Modern Culture13 Nov 2009 02:03 pm
The term “Yuppie” was first coined in the early 1980s, and stands for “young urban professional” or “young upwardly mobile professional.” At first, “Yuppie” was employed as a media catchphrase to describe the phenomenon of twenty and thirty-something, financially secure, upper-middle class people who flocked to urban enclaves such as New York of Los Angeles. However, the term “Yuppie” soon took on a more derogatory connotation, and came to represent the perceived materialism, self-centeredness and shallowness of these young urbanities in the 1980s and early 1990s. Influential cultural depictions of yuppies and their excesses, such as Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” came to define the archetypal yuppie as numbed by the empty materialism of modern life, devoid of depth and spiritually empty.
On April 8, 1991, Walter Shapiro published a mock obituary of the “Yuppie” in Time magazine, titled, “The Birth and—Maybe—Death of Yuppiedom.” He described the evolution of the term in timeline form, beginning with its “birth” in 1983:
1983. A value-neutral term occasionally popping up in print as a successor to preppie.
1984. The takeoff year. It started as a political buzzword to describe the followers of Gary Hart and ended up as a catchall label for the Doonesbury generation.
1985. Now uttered with a slight sneer. Slowly, it starts to be used as an adjective modifying the noun greed.
1986. The first recorded use of the phrase “death of the yuppie.” In hindsight, this can be seen as wish fulfillment.
1987. After the stock-market crash, the press plays taps. The Wall Street Journal declares, “Yuppies have become a bore and . . . Madison Avenue is trying to wipe them out.”
1988. A consensus that the flashy life-style is doomed by the old-money values of President-elect George Bush.
1989. The fading finances of corporate raiders herald the bonfire of yuppie vanities.
1990. Yuppies are once again pronounced dead on the arrival of the recession.
While Shapiro may have been correct when he stated that the original “Yuppie” was heading for extinction, he did not anticipate that the term would outlive its host by mutating with the zeitgeist. Since its “extinction” in 1991, the “Yuppie” has spawned a host of related terms describing the variously young, materialistic and self-centered, such as “Bobos” (Bourgeois Bohemians), “DINK’s” (Dual income, No kids), “Guppies” (Gay Urban Professionals) and the currently phenomenon of the “Scuppie” (The Socially Conscious Upwardly-Mobile Person).
Perhaps a long recession is the only thing that can really kill the “Yuppie” virus for good…. But after thirty years of the “Yuppie” and its progeny, I wouldn’t bet on it…
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