away column space on articles about people who have never and will never need to scrimp and pinch.  Something about this smacks of fiddling while Rome burns.

There are people in America who have full-time jobs and have to sleep in their cars because they cannot afford housing.  Waitresses and housekeepers often fall into this category - see Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed for more information.  These people have had to be frugal for their entire lives, not because it's quaint or fun, but because they have to make a $50 per week paycheck cover all living expenses in a country whose standard of living becomes increasingly more expensive and out of reach for the bottom third of the population.   

When a venerable news organization as the NYT does a puff piece on gold diggers who had to suffer the indignity of trading the Bentley for a Merc, their credibility as a mirror of our times is diminished.  And wondering if frugality is a trend or a permanent fixture is stupid - for some people frugality is necessary, and for some people it's a cheap way to assuage their rich people's guilt that they will skate through the recession with only a small dent in their net worth.   

Now since this is a comedy blog and this piece was kind of a downer, here's a joke from Artie Lang: 

"Hugs are great, but -- better than drugs? Come on.  Let me put it to you this way: I never drove to Harlem at 4 a.m. to get somebody to hug me."

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