|On September 11th,
two jumbo jets flew into the World Trade Center, and a third
flew into the Pentagon. Then something truly extraordinary happened:
global consciousness changed. Our souls were exploded into the
air, and they are still drifting down, seeking to discover how
best to be present in this strange new world of ours.
When the planets in trouble, who you gonna call?
Not the Ghostbusters, although the idea of Dan Akroyd zipping around
in a green superhero suit certainly has its appeal.
No, youll call the Cultural Creatives, thats who. If,
that is, you happen to believe the social researcher Paul Ray.
Rays recent book, The Cultural Creatives, which he co-authored
with his wife Sherry Anderson, has attracted a lot of attention
in some circles. The books sub-title, How 50 Million People
Are Changing the World, gives a clue as to why. According to the
authors, there are three main subcultures in the U.S.: Traditionals,
Moderns and Cultural Creatives.
Traditionals are, more or less, your standard-issue
conservatives. They want the world to be as they imagine, say, Kansas
to have been in the late 19th century.
Moderns are our yuppies. Ray and Anderson write, They
are the people who accept the commercialized urban-industrial world
as the obvious right way to live.
And then there are the Cultural Creativesthe
green cavalry, if we are to believe Ray and Andersonwhich
is galloping over the hill to save the eco-day. Cultural Creatives
embrace values that are called progressive in some circles
and politically correct in less sympathetic ones. They
are concerned about things like the environment, womens rights
and spirituality. They are the sort of people who join mens
groups, take yoga classes and believe in the importance of sharing.
Now, its hardly news that Cultural Creatives exist. We all
know our share of them, especially in the sustainability community
where they dominate the landscape. But thats not Rays
main point. According to his research, Cultural Creatives comprise
about one-quarter of the adult U.S. populace, and more momentously
still, they are the only one of the three main subcultures that
is growing. Ray infers from this that the Cultural Creatives are
winning the War of the Worldviews. And this delights Ray, who is
a Cultural Creative through and through.
Other Cultural Creatives like the model, too. Partly, this is because
it has practical applications. For a time in the mid-90s,
I consulted with Civano, a sustainable community then under development
in Tucson, AZ. The marketing staff was
facing a problem. They knew they were going to have lots of ecologically-designed
homes to sell, but they didnt know
who would purchase them. They hadnt been able to identifyto
market. When they learned about the Cultural Creatives, they heaved
a sigh of relief. These were the buyers they had been looking for.
More broadly, in a world where it is easy for people with strong
environmental and spiritual concerns to feel overwhelmed, the vision
of one out of four Americans being a compadre is bracing. Essentially,
Ray is telling us that the progressive movement is alive and well
and more evolved, too. Back then it was secular, patriarchal and
class-obsessed. Now it embraces spirituality, feminism and environmental
protection. The subtext of Rays message is, We are wiser,
we are powerful, we shall prevail! His views are couched as
social science, but their essence is inspirational.
Theres nothing wrong with that; we can all use some encouragement.
But I cant help wondering if Rays message is true as
well as inspiring, and here Im a bit more skeptical. Even
if we accept the social researchers numbers as validand
Ray swears by themwe must also consider how he interprets
them. To this perhaps too-jaded observer, his perspective is
Ray starts with the premise that modernist culture is deador,
if not quite dead, in its death throes. A brand-new culture awaits
us, Ray believes, and it is rising phoenix-like from the ashes.
What the sub-titles 50 million people [who] are changing
the world are really doing, according to Ray and Anderson,
is ushering in this brand-new and much greener culture; hence the
term Cultural Creatives, as in creating the values of
the new culture.
I love this argument. I want it to be true. Unfortunately, theres
more than one way to skin a data-catand Cultural Creatives,
too. Although Ray and Andersons book has garnered the most
attention in sustainability circles, theres another book making
Its called Bobos in Paradise, and its author, cultural critic
David Brooks, doesnt skin the Cultural Creatives so much as
Bobos stands for Bourgeois Bohemians. We
all know who these characters are, even if the term is unfamiliar.
Theyre the male doctors sporting earrings, the bankers lounging
in their pinstripe suits in espresso bars and the artists anxiously
scanning their stock portfolios. Bobos are a study in contradictions.
They are socially and professionally ambitious in the conventional
ladder-climbing way, but they view these qualities as something
to be underplayed, to both themselves and the world. Their real
selves, such as they are, are softer, gentler and more into
caring and sharing. Bobos believe in artistic self-expression, in
caring for the planet, in womens rights, in spiritual growth,
. . . hey, wait a minute. These are the Cultural Creatives!
Which, of course, is precisely my point. Are the 50 million people
of Rays and Andersons sub-title really Cultural Creatives,
or are they . . . the horror . . . Bobos? These are two different
breeds of change agent, to be sure. Whereas Rays Cultural
Creatives are the vanguard of a brighter futurethe avatars
of a culture in transformationBrooks Bobos are much
more lightweight. Theyre not concerned with social change
so much as with being fashionable, albeit in the curious, contradictory
style of our unlikely era. Where Ray sees a Wagner opera, Brooks
sees a Molière comedyBobos as participants in the timeless
and ultimately comical game of social striving. And while Brooks
acknowledges that Bobos have made the world a better placehe
writes, for instance, that [s]hops are more interesting [and]
the food in the grocery stores and restaurants is immeasurably better
and more diverseon balance, this
is pretty mild stuff. Certainly it lacks the gristle to transform
(never mind save!) the world.
So which is it, Cultural Creatives or Bobos? Which, to be more blunt,
are we? (And forgive me if Im presuming here, but Ill
bet a lot of this magazines readers are Bobos/Cultural Creatives.)
Are we (drum-roll, please) Avatars of Great and Important Changes,
or are we (comical tuba-belch, thank you) pretentious and conflicted
It is a question worth asking, I think, for two reasons. First,
its always good to prick the balloon of our pretensions. Confronting
our Inner Bobo helps us keep a sense of humor about ourselves. Second,
and more fundamentally, it goes to the question of hope. When one
considers the forces arrayed against positive change, it is easy
to fall into despair. The vision of an army of Cultural Creatives
provides an antidote to that.
Does the Bobo Alternative extinguish this rayor rather Rayof
hope? I dont think so. For one thing, the either/or phrasing
of the question is all wrong. Were not either Cultural Creatives
or bozos, I mean Bobos. Useful though these constructs are, in the
end theyre just labels. The reality is were neither
and were both. Take me, for instance. I blush to admit it,
but you could put my living room in a Bobo Museumit fairly
reeks of nubby indigenous chic, in precisely the way that Brooks
tells us Bobos living rooms do. Yet I am also deeply committed
to the cause of sustainability and not just putting on airs. If
it is too melodramatic to see us Bobos as Wagnerian heroes, it is
too flippant to dismiss us as powderpuffs. Viewing people as fools
or as heroes, as powerless or as Promethean, sells us short. We
are rarely simply (a) or (b). We are (c) all of the aboveand
then some. We are human. Hey, even when were phony, were
In the end, I dont think the Cultural Creative/Bobo conversation
is about who we are so much as who we can be. Each of us has it
in us to be a change agent or a social butterfly, heavy or light,
truly engaged or not really there at all. Each of us has it in us
to take ourselves too seriously, too lightly or to find a healthy
balance between the two. Are we Bobos or Cultural Creatives? At
the end of the day, who cares? What matters is what we choose. What
matters is what we do.
Carl Frankel is a writer, journalist and consultant
specializing in business and sustainable development. He can reached
via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.