What's the Latest Development?

Despite America's classless and meritocratic self-image, there is a widening cultural and income gap, says British-born Clive Cook. Raised by a working-class family in a working class neighborhood, Cook went on to attend Oxford University and has since been fascinated by cultural distinctions created and enforced by society's elite. When Cook recently attended an event on the future of retailing, for example, he was surprised to here Target was perceived as the classier version of Walmart. In his experience, many Americans have an irrational loathing of Walmart, "as though delivering bargains to the masses isn't quite proper."

What's the Big Idea?

When we think about snobbery, we may think of an old British prude, sipping tea in condescension. Class, after all, is far more entrenched in British society than in ours. But that trend is being reversed, says Clive. While British society increasingly plays down its class distinctions, by hiring more TV presenters with regional accents, for example, the cultural gap in the US is growing. "The elite is ever more confident of its cultural superiority, and the demos, being American, refuses to be condescended to." But the American cultural divide is not enforced by economics, says Cook. It is Americans' refusal to be looked down upon, no matter who they are or what they do. 

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