For certain affluent 20-somethings, mocking the protesters has become a secret handshake
It's nine thirty in the morning when Aaron finally makes it back to the hotel room. A broad grin is hanging beneath his bloodshot eyes like a hammock left out in the rain and he's walking with a limp that doesn't seem like the result of any injury.
"Guess who just had Pho for breakfast with three strippers," he demands.
He's addressing a group of 25-year-old men who are taking reclining to its logical extreme. Recent alums of a brand-name university who headed to Wall Street, Silicon Alley, and a variety of small firms after graduation, we're reuniting for a weekend of debauchery. The fact that most of us -- I'm, unfortunately, the exception -- have a significant disposable income has loomed large and right now a spin cycle of Champagne, Jameson, and the lukewarm beers they serve complimentary at the Excalibur's craps table is audibly straining against our stomachs.
"Wow," says Luis, the half-naked analyst who passed out next to me after vomiting in the hallway. "That is so 1%."
This is the adjective of the weekend.
1% [wuhn per-sent] adjective
1. characterized by excessiveness and rashness 2. possessing of traits associated with the upper classes
1. to behave with disregard to consequences, particular monetarily
I find Ford's word choice fascinating as well as accurate: Purchasing a PG-13 girlfriend experience from three Spearmint Rhino pole dancers is very 1%; taking them out for Pho at 9 o'clock in the morning is a very 1%; not caring that the whole thing cost a little over $3,000 is very 1%; missing a flight and expensing a new one is very 1%.
There is a period in life when young men sitting above the poverty line who can crack a joke or cite football statistics see each other as peers, members of the same lusty, ill-behaved class. That camaraderie once tended to last from "I can't believe we're going to graduate" until "Have you met my wife?", but it could now be abbreviated. As protestors parade through America's cities shouting, "We are the 99%," financially comfortable young men feel disingenuous engaging in the sort of "slumming it" activities that young men gravitate towards.
If Aaron, who works for a hedge fund, is no longer allowed to be part of the 99% because he has directly or indirectly profited from questionable banking practices or a lack of regulation, then he is going to get excited about being part of the other team: the 1%.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that young financial services professionals, and even the more lauded tech types waiting on IPOs, have circled the wagons. In September, a Wall Street exec organized an Anti-Hippie-Protester Champagne Toast. An event organizer who failed to identify himself by name gave the following description:
"I'll be the guy handing out hippie muffins for free with laxatives baked in so after you shit yourselves uncontrollably we will spray you with champagne like we won a championship game."
Pettiness and exclusivity are not new to New York, but historically snootiness has been an affectation of the rich, not a reaction to the poor. Holding an exclusive black-tie event is one thing. Holding a black-tie event just to be exclusive is another -- conspicuous consumption as counter-protest.
Lest anyone conclude that his tit for tat is limited to New York, America's capital of irony, the words "We are the 1%" were posted last month in the windows of the Chicago Board of Trade.
This is the pissing match that threatens to tear apart a generation of bros reared on the idyll of Judd Apatow movies and "can't we all just get a bong?" brotherhood.
The danger here seems to be the birth of the sort of Etonian mutual admiration society that has solidified the young, male part of England's body politic. Britain's public school boys have long since dispensed of the sexy egalitarianism of the men who attended Oxbridge in the early 1800s. (Think Byron and Shelley.) That my better-compensated friends are already subverting populist rhetoric -- shades of Bertie Wooster -- is evidence of how disconnected from the cardboard sign-wielding crowd they feel socially despite holding overlapping political beliefs.
Rampant unemployment among young men -- 14.4% for males between 24 and 24 and 22.4% for high school grads from 20 to 24 -- has also created an emotional schism between the consistently and intermittently employed. Occupy Wall Street has given the anger of discontented young men a voice without clearly articulating the fear at the root of our concern: that we'll backslide; that we'll do worse than our fathers.
Even as young guns at financial firms have begun to feel the squeeze, the wall between the quartiles has remained thick and high. A Times piece on layoffs prompted a flood of nasty comments (a la "I simply cant dredge up an ounce of sympathy for those who lament the loss of a gold studded ride") just after #WeAreTheOnePercent became an ironic Twitter tag ("i hate black friday cause it lets normal people feel like they are rich"). My better compensated friends are told that their problems aren't real or legitimate -- I, too, have been dismissive of some of their issues -- and so they turn to each other for support. This is as predictable as it is unhelpful.
I don't know whether Aaron, who helps finance a school in East Africa, was pleased with himself after his ride on the Spearmint Rhino because the chaos of his night struck him as funny or because of his excess, but I suspect it was the latter. Young men don't like to leave lines uncrossed, and in the current social environment, lavishness seems far more offensive than strip club patronage. Anyone can go to a gentleman's club. Only the disproportionately well-off can make it rain.
A few hours after his triumphant return to the room, Aaron passes out in a hotel bed holding a pillow over his ears. He isn't quite in the fetal position, but things are clearly heading in that direction. We are checking out soon and I want to rouse him, so I ask him how he feels.
"Very 99%," he says.
For a second, I'm tempted to hit him. Instead, I assure him it will pass.