Reverse Chic is Better Than No Chic At All
Times are tight. The Consumer Confidence Index is at a 10-year low. Unemployment is getting so bad the pollsters might find themselves out of work any day now. Is it any wonder people are flocking to buy rolls of duct tape rather than LG Electronics� new $8,000 Internet refrigerator that comes with a 15-inch monitor, 20-gig hard drive, MP3 player, and digital camera? It�s cheaper. And the Internet refrigerator hasn�t received the Department of Homeland Security�s Seal of Anti-Terrorist Approval. Yet. Though it should. After all, it would scare off pretty much anyone. Just the thought of a refrigerator that can take photos of me cooking and email them to everyone in my address book because I wouldn�t make the icemaker happy by playing MP3s of Ice Ice Baby scares me. And it should scare you too. Especially if you�re in my email address book.
When the economy gets this bad, cutting back becomes a way of life. Corporations do it, which is why so many people are reading this in a newspaper they picked up off the ground. And hopefully won�t need to use as a blanket when they sleep on the bus stop bench tonight. Families cut back, which is why we�re eating Hamburger Helper without the expensive hamburger, watching boring network TV instead of paying for 500 boring channels, and praying that Joe Millionaire and Zora don�t make it so we can try to weasel our way into a piece of that million-dollar check. Right, us and the 40 million other people who watched the last episode because it was cheaper than an $8 movie ticket. At least I hope that was everyone�s excuse.
Just because times are tight doesn�t mean we have to give up everything. Take wine, for instance. The low budget rage on the West Coast right now is Charles Shaw wine, a supposed Napa Valley vintage that sells for all of $1.99 at Trader Joe�s, a supermarket chain which attracts a more rabid following than Michael Moore at an NRA convention. At that price, a case of Merlot, Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon costs less than a bottle of what people were drinking a year ago. To put it in perspective, it�s just a bit more expensive than bottled water and cheaper than a gallon of gas. Of course you only get about 27 staggers to a bottle of Charles Shaw whereas you can get 27 miles with the gas (actual mileage and staggers may vary).
Everyone is proudly serving �Two-Buck Chuck� to guests, who of course are equally as proud to announce that they have a case or two of it at home. Adding to the cachet are the rumors about why it is you can get decent wine with a cork cheaper than a bottle of Thunderbird with the requisite brown paper bag. One theory is that since corkscrews aren�t allowed on airplanes anymore the airlines had to dump all the wine they�d bought and can�t use. Another is that Charles Shaw is selling the wine at a loss so his wife can�t touch it in their divorce proceeding. The simple truth is there was an overproduction of P.R. at Trader Joe�s.
The obvious relish people show for serving cheap wine is a sign that reverse chic is setting in. After all, if you can�t enjoy the good things you might as well go out of your way to enjoy what you do have. That�s right, reverse chic is really just reverse bragging. Where we were once proud to toss money around as if it grew on trees, now we�re happy telling everyone that we have to burn trees to stay warm. Hopefully trees that aren�t in full bloom with C-notes. If they are, harvest them first. Then burn them.
For years my brother boasted about his large, expensive car which he traded in every other year whether he needed to or not. Then times got tight and one day he picked me up at the airport in a smaller, though still new car, bragging about how it was so much cheaper and used less gas. A year previous he would have rather gouged his eyes out with a Tiffany brooch than proclaimed those to be good attributes in a car. My, how times change.
Reverse chic is showing off the Seven jeans you picked up at the thrift store for $2.00 and hoping your best friend doesn�t recognize them. It�s splitting the cost of the Sunday newspaper with your next door neighbor and being proud that you thought of placing tracing paper over the crossword puzzle so you can each do it. It�s Martha Stewart making a festive holiday centerpiece using the hem from an orange prison-issue jumpsuit, a bar of soap, and a shiv borrowed from her cellmate. And it�s hoping things don�t get so bad that you have to follow her instructions.
All of this is good for us. Think of it as Chickenless Chicken Soup for the Soul. It builds character, helps us feel good about ourselves when times are tough, and most of all gives me something to write about so hopefully I can afford a whole case of Charles Shaw Merlot. Don�t worry, you�ll be the first to hear about it.
Barry H. Gottlieb is a regular contributor to AlterNet. His compilation of travel humor columns, �If It�s Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting On This Airplane For 12 Hours?� is published by Xlibris Corp. He can be reached at