Mark Dolliver’s Takes

joneses? what joneses? Facing Up to the Not-So-Awful Truth About the Burbs
Is the typical American suburb a subdivided hell where empty lives are animated only by frantic efforts to keep up with the neighbors? Little wonder if you think so, since that’s how it’s depicted in pop culture. Even the word “suburbanite” is often a term of disparagement. A piece last spring in the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times noted that the burbs have become far more diverse than one would gather from their treatment in the arts. It quoted one academic as saying, “The suburbs have changed, but our way of looking at them hasn’t changed.” Why might that be so? When attitudes don’t keep pace with reality, it can mean people have an emotional investment in the old stereotypes. And, in fact, it’s easy to find city dwellers whose self-image depends on a sense of superiority to the tract-house booboisie. For these urbanites, “suburban sprawl” is more a psychological than a physical phenomenon–i.e., a threat that burb taste (tacky, of course) and values (likewise) will spread like The Blob. These anti-suburbanites would be disappointed by the results of a new Los Angeles Times poll of people in that city and its suburbs. Eight-seven percent of respondents in the burbs said they don’t “feel the pressure of trying to keep up with the Joneses”–a number nearly indistinguishable from the 89 percent of L.A. residents giving that answer. When suburbanites were asked how they define “success” for themselves, “material possessions were in low single digits.” Just 26 percent cited “financial security” (as did 24 percent of the Angelenos). Instead, 63 percent ranked a “loving family” as the true mark of a successful life (versus 53 percent in the city) and 35 percent cited “personal happiness” (versus 30 percent in L.A.). If you interpret the findings to mean suburbanites are a self-satisfied lot, the same goes for their urban counterparts. As Greg Easterbrook wrote earlier this year in a New Republic piece about suburban sprawl, “many suburbanites have trite values and nothing to say, but then the same goes for many who reside in Upper West Side walk-ups and hold subscription seats for the opera.”
modest numbers: Rich? You Call That Rich?
Don’t these people know we’re living in yet another decade of excess? Respondents to an ABC News/Money magazine poll expressed remarkably modest views of how much income they’d need to feel rich.
Fifty-four percent would feel wealthy if they had an annual income of $200,000. And that figure includes 44 percent who’d be happy to scrape by on $100,000 a year. Just 24 percent of the survey’s respondents displayed a proper ’90s spirit as they demanded at least $1 million a year before they would consent to consider themselves rich. Can it be that so few Americans want the luxuries that abound in this gilded decade? Perhaps they just don’t realize how much those luxuries can cost. An analysis on the ABC News Web site notes that the poll’s numbers “haven’t changed much since 1990, even with the booming economy, soaring stock market and recurring stories about newly minted Internet millionaires.”
breaking rules: It Seems a V-Chip Needs To Be Implanted in Teens
It’s hard to say which would be the more telling sign of social decline: teens going to trashy movies in defiance of their parents or teens going to trashy movies in the absence of any parental objection. No need to choose, though, since a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates there’s plenty of both. Forty-five percent of the 13-17-year-olds polled said their parents do set rules about the kind of movies they can see, and 10 percent said they’ve broken such rules.
As for the small screen, 30 percent of the teenagers said their parents set rules on the amount of television they can watch, and 16 percent said they’ve broken the rules. But if the kids aren’t home in time to watch Nightline, don’t blame their folks. Eighty-seven percent have been issued edicts on when they must come home at night, and 33 percent have violated them.
Elsewhere in the survey, surprisingly few respondents–21 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys–said being physically attractive is “very important” to them. Indeed, it’s so surprising that we may wonder whether they were telling the truth. The highest “very important” vote went to “being able to stand up for oneself”
(83 percent of girls and 82 percent of boys). Girls were more likely than boys to feel it’s important to be able “to communicate your feelings” (69 percent versus 51 percent). Boys were more likely than girls to assign great importance to “having a lot of friends” (53 percent versus 41 percent).
It’s no surprise that teens are plugged into the information-age infrastructure, with 63 percent regularly using a computer at home, 48 percent regularly going online and 42 percent having their own e-mail address. But would you have guessed that 17 percent have their own phone number? No doubt that makes it easier for them to chat with pals as they watch TV, since 63 percent have a set in their own room.
rise and shine: Read This After You’ve Had Time to Thaw Out
True or false: In the 24/7, on-the-go ’90s, a sleep-deprived populace can barely drag itself out of bed in the morning. False, according to a survey by Princeton, N.J.-based ORC International. Adults were asked to rate their difficulty in getting out of bed on a weekday morning, using a scale of 1 (very difficult) to 5 (very easy). Only 10 percent of respondents gave themselves a 1, while 39 percent leapt out of bed to claim a 5. Men were more likely than women to situate themselves at the “very easy” end of the scale, by a margin of 44 percent to 34 percent. Age was a variable, too: “The older Americans are, the more likely they are to say it’s very easy getting out of bed in the morning.”
mixed blessings: Sex Data and the City, Living the RAM Lifestyle, All Due Credit, Etc.
This probably won’t show up in a Hallmark ad, but a card can outrank sex as a sign that two people have become a couple. That’s what Details found, anyway, when the magazine polled 100 “smart, successful women” age 23-34 to test their manners and morals against those of the women in HBO’s Sex and the City. Asked which is “a bigger sign” a man and woman have become a couple, 64 percent chose “signing a card together” and 30 percent picked “sleeping together regularly.” Similarly, “sleeping” drew just 24 percent of the vote when paired against “buying personal stuff at the drugstore for each other” (74 percent) and 26 percent in a heat with “washing laundry that you’ve left at each other’s house” (70 percent). Can we thank advertising that the mundane routines of consumer behavior confer a greater sense of attachment than sex does? Maybe, but note that the women aren’t materialistic. While 2 percent would be most attracted to a man 25 years their senior who’s worth $50 million, 62 percent would prefer a “great-looking guy your age who makes the same money you do.” Striking a middle course, 32 percent of the respondents would be most attracted to an “okay-looking guy 10 years older who makes 10 times what you do.”

Some consumers might look askance at an ad that turns “Silent Night” into ad copy. Let’s face it, though: A more secular carol like “Jingle Bells” wouldn’t strike the right note for a motel chain that’s promising a good night’s sleep. Created by The Sandcastle Group of Minneapolis, the direct-mail piece targets older consumers who’ll be traveling during the Christmas holidays. At Sleep Inn, the copy innocently notes, “all is calm and our sign is bright.”

Elsewhere on the travel front, respondents to an online poll by CNN Interactive took the opportunity to choose a destination for “the ideal romantic getaway in Asia.” It’s a sign of Americans’ cosmopolitan bent these days that the question is a plausible one to pose. As for the responses, it seems the Raj is all the rage. Sixty-seven percent of the vote went to “Snuggling up by a fire at a hill station in India.” Twenty-two percent opted for “Diving off Palawan in the Philippines” and 11 percent chose “Dining off lobster in Thailand’s Koh Samui.”

Sad to say, few of us tingle with excitement when we see the phrase “random-access memory.” But its familiar acronym, RAM, has potential. Amid the general geekiness of the computer universe, RAM sounds downright virile (if a bit woolly). Adding an exclamation point and some goofy photos, a campaign for the Council on Computing Power toils to give RAM the cachet it has long deserved but never enjoyed. (The client is a consortium of the major companies that make memory chips for computers.) The serious point of the funny campaign is that a memory upgrade is the most cost-effective way to rev up your computer. In the ad shown here, an inset of copy counsels readers that a boost in RAM will let them get the most out of computer games. Blain/Olsen/White/Gurr of Salt Lake City created the series.

People are spending like there’s no tomorrow, but they’re using fewer credit cards to do it. The average number of cards per household was 2.5 in the first half of this year, versus 2.8 in 1997, according to a study by research firm BAIGlobal of Tarrytown, N.Y. As summarized on the World Opinion Web site, the study found new monthly credit charges averaging $949 per household this year, up from a paltry $854 in 1997.

stiffed againi
Blame the Victim?
You Bet We’ll Blame Him

They sure know how to hurt a guy. Alluding to Susan Faludi’s new tome, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, an online poll by New Woman invited readers “to a pity party for men.” Judging by their response, the audience (mainly female, of course) turned down the invitation. The poll’s query: Is the world treating men unfairly? A landslide 74 percent said “no.” That doesn’t necessarily mean women feel men have it easy these days. Instead, they may simply think men are the ones to blame for what ails them. Faludi prefers to blame the “consumer culture”–though, as Joel Stein notes in an anti-Faludi rant in Time, men are the ones who created that culture. Moreover, men don’t seem eager to embrace the victim status that Faludi so kindly offers them. (A derisive essay in The New York Times responded to Stiffed by imagining a sequel called Miffed.) Nor, one suspects, are women eager to share it with them. Until the day when men and women unite to finish off the capitalist patriarchy–and the lads aren’t evolved enough for that as yet–women know they’d be foolish to forfeit the moral high ground that victimhood confers.

data on diningi
I’ll Bet Some of Them Don’t Even Have Dogs

Here’s the sort of statistic Alan Greenspan will be watching next time he’s tempted to raise interest rates: 67 percent of women and 56 percent of men take home doggie bags when they have food left over at a restaurant. We’ll know the economy has officially overheated if those numbers decline. The findings come from a survey commissioned by American Demographics and conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch of Horsham, Pa. Among other things, the study looked at the kinds of cuisine people choose when they eat out. Sixty-nine percent said they’d eaten at an American/continental restaurant within the past six months, while 62 percent had gone Italian. Chinese (59 percent) and Mexican (57 percent) were close behind. There’s a significant gender gap in likes and dislikes of cuisines. For example, men were far more likely than women to have eaten at a Japanese restaurant in the past six months (23 percent versus 13 percent). The study documented regional variations as well, with people in the West more likely than those in the Midwest to have gone out for Japanese food (27 percent versus 12 percent) and Northeasterners more likely than Southerners to have gone for Italian (76 percent versus 56 percent).