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Bibliolatry: opinions from a very
no. 11   

Planet of the
Planet of the Apes
by Pierre Boulle

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Bobos in Paradise
Bobos in Paradise
by David Brooks

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Balsamic Dreams
Balsamic Dreams
by Joe Queenan
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Some Bobo favorites

Michael Flatley
Michael Flatley

Starbucks Frappucino
Starbuck's Frappucino®

Carole King
Carole King

The Male Ponytail.
The Male Ponytail

In the nineteenth century, Jules Verne predicted a number of twentieth-century technological advances: the submarine, the television, guided missiles, satellites, airplanes, etc. In 1963, another prescient Frenchman predicted a far more dubious twentieth-century development.

Pierre Boulle's science fiction classic, Planet of the Apes, recounts the adventures of a trio of space explorers who travel to a distant galaxy, eventually landing on a planet in the orbit of the star Betelgeuse. This planet, which our narrator quickly dubs Soror, seems at first glance identical to Earth. It has plenty of water and a breathable atmosphere. It is furthermore home to a rich variety of life forms, which (astonishingly enough) includes a large population of humans.

But our heroes soon discover that the similarities between the two planets end there. Though Soror is inhabited by humans, these intergalactic cousins are a bit of a disappointment. They have none of the characteristics we have come to believe distinguish humans from all other life forms: spoken language, analytic reasoning, self-awareness, etc. In short, the Earthlings discover, to their horror, that the Sororan humans have the manners of John Belushi, the intelligence of Suzanne Somers, and their verbal skills are even worse than a certain former president's son.

But the real shocker comes when our heroes discover just how upside down things on this strange planet really are. Within a few short days our narrator and his two companions are captured by the true rulers of Soror, a population of walking, talking, civilized apes.

Boulle's imaginative allegory of civilized apes and bestial humans is an insightful, satirical look at human myopia, arrogance, and dogmatism. But just as Verne's nineteenth-century readers thought his story of a manned rocket to the moon an intelligent entertainment, and nothing more, so Boulle's vision of a surreal world at the mercy of boorish oafs has always been considered mere "social fantasy" (which in fact is Boulle's own description of the book). But it's now clear that Boulle's dystopian vision turned out to be more true than even he expected. We now know the true identity of Boulle's hairy "apes," for they have succeeded in taking over our own planet. I am talking, of course, about the Bobos.

It isn't surprising that it took us so long to realize the truth. The term Bobo was coined only last year by David Brooks in his bestselling Bobos in Paradise. Bobos themselves, though, have been around ever since the first former participant in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement stopped off between a board meeting and a yoga class for a quick latté and a peek at the Wall Street Journal to see how those Microsoft stocks were getting on.

As Brooks explains, Bobos embody an unlikely Mary Matalin-James Carville marriage of opposing world views. Ever since industrialism in the early eighteenth century first gave rise to a middle class preoccupied with Material Gain and its sycophantic attendant, Respectability, there has been a corollary minority living in defiant opposition to those bourgie, Babbitty boors. These "bohemians" were either raggedy artists who practiced free love or snooty, Marxist intellectuals. They had a tendency to pretension and dirty ashtrays, but they were at least intelligent. And they had a point. The Bourgeoisie really was a bunch of overly-cautious, money-grubbing, self-serving prudes.

But in the middle part of the twentieth century a strange thing happened. As the largest generation in the nation's history, the "Baby Boomers," hit eighteen, they began to flood college campuses in unprecedented numbers. And once there, the Boomers decided to follow Abbie Hoffman's advice and tune in, drop out, and drop acid (or something like that). Bohemian values asserted themselves across the country and, for a brief, patchouli-clouded period, defined the Zeitgeist of a generation.

The Hippies, as the college-aged Boomers were now called, were unwashed, unkempt, and, in contrast to their bohemian forebears, quite often dumb as toast (and in far too many cases banal beyond belief). But in all fairness, they did get a few things right. For example, unlike their parents, hippies knew what was wrong with Kate Smith. They also knew that there had to be a better religion than Presbyterianism. The Flower Children knew instinctively that suburbs reek of death, and that in a sense Capitalism really is organized crime. And hey, a generation that could produce Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison couldn't be all bad.

But as they grew older, the Hippies found that the revolution fate had in store for them wasn't quite the one they anticipated. Though all John Lennon needed was Love, he had also, along the way, snagged a good deal of cash. The boomers were the best educated generation in American history. And America was now the most affluent country in the world. In other words, they were set to make a bundle. So they did.

In the eighties, the Boomers traded in mutual understanding for Mutual Funds. In other words, they decided to be Yuppies instead of Hippies. So, they put away their Buffalo Springfield LPs and put Pachelbel's "Canon" on continuous play for a decade. In a surprising turn-about, they decided that maybe, on occasion, those square Republicans had a point. And in a tragic fit of poor taste, they painted every surface in the country stark white.

But this swing to the right lasted about as long as Rick Springfield's career. Now that the Boomers had made some cash, had learned a thing or two about brie and truffles, they began to pine for their freewheeling bohemian past. They decided that they wanted their capitalist cake, and they wanted to be there fully in the moment while they ate it too; they wanted to be bourgeois Yuppies and bohemian Hippies. In other words, they wanted to be bourgeois bohemians, or, you guessed it, Bobos. And just in time for their fiftieth birthdays, too.

In the nineties, the Baby Boomers wed the entrepreneurial drive of, oh, say J. Pierpont Morgan to the freewheeling ethos of Jack Kerouac (with maybe a little revolutionary spirit, à la Che Guevara, thrown in for good measure). And the combination has proven unstoppable. Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Ben (and Jerry), the Clintons, Steve Jobs, and the Boboist of them all, the Oprah, are all testament to the power of the Bobo formula.

But Bobos, for all their Mozart-listening, rainforest-grieving, eco-adventuring, and whirled peas, have also proven difficult to endure. Excruciatingly difficult. Today, the surreal machinations of the Bobo mind are evident everywhere. Nike ads quote William Burroughs, there's a Dodge minivan actually named "Kerouac," and there's a bloody Starbucks on every corner.

In Balsamic Dreams, Boomer Joe Queenan argues that "Baby Boomers are the most obnoxious people in the history of the human race." He may have a point:

We made millionaires out of nitwits like Deepak Chopra....We played air guitar and Rotisserie League Baseball in the fifteen-hundred-square-foot dens of our cookie cutter McMansions and pretended that we were still street-fighting men ready to off the pigs. First we refused to grow up, and then when we were, technically speaking, grown up, we refused to admit it. We invented stupid verbs like "interface," "prioritize" and "parent," then turned them into stupid gerunds like "interfacing," "prioritizing" and "parenting"....We made the Eagles Greatest Hits the best-selling U.S. album of all time...we fell deeply in love with pseudo-ethnic hooey like Riverdance and Angela's Ashes and Kwanza, we subjected our cowering children to the unforgiving lash of ELO, the Dead and Tull. And all along, we acted like we were still really, really cool.

And Pierre Boulle saw it all, like some fevered vision of the Apocalypse. By the end of Planet of the Apes we learn that on Soror the apes weren't always civilized. And they weren't always in charge. As on Earth, the first Sororan civilization was created by humans.

But over time the Sororan humans grew lazy and weak, and the apes ambitious. Soon, by adopting the trappings of human culture, the apes were able to displace civilization's natural heirs. But there was no hiding the fact, of course, that they were still apes.

Just so the Bobos. They can take over Wall Street; they can redesign the Beetle; they can move into the White House. But wherever they go those Aretha Franklin albums and beat up copies of Howl give them away. Bobos are unabashed poseurs. Yet it is never quite clear who is pretending to be what. Are they free and easy artistes pretending to be ruthless capitalists? Or are they uptight consumers trying to pass themselves off as hep cats? Impossible to say. But either way, one thing is certain: the effect is gruesome.

For example, take, ironically enough, the recently released Bobo rendition of Planet of the Apes. Tim Burton's movie is visually stunning. The sets, costuming, and special effects are remarkable. But though Burton's apes look real, and are at times genuinely frightening, the only thing truly monstrous about the movie is its script. Bobos drone on and on about depth (or even more cloying, soul) and yet everything they touch becomes thin as filo dough (hand-crafted in Greece, of course).

Even the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes survived the near-fatal blow of disastrous casting decisions — i.e. the ever-atrocious Charlton Heston — and silly, Dr. Seuss-goes-to-the-moon sets, because the script was interesting. The 1968 screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, who also wrote the screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia. Tim Burton's script was written by the team that produced Mighty Joe Young. But the sad truth is that Burton's movie will make money simply because, with the Bobos in control of Hollywood, there is nothing else out there much better.

And yet, admittedly, the country remains fascinated with the Boomer generation. Having never truly grown up, the fiftyish Bobo retains a semblance of youthful charm. For all their bizarre ambiguity, their contortionist reconciliations between concern for the rights of Guatemalan women and the demands of their Eddie Bauer-edition SUVs, the Boomers intrigue — it's true! — as much as annoy. Why else write all these books about them? I think Boulle intuited this conflict, and attempted to capture it in the following scene, in which our narrator and one of the she-apes have an intimate moment — almost:

I stop and take her in my arms. She is as upset as I am. I see a tear coursing down her muzzle while we stand locked in a tight embrace. Ah, what matter this horrid material exterior! It is her soul that communes with mine. I shut my eyes so as not to see her grotesque face, made uglier still by emotion. I feel her shapeless body tremble against mine. I force myself to rub my cheek against hers. We are about to kiss like lovers when she gives an instinctive start and thrusts me away violently.

While I stand there speechless, not knowing what attitude to adopt, she hides her head in her long hairy paws and this hideous she-ape bursts into tears and announces in despair:

"Oh, darling, it's impossible. It's a shame, but I can't, I can't. You are really too unattractive!"

Right back at you, Bobo.


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