Friday, August 05, 2011

The Dying of the Yuppie

Here's what gets me.

We seem to have an unhealthy concern for names, labels and statistics (or, as David Letterman says they say in Indiana: "sa-tis-tics").

For example, a poll was conducted in 1991 that concluded the Age of the Yuppie was dying and people were more interested in good health and a happy marriage than they used to be.

The poll was actually a telephone survey of 600 adults conducted for the Lifetime cable show "The Great American TV Poll" with these results:

* Forty percent (that is, 240 people) said that faith in God was what they valued most.

* Twenty-nine percent (174 people) said "a happy marriage."

* Five percent (30 people) said a job they enjoy.

* Two percent (12 people) said the money they make.

* Two percent (12 more people) said respect for people in the community.

* One percent (6 people) said none of the mentioned values was most important to them.

Now, the results of this poll were reported in a newspaper article with the headline "Poll finds that the Age of the Yuppie is dying."

Wait a minute! Who said anything about "Yuppies"? How did the newspaper reporter (or, more likely, the headline writer) conclude the "age of the Yuppie" was dying from the fact that 240 people out of 600 said that faith in God was what they valued most down to 12 people who said that none of the mentioned values was most important to them?

Another cheap joke at the expense of the much-maligned "Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals" (read "successful Baby Boomers"--"Subbies," maybe?)?

We don't even know what values were mentioned in the poll. We don't even know that those 600 anonymous people were Yuppies. We don't know what a true Yuppie is, and we don't even know that the poll was designed to tell us anything about Yuppies.

All we know is that a poll was conducted by telephone involving 600 adults, they responded to a list of suggested values as to which was most important to them and the newspaper article took a cheap shot at so-called Yuppies, probably because only two percent responded that the money they make was most important.

However, that was then and this is now, as some people like to say when they need a transition. And there happens to be some evidence that the term "Yuppie" is dying, if not the "age" itself.

For example, The Denver Post once reported that the acronym had "gone the way of the yellow tie," saying that it first appeared in 1984 at the height of the Reagan era and "stuck as a symbol for conspicuous consumption."

I disagree. I believe it stuck as a symbol for a subset of the Baby Boomer generation to get blamed for all the excesses that the Reagan era brought us, as well as a one-word, recognizable term that could be used as a cheap shot to get a knee-jerk reaction, just like "hippie" and "peacenik" were used in the years before Reagan.

At any rate, the Post reported that in 1986 the term appeared in 386 articles in The New York Times, but in 1992, "just 199." Just 199? That's more than half, or 51.5544 percent, to be exact and excessive.

The space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, U.S. warplanes attacked and bombed Libya in 1986 and Ivan Boesky (hardly a Yuppie and definitely not a Baby Boomer) pleaded guilty in 1986 to an unspecified criminal count, paid a $100 million fine, returned his profits from illegal trading and was banned for life from trading seciurities. What do you want to bet that the appearance of "Challenger," "Muammar al-Qadaffy" and "Ivan Boesky" dropped off 51.5544 percent in New York Times articles from 1986 to 1991?

In fact, if it weren't for the success of Yuppies and the jealousy of both non-Yuppie Baby Boomers (Nubbies?) and non-Baby Boomers (Nobbies?), the term would never have caught on in the first place.

However, just like "Cleveland," "geezer" and "the New York Mets," use of the term can bring an instant, knee-jerk reaction in your audience and a smug, self-satisfied expression of "Boy, am I glad I'm not one of them!"

And the sooner we stop using names, labels and statistics to do our thinking for us, the sooner we will start showing respect for the people we are talking and thinking about.

Assuming they deserve it, of course.

I rest my case.

No comments: