The Status Seekers
With so much concern about the “Digital Divide” which may occur in the United States between the Net-haves and the Net-Have-Nots, I dusted off my trusty 1959 copy (older than me!) of Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers, which is a very accessibly written book by a sociologist about class differences in the United States in the 1950′s. Vance Packard first made his name in 1957 with his best-selling work, The Hidden Persuaders, which discusses how marketers influence and manipulate consumer thought and perception.
It’s very difficult to write about class and class differences and still come off sounding non-judgemental. This is something which Packard does handily. Packard starts off with a look at what many in the United States believe to be a classless society. Of course, this is not the case, and is an impossibility in any society, as members of each class need each other. Packard is at his best when he examines “Behavior which gives us away” – an honest and revealing look at habits and traits of different folk from different stratas of society. He has his own vision of the American Dream: family, community, individualism, etc. Today, we might call this “family values,” but Packard’s come without the right-wing extremism.
Granted, Packard is anecdotal and cites colleagues and stories far more than statistics. Academics looked down on him in his day as a “pop sociologist” and marketers (thanks to The Hidden Persuaders) denounced him as a “morality huckster.”
In his later years, Packard was treated with greater respect. He was the subject of a serious 1994 biography (by Daniel Horowitz). And historian Jackson Lears, in a New Republic review of his work, wrote that Packard “deserves a place alongside more formidably intellectual figures in any history of twentieth-century thought.” Packard articulated what others were afraid to say. And he did so in a book that reached the very audience that needed to hear it.
Order American Social Classes in the 1950s (selections from The Status Seekers) (the original is no longer in print) online right now from amazon.com.
Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.