IN 1987 YUPPIE BASHING BECAME a national pastime. Because yuppies are neither a race nor a religion (although I'm sure someone could make a case for their being both, and maybe for their being a sex as well), one could stand outside the New York Stock Exchange and shout, "Down with the yuppies!" without some yuppie taking offense, pointing out, "You wouldn't shout, 'Down with blacks!' " One could give them the respect usually reserved for people of Polish extraction, making them the butt of endless jokes, without worrying about reprisals from the Yuppie Anti-Defamation League. And journalists who like to write cute could refer to the "Y-word" and take other little digs with plays on words like "moving yup in the world" and "one-yupsmanship."
Yuppies have served a very useful purpose in our lives this year. They are perfect victims: One can openly hate them and feel absolutely no guilt. After all, they are young, successful, ambitious, confident--even uppity. They are thought of as being materialistic and superficial. They are immensely practical. Articles about them make their intimate relationships sound like limited partnerships. I have even heard them criticized for maintaining separate bank accounts after marrying, something I only learned the wisdom of by getting divorced.
Yuppies are not worse off for being "the unromantic generation," as the New York Times called them, but they are less appealing for it. They are too smart. Yuppie women may never know the joys of falling in love with a married man or of waiting for the phone to ring. They may never experience the ecstasy of agony, poor things. They are too on-track to let themselves be sidetracked.
But, except for this infuriating efficiency in their life plan and the rather enviable combination of youth and money, do they really deserve our animosity? Yes. Because they have committed two unpardonable sins. They are not neurotic. And they have made something of their 20s.
I am not saying that yuppies should be neurotic, just that we resent them because they seem not to be and that we would like them if they were. The sure-fire way to be liked is to maintain at least the appearance of neurosis. Take Woody Allen for instance.
Woody Allen is incredibly successful. He is talented and rich; loved by one beautiful woman after another; able to do the work he wants without interference; dines out every night at Elaine's (or a more chic spot) and drives a white Rolls-Royce (or used to). But we always root for him because we feel sorry for him. We know all his riches mean nothing, or at least less, because inside he's a wreck. He's obsessed with death. He rarely smiles. Look at his troubled face. Consider his endless analysis. Woody Allen has convinced us that in spite of the women, talent, millions, success and power, he's unhappy. So we don't envy him. And we certainly can't hate him.
Yuppies could learn a lot from Woody Allen. They could stop having so much fun. They could earn and spend just as much but act really guilty about it. They could scrap that healthy, bright-eyed look in favor of something, well, worried. And when they marry a computer-like match and live happily ever after, they could confess an unexplained dread that every day of happiness is their last.
Unlike the yuppies', for many of us who came of age in the '60s, our 20s were a bust. Out of college, free of parents, faced with what we referred to as "the real world," we made gigantic mistakes: dropped out on drugs, joined communes. I got married and moved to Providence, R . I. I was too scared to find out what I wanted to do or even, in all honesty, whom I wanted to fall in love with. Six years later I woke up and left. What I have come to think of as self-enforced hibernation was over. I began at 30.
The yuppies should have the decency to respect the fact that I am a late-bloomer and screw up their 20s, too. Instead, they are a sort of collective younger sibling--more aggressive than I ever was. They have already earned their place at the grown-ups' table. I bet they're going to want my slice of cake, too.
And by getting all this media coverage, they have managed to steal the spotlight from me and from a generation that may not have had it "together" in their 20s, but were used to having all the attention. We ended a war (more on this in a second), brought down two Presidents (Johnson and Nixon); and founded the women's movement, which yuppie women are reaping the benefits of and they haven't even said thanks.
I resent all this deeply, but at least I know that I am morally superior. You see, in my 20s, I slept on a mattress on the floor. Let me explain.
Like everyone else I knew, I was part of the anti-war movement. Emotionally if not very actively. The Vietnam War gave my generation that which we disdain the yuppies for not having--passion for some cause outside themselves. The war even legitimized our confusion: Since anything establishment meant pro-war, anything "dropping out" meant pro-peace (even turning on was a moral statement). The definition of establishment included short hair, monogamy, furniture, money, bedspreads in any fabric other than Indian print, new clothes. So, as part of our protest, we all slept on mattresses on the floor, bought clothes at Army surplus. (The anti-war movement gave even our conformity the respectability of nonconformity.)
Yuppies don't have a war. They don't have a moral issue--a reason to "act" poor; more important, to act out. Naturally, this is their fault. They should be able to find a moral issue at this time in our history when the only moral issues in the entire presidential campaign are issues of character; when the subject that generates the most passion among all presidential contenders is the budget deficit. As soon as the yuppies find their moral issue, they will surely throw out their beds, and earn my affection as well as respect.
Inside, I still think of myself as a '60s person. And the yuppies represent everything that I hated about the establishment . . . everything I still hate even though I have "settled down," own a house, am dedicated to my career and love to earn money . . . even though I sleep on a really nice platform bed and have a couch covered in white linen with chintz pillows . . . even though I eat arugula.
Of course, I don't have a phone in my car, though I do know several heavy-duty, former '60s radicals who do. But they're not yuppies and neither am I. We're too old.