n 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.
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.