Yuppie

patrick bateman by Kelly Puissegur

Yuppie [yuhp-ee] (short for ‘young urban professional’ or ‘young upwardly mobile professional’) is a term that refers to a member of the upper middle class or upper class in their 20s or 30s. It first came into use in the early-1980s and largely faded from American popular culture in the late-1980s, due to the 1987 stock market crash and the early 1990s recession. However it has seen a small revival in the 2000s and 2010s.

Yuppies are derided for their conspicuous personal consumption and hunger for attention social status among their peers. Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank, author of ‘Luxury Fever,’ has remarked, ‘When people were denouncing yuppies, they had considerably lower incomes than yuppies, so the things yuppies spent their money on seemed frivolous and unnecessary from their vantage point.’ Pro-skateboarder and businessman Tony Hawk has said that yuppies give ‘us visions of bright V-neck sweaters with collars underneath, and all that was vile in the eighties,’ and he has remarked as well as that a ‘bitchin’ tattoo cannot hide your inner desire to be Donald Trump.’

Author and political commentator Victor Davis Hanson has written: ‘Yuppism… is not definable entirely by income or class. Rather, it is a late-20th-century cultural phenomenon of self-absorbed young professionals, earning good pay, enjoying the cultural attractions of sophisticated urban life and thought, and generally out of touch with, indeed antithetical to, most of the challenges and concerns of a far less well-off and more parochial Middle America. For the yuppie male a well-paying job in law, finance, academia, or consulting in a cultural hub, hip fashion, cool appearance, studied poise, elite education, proper recreation and fitness, and general proximity to liberal-thinking elites, especially of the more rarefied sort in the arts, are the mark of a real man.’

A contradictory stereotype exists about yuppies that they are either more liberal than the blue-collar or more conservative than the urban poor. Yuppies greatly influenced both the Democratic and Republican parties, they usually register with a political party en masse when it is considered in style to affiliate with a certain political party (i.e. Republicans in the mid 1980s or late 1990s and Democrats in the early 1990s or late 2000s) and whichever president is successful in instituting economic policies, like Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Bill Clinton in the 1990s, that benefited the yuppie and upper-middle class. President Barack Obama has been described as an embodiment of yuppies by magazines such as ‘The New Republic’ and the ‘National Review’ due to his Ivy League educational background and urban professional lifestyle in Chicago prior to entering politics. Generally, yuppies (particularly in the East) have liberal positions on social issues, (such as drug control, prostitution, federal funding, censorship, abortion, and  gay marriage), though conservative economic views (supportive of tax cuts and free trade).

Although the term yuppies had not appeared until the early 1980s, there was discussion about young urban professionals as early as 1968. Critics believe that the demand for ‘instant executives’ has led some young climbers to confuse change with growth. One New York consultant comments, ‘Many executives in their 20s and 30s have been so busy job-hopping that they’ve never developed their skills. They’re apt to suffer a sudden loss of career impetus and go into a power stall.’

Joseph Epstein was credited for coining the term in 1982, although this is contested and it is claimed that the first printed appearance of the word was in a 1980 Chicago magazine article by Dan Rottenberg. The term gained currency in the United States in 1983 when syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Greene published a story about a business networking group founded in 1982 by the former radical leader Jerry Rubin, formerly of the Youth International Party (whose members were called yippies); Greene said he had heard people at the networking group (which met at Studio 54 to soft classical music) joke that Rubin had ‘gone from being a yippie to being a yuppie.’ The headline of Greene’s story was From Yippie to Yuppie.

The proliferation of the word was effected by the publication of ‘The Yuppie Handbook’ in 1983 (a tongue-in-cheek take on ‘The Official Preppy Handbook’), followed by Senator Gary Hart’s 1984 candidacy as a ‘yuppie candidate’ for President of the United States. The term was then used to describe a political demographic group of socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters favoring his candidacy. ‘Newsweek’ magazine declared 1984 ‘The Year of the Yuppie,’ characterizing the salary range, occupations, and politics of yuppies as ‘demographically hazy.’

In a 1985 issue of ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ Theressa Kersten at SRI International described a ‘yuppie backlash’ by people who fit the demographic profile yet express resentment of the label: ‘You’re talking about a class of people who put off having families so they can make payments on the SAABs … To be a Yuppie is to be a loathsome undesirable creature.’ Leo Shapiro, a market researcher in Chicago, responded, ‘Stereotyping always winds up being derogatory. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to advertise to farmers, Hispanics or Yuppies, no one likes to be neatly lumped into some group.’

Later, the word lost most of its political connotations and, particularly after the 1987 stock market crash, gained the negative socio-economic connotations that it sports today. In 1991, ‘Time’ magazine proclaimed the death of the yuppie in a mock obituary. In the 1990s, most yuppies made a transition to the middle class but they maintain an upper-middle level lifestyle, as they age well to their 30’s and 40’s the ‘yuppie’ generation often got married and settled down to have children. The economic boom at the time have transformed some yuppies or higher-income couples into Bobos or the ‘bohemian bourgeois.’

The term has experienced a resurgence in usage during the 2000s and 2010s. In 2000, David Brooks remarked in a ‘Weekly Standard’ article that Benjamin Franklin- due to his extreme wealth, cosmopolitanism, and adventurous social life- is ‘Our Founding Yuppie.’ There has been publicized talk of the ‘Second Generation yuppie,’ affluent children grown to young adulthood entering the white collar workforce in the 2000s. However, due to the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, speculation that yuppies would finally vanish as a subculture has shown their volatile status or they will become part of American history of pop culture alike the cowboy, pioneer, hippie and GI soldier.

The Yuppie subculture of the early 1980’s was once concentrated in urban centers like Chicago, the Eastern Seaboard (i.e. New England States) and West Coast of the United States. But the subculture has quickly expanded and migrated to the Southern United States and the interior Western United States in the decade. That was when White-collar and financial-based economies boomed in the Southeast and Southwest regions, esp. in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and Utah by the late 1990’s. The rise of a yuppie subculture thrived in Canada during the Prime Minister Brian Mulroney era at the same time.

A 2010 article in ‘The Standard’ described the items on a typical Hong Kong resident’s ‘yuppie wish list’ based on a survey of 28 to 35 year olds. About 58% wanted to own their own home, 40% wanted to professionally invest, and 28% wanted to become a boss. An article in the ‘New York Times’ defined as a hallmark of Russian yuppie life, the adoption of yoga and other elements of Indian culture such as their clothes, food, and furniture.

The rise of the yuppie can be observed in developed nations such as Japan where the Salaryman took prominence in the 1980s and ’90s. In Mexico, the term ‘yupi’ is a neologism for residents of metropolitan Mexico City known for having a modern white-collar economy. Yuppification occurred in economic booming nations of China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Africa in the late 1990’s and 2000’s.

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