Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) on Peacemaking in Class Warfare: Part I

By: Abigail Clauhs

August 8, 2012

Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) on Peacemaking in Class Warfare: Part I Heard of "Rich Kids of Instagram"? It's a Tumblr account recently featured in an article from the New York Times about how some New Yorkers—in a city with higher unemployment rates than Atlanta, Boston, Houston, or Chicago—can hardly afford to buy groceries. The author of the article compared these struggling city-dwellers with the stars of "Rich Kids of Instagram," which recently went viral.
"Rich Kids of Instagram" features photos shared on the social media app Instagram, which allows users to snap pictures with their smartphones and, after adding a retro photo filter, upload them to the internet. Usually on Instagram you see plates of food, artsy sunset photos, hipsters with flannel shirts.

The photos you see on "Rich Kids of Instagram," however, are of a different breed. Teenagers taking baths with champagne and money. Driving Aston Martins. Riding helicopters to private islands. That kind of thing. Which these teenagers have uploaded with captions like "Sent from one of my three iPads #hightec" and "$4000 bottle of champagne [!@#@]. Our table is boss."

As I sat and scrolled through photo after photo of these young people spending their parents' money, I couldn't help but remember scrolling through a different Tumblr blog, with totally different kind of pictures, this past fall. Then, it was an account called We Are the 99 Percent and it was a part of the Occupy Movement.

Since last September, when the Occupy Movement first sprouted up at Wall Street and quickly spread to other cities (including Boston, where I go to college), there has been mention of "class warfare." Talking heads in the media, politic analysts, and the protesters themselves used the phrase. In a sea of "We are the 99%" declarations, it was inevitable that the clash between classes would be brought up.

Now that election time is full upon us, the phrase has been getting even more usage. From liberals saying it's an advantage to Obama, to conservatives decrying it as a ridiculous tactic from the left, the use of the "class warfare" argument about wealth and poverty has been in countless headlines lately (just try searching the phrase on any major news website).

And it's with good reason. With the upcoming release of the 2011 Census results, poverty rates are predicted to be at their highest in fifty years. Meanwhile, the taxes on the very rich are at their lowest in eighty years. It's a recipe for tension, for anger, for calls for equality. For people defensive about what they do have in life, and for people who frankly don't have enough to even get by.

Looking through "Rich Kids on Instagram," I was disturbed on many levels. I wasn't even sure what bothered me most—the conspicuous consumption in the photos, the twinges of both jealousy and disgust I felt at seeing it, or the seething anger of the people who commented.

In a society with such divides between the haves and have-nots, how do we wade through the mess of envy and indignation that such chasms create? How do we make peace in a class system where the tiers are so high and precipitous? There will always be upper classes and lower classes, no matter how hard we strive for equality. Yet somehow, we are going to have to find a way to create, as a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. inscribed in granite on his memorial puts it, "a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."

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