[»»] Homepage [»»] Links page: Links to poems, photos, prose     O F F S I T E : [»»] My Journal at

    [»»] Index to prose pieces

John Tranter: Prose

Thank God for the Bourgeoisie

This piece was first published in The Australian newspaper in 1995. It is 926 words or about three printed pages long.

Have you noticed what’s happened to the daiquiri? It’s been reinvented, by the Teen Literati.  Now it doesn’t seem fair to blame the Industrial Revolution for what happened to the daiquiri, or to Writing in America in the 1990s, but the Industrial Revolution started it — you know, the steam engine, World Wars, radiation poisoning, filter-tipped cigarettes, Mickey Mouse, germ-free hamburgers and air travel holidays for the working family. And the Industrial Revolution was kick-started by the bourgeoisie. That’s right: you people, the middle class.
     You invented it, you kept up with the maintenance and the home improvements, and I know it wasn’t easy: the construction and populating of the vast, scattered and bewildering country of Suburbia, the restless perfection of the Assembly Line, the kinky idea of clothes that decorate and strangle: the necktie for men and the bra for women.
     The middle class. Cranky Karl Marx and his spoilt wife came from that class. So did Mao Zedong and Jane Austen and Fidel Castro and Virginia Woolf and the Red Brigades and Patty Hearst. Even Clark Kent, who came from a dirt poor background, wore a suit and a necktie to work.
     Everyone knows that International Communism wouldn’t have made it off the ground without those egocentric kids forming political discussion groups and teaching the peasants to shoot each other. Our literature would be similarly impoverished today if it hadn’t been for Watt and Stevenson, and the profits from the factories their steam engine made possible. We’d have nothing much worth reading, probably. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Marcus Aurelius and his tedious meditations. That’s about it. We wouldn’t have any of these dazzling novels about bright young things quoting Foucault and farting and spewing in the back of a taxi, or apprentice stockbrokers beheading smelly old derelicts and eating rats.
     After the steam engine, people began to thirst for literary experiences, and eventually a vast mass of consumers appeared like pigeons in a park when you throw breadcrumbs. Isn’t history wonderful? The process of satisfying these greedy souls developed into a whole industry, like Interior Decorating.
     In fact it is Interior Decorating: just as ideas furnish a mind, so literary experiences — whatever they might be, exactly — furnish a soul. Shopping for a new frock or a Porsche gives you a conceptual thrill that the actual purchased object is only the memento of. Literary Shopping has its thrills, too, and more enduring ones than Macy’s can offer. When you buy a Bloomsbury Hardback exemplar of the current trend, you feel in the swim and up-to-date, but there’s more.
     More? What’s the extra kick, the octane boost? Ironically, spanking the bourgeoisie! From the Romantics to the Punks, from Percy Shelley to Oscar Wilde, from Allen Ginsberg to Kathy Acker, wearing weird hair, fucking with Bad Types and skewering your parents is central to the Literary Act. We shouldn’t be surprised: lots of people pay good money to get a spanking.
     But I digress: I was talking about brand identification. Before the modern period, literature had no idea of how to use brand names effectively. How could it? There weren’t any. If you wanted, say, a suit of armour, you asked somebody to make you one, and that was it. You got to show it off to your friends, but you didn’t get the fun of browsing through the Sears catalogue looking for something in stainless chain mail by Armani or Zegna.
     Choice is what it’s about. They say that ninety per cent of all the people who ever lived are alive right now, more or less. So ninety per cent of all the literature ever written is very likely being composed this afternoon; in California, probably.
     Is this good?
     It must be; think of the extra consumer choice. When Shakespeare was alive, your options for a fun outing on a wet night in London were pretty thin. Apart from bear-baiting, you only had, say, half a dozen playwrights to go and see. Right now, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, there are probably a hundred martial arts movies available at your neighbourhood video shop in West Hollywood, the East Village or Peoria; and that’s just the martial arts movies.
     Decorative effects are important, too. It’s called Post-modernism. People don’t always realise about the decorative effects. Deep down it might be a little shallow, okay; but on the surface — and that’s where we live, isn’t it? — on the surface it’s very deep. The outside of the bottle is where they put the label, right?
     James Bond doesn’t just ask for a heart-starter, or a snort of something stiff to wake him up, he asks for a dry martini, straight up, Tanqueray gin please, and ‘stirred, not shaken’. As though anyone would shake a martini!
     And the variety these days is amazing! In the Middle Ages (no connection with the Middle Class) the daiquiri was a Cuban drink, made of white rum and lime juice with a little sugar and some ice to give it a chill.
     Sour! Bitter! Bore-ring!
     The last time I asked for a daiquiri I was proffered a concoction in a technicolor tumbler made with vodka (vodka! how bricolée!), with more tropical fruit in it than a school lunch, and a half-litre dollop of melted strawberry ice-cream on top. You get a choice of colours — orange, purple, day-glo pink. Kinder-Drinks, I call them; full of vitamins. You can have your hangover and cure it too — simultaneous ecstasy and regret, in the one package. Now that’s an invention the bourgeoisie can be proud of.

The Internet address of this page is

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in the site is copyright © John Tranter and the individual authors 1997 et seq. and is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, or reproduced for group or class use or for any other purpose.