Marketing 542 January 23, 2010 Clash of the Classes: Middle vs. High Proles What was once categorized by the rich and the poor, it is undoubted that society today cannot be so easily defined. In the words of Jennifer Steinhauer, “One thing modernity brought with it was all kinds of identities, the ability for people to choose who you want to be, how you want to decorate yourself, what kind of lifestyle you want. ” With this vast amount of “identities” comes the need for a more structured class designation as well as a process for de-blurring the lines between them.
While Paul Fussell has recognized nine classes in this country, the focus of this analysis will rely on two of them: Middle and High Proletarian, or High Proles. The researched differences between these groups will be examined and then related to the real-world example of Redneck Neighbor. Marketing practices and how they can be applied to this situation will also be referenced. As noted, Fussel recognizes nine classes and has them separated into three segments: high brow, middle brow, and low brow. At the top of the high brow segment lays Middle class and then High Proles just below it.
While the two classes may be adjacent to one another, the fact that Middle is just one class away from the high brows says enough for them to have a completely different set of distinguishable attributes. It is this “so close, but not close enough” mentality of the Middle class that explains their desires and state of mind. According to Fussel, the Middle class is the most insecure class and practically obsessed with doing the right thing. Not only do they try to keep up with the high brows in what they consume, but also by how they consume it.
Thorstein Veblen says it best with “Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. ” The Middle class is constantly worried about their own style and associate themselves (sometimes imaginably so) with money, power and taste. Conversely, High Proles are “…not consumed with worry about choosing the correct status emblems, these people can be remarkably relaxed and unself-conscious.
They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much anything they want without undue feelings of shame, which belong to their betters, the middle class…” (Fussell, pg. 46). It appears as though the Middle class works very hard to hide the fact that they aren’t in the high brow segment while High Proles are proud to be who they are and don’t care what others think. The middle class is petrified of falling down in ranking and the High Proles aren’t really striving to get ahead. It is this clear contrast between the classes that makes the Redneck Neighbor story so relevant and support the findings of various researchers.
Based on the above information, it is clear that the author of the website is a member of the Middle class while the neighbor, or John Doe #8 (JD8), is a High Prole. Coinciding with their obsession to look the part and not “fall down” in class, it makes sense that the author is terrified of being associated with his lower classed neighbor. He makes complaints to the police on numerous occasions, tells his friends every single detail of his neighbor’s existence to the point where he feels the need to start his own website documenting it for the whole world to see.
This is his attempt to save face and let everyone know that he disagrees with the “manner of consumption” by his neighbor. This supports Veblen’s quote “Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific; and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit. ” While talking to the builder, the author quotes “… the builder starts referring to the neighbor in a less-than-amicable fashion – someone else on my side! Perhaps he feels a bit guilty for his privacy invading actions but is able to justify himself by hearing someone with the same demeanor. One of the biggest mistakes the author makes is associating JD8’s social class with money and the car he drives. As Fussel points out, “It’s not riches alone that defines these classes” (pg. 27). And we know from Steinhauer’s example of entry level luxury cars that in these days, the kind of car you drive cannot be directly related to your worth or class. Additionally, Veblen’s idea of consumption in the city versus country comes into play.
Since the residents are in the suburbs (or country), it is pretty much known throughout the town the value of each home/family. This fear is expressed by the author when he says, “I can see the property value falling faster than his mailbox post. ” Even with all of the accused faux pas, it does not appear that JD8 is intentionally trying to provoke others. Contrary to the previous statement of High Proles not trying to get ahead, it does appear that the neighbor is making an attempt to update his property with the common items found in the neighborhood: mailbox post, fish pond, herb garden and flagpole.
But going back to the research findings of Fussell and Veblen, it is not the fact that he is trying to install these items but that he is doing them in the “wrong” way. And coinciding with the attributes of a High Prole, JD8 is not ashamed and obviously doesn’t care what others think. An interesting aspect of the Redneck Neighbor case was the small hints that the author was a bit of a redneck himself.
Calling the basketball hoop a “basketball goal”, telling the police officer “the next time we have a problem some damn body is going to jail”, and feeling the need to clarify what livestock is, gave the impression he was not as high class as he hoped to portray himself. What does all of this mean for marketers? It means that it is getting harder to categorize customer segments in which to market. As you can see from Redneck Neighbor, today’s consumers have unpredictable buying patterns. JD8 spends money on a luxury brand car, but not on household items. This somewhat new phenomenon is not unique to JD8.
Many people splurge on higher end items like Godiva, BMW, and Whole Foods yet still go to Costco for their day-to-day needs. According to Steinhauer, “Where once they pitched advertisements primarily to a core group of customers, now they are increasingly fine-tuning their efforts, trying to identify potential customers by interests and tastes as well as income level. ” Author Douglas Holt believes that the best way to capture consumers is to create stories that affect how they think about themselves in the world. This technique could be very beneficial for Middle class customers since marketers could play up on the idea of high brow society.
With High Proles, marketers could take advantage of their independent mindset and pride in their advertising campaigns. Hardly anyone can argue that the classification of consumers has become more difficult over the years and the population as a whole is harder to reach. Marketers constantly need to think of new ways to get their message across and have it register within consumer minds. It is unclear what the future holds for marketers, but it is an exciting challenge to move away from the old teachings and tailor them to the constantly clashing classes of our time. Word Count: 1,277