Just back from Minneapolis where the locals tried to make me feel right at home by having their very own OWS moment. Even allowing for differences in scale (the New York media market is about 5 times larger than Minneapolis/St. Paul), the demonstration didn’t seem to attract quite the number of people I might expect. But a string of unrelated incidents (could there be anything else in this space?) set me to ruminating.
Plenty of pixels have been activated over OWS by now and some themes are consistent. One is the lack of focus. Another is the demography of the protesters. A third is the palpable anger. And let’s not forget the fact that most of the firms being protested are located nowhere near Wall Street. In Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, that bellwether of popular dissatisfaction, turned up to align electoral politics with , singing, chanting and whatever else passes for protest this time around. Before we head off, here’s Jesse:
I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that when the weather turns ugly the neo-Kumbayistas will evaporate. And as the intellectual child of red diaper babies I’d like to see the socialist mouthpieces take a remedial course or two in dialectical materialism. But all of this is small beer, really. Because what got me going was a rerun of Friends and breakfast at LouAnn’s Restaurant. (And by the way, if you are in Minneapolis I recommend LouAnn’s. Hell’s Kitchen is okay and gets the glory but LouAnn’s is better and will cost you less.)
Now about that episode of Friends. I think it was the one where the gang is trying to plan a trip with Phoebe who is about to give birth and missed the trip to London for Ross’ wedding. But the particular episode really doesn’t matter. What struck me was how poorly the show had aged and I think that’s because it embodied a cultural mood that’s gone. Or maybe it was never here and the mass delusion goes back to the Clinton era.
That second thought occurred to me over breakfast. Our waitress, the same one we’d had 5 months earlier, took our order, filled our cups and started talking. Mostly about the upcoming Packers/Vikings game. But with lots of details about which team she rooted for and which was her husband’s and how they handled that split and what they were going to do on Sunday given that it was a milestone anniversary. Her plan was to spend it at the bar where she also waitressed and pick up some extra cash.
This is exactly the thing that drives a certain type of New Yorker nuts. They prefer a young person with a degree from a fine school, working on a novel or screenplay and maintaining just enough distance so that even though you know they’re Todd or Brianna it’s also clear who works for whom. It’s a pity that mindset holds because there’s a ton of information in that prattling that goes unremarked upon.
In a country with a 2010 median HHI of about $56K (it’s actually higher in Minnesota than New York) our waitress may be more normal than one would think. Remember, half the households make less than that. The other 99% may be a nice rhetorical idea but I think the 50th through 99th percentiles just might be overrepresented in OWS.
Which brings me back to Friends because what I realized at breakfast was that for 15 years we’ve been watching everyone move upmarket on TV. On cops shows the digs are Silicon Valley hi-tech (think NCIS or CSI) not Hill Street Blues gritty. On sitcoms, junior academics live an upper middle class lifestyle (Big Bang Theory) while still-adolescent 30-somethings can’t exist without waitress (and probably laundry and cleaning) services.
In fact, it’s been 14 years–essentially since Friends found its feet–since we last saw a TV character that looked like the lower 50%. And at one point, she too was a waitress: