Class is a zombie. A very strange statement to make, I realize, but hear me out on this one. Class is one of the oldest concepts in the study of sociology. Scholars have longed favored the ideas that class is ownership of goods and their production, or perhaps it is work ethic. I admit that both connections are very valid and very real. But how would they explain people like my own family, who are of the working class but still identify themselves as middle class? It is questions like these that make some scholars believe capitalism to be dead. I disagree. I believe capitalism died, and came back as the undead.
So what exactly is class? We might think of income, employment, consumption of material goods, educational background, lifestyle, speech inflections, and even how we dress ourselves. They reveal important insights into how class rises from the grave. First of all, class is not only about economics, but also about work. Having class so to speak is not just whether I am employed or not, but what my employment is exactly. We often talk about blue-collar and white-collar jobs as if they are somehow different in value. Some jobs are worth more in terms of prestige and respect than others. Only the more privileged jobs are able to keep their brains, while the rest of us become mindless work drones to an unloving thing called a corporation.
Having class is quickly changing in recent decades. In this day and age of the undead capitalist state, wealth and work have become distorted. To have class, convenience is the name of the game, and that convenience is consumption. We are socialized to believe ownership means buying “stuff,” to become mindless consumers of the latest thing. We have become effectively zombified. Some policy analysts have even recommended using consumption gaps rather than income gaps to measure inequality, because the gaps of consumption are far less gaping for lack of a better term.
What this ideology of consumption reveals is a more subtle reproduction of class inequalities. It maintains the illusion of meritocracy as working class and even the poor use their purchasing power to move up in the world, while the corporate and political elite (i.e., the “brains” of the operation) eats up the profits of someone else’s hard-earned monies and labor. The irony being that capitalism has created and maintains dependence. This classy zombie virus has now become global, with developing countries becoming complicit to the U.S.-ian class system as they face of economic dependence to U.S. wealth.