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The End of the Yuppies? : As a Social Phenomenon, They May Soon Go the Way of Hippies and Beatniks

September 07, 1986|JACK SMITH

Graham Gilmer Jr., a medical doctor who lives in Orange, has written to ask me, "What the hell is a yuppie?"

I know how he feels. Some time ago, when the word was first coming into vogue, a British journalist visiting in Los Angeles called me to ask the same question.

Evidently this Brit had picked up the word in some Westside yuppie oasis. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't know what it meant, either.

I quickly found out, of course, that a yuppie is a young urban professional, and all that that implies.

In other words, he or she is into law, medicine, computer technology, corporate management, investments or any other professional line that pays well and brings prestige.

A yuppie is likely to be single and looking, but of course there are many married yuppies with combined incomes and one or two children who are being raised in a yuppie world by nannies or baby sitters.

The yuppie life style is not guided so much by taste as by price tag. If it's expensive, it's OK.

I think it is an exaggeration to say that all yuppies drive BMWs, though it is the classic yuppie object. I suspect that many of them drive less expensive Volkswagens and Toyotas, and that some of them have made it up a notch and into Mercedeses.

According to a recent Times story based on a yuppie index in Money Power Confidential, the yuppie newsletter published by Hugh Gee & Co., the prices of some essential yuppie toys have been increasing.

The Apple Macintosh Plus home computer and the Cuisinart food processor have dropped slightly; the Sony CDP 302 compact-disc player and the Trivial Pursuit board game are unchanged.

But the JVC HR-D75U videocassette recorder, a one-year membership in a Nautilus club, the BMW 528e, Reebok Hi-Top aerobic shoes, and dinner at Berkeley's Chez Panisse have all gone up.

And cocaine, a critical expense of maintaining yuppie status, has gone up from $100 to $110 a gram.

Times correspondent Paul Houston, writing recently about the 1990 census, noted that census takers have zeroed in on yuppies, along with such other "hard-to-find" residents as urban blacks, illegal aliens and the homeless. One of the problems with yuppies, the census people say, is that they are never home and they're too busy to fill out questionnaires.

Gee notes that yuppies may be beginning to feel diffident about being yuppies, as a result of their image in the press. Who wants to be thought of as vain, greedy, spoiled and self-indulgent?

I have an idea that the yuppies' time on earth is very limited, and that they may not survive as a social phenomenon long enough to make it into the 1990 census.

The whole yuppie generation is financed on credit, like the nation itself, and sooner or later their debt will begin to cave in on them.

I hope I'm not sounding holier than thou. Although I'm a little outside the age bracket, I'm rather a yuppie myself. Except for the BMW (I drive a Pontiac) and the cocaine, I have almost all the toys that define the yuppie. My Cuisinart, my Reeboks, my videocassette recorder, my athletic club and my Sony compact-disc player may not be the exact models favored by yuppies, but they are essentially the same kind of toys. (I don't play Trivial Pursuit.)

My wife bought the Sony CDP for me to play while I'm rowing at the athletic club, which is about as yuppie as you can get.

Yuppies aren't hard to find, especially if you go to the more fashionable restaurants on the Westside and around the Marina. We went to the tennis matches at the Forum one recent night, and it was full of yuppies in their designer sportswear. Yuppie women are especially chic; you see little of the sloppiness in vogue a few years ago.

What really defines the yuppies, though, and makes them a separate class, is their youth and their high-paying jobs. But many a young person is passing as a yuppie without making enough money to be one.

What is going to happen to the yuppies is that suddenly they will not be young anymore; they will have emerged from that shining passage into middle age, and all their toys and pursuits will begin to seem pointless and childish.

Sooner or later all the aerobic clubs will be in bankruptcy; all those hard young bodies will have softened; and health will have become a matter of survival, not of muscle, beauty and pride.

And then, suddenly, yuppie will have become only a word in the dictionary, identified as slang ; it will have slipped into history like beatnik , hippie and yippie .

I'm not saying, though, that I wouldn't like to be one while the fun lasts.

Hold the cocaine, though. Make mine Chardonnay.

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