Today In Insufferable Middle-Class Snobbery in Latin America

With Brazil’s recent economic growth and stability, the Brazilian middle class has expanded remarkably even while the definition of “middle class” has changed and begun to include different groups previously excluded.

However, some of the more entrenched members of the Brazilian middle class are not taking these changes well:

As any Brazilian, I’m very proud of the new middle class and of the eight million compatriots who arrived to the consumer society in recent times. Consumption for all! But, listen up, everybody, including the old middle class. The fact that one can pay for commercial flights in seventeen installments is democratic. More people flying, more people engaged in tourism, I’m not even bothered by the super-crowded airports. But, come now, could we change the menu? Or am I going to have to eat breakfast bars for the rest of my life? Did anybody ask if the old middle class likes breakfast bars? I don’t like them. Could I perhaps have a cheese sandwich and some orange juice?

Yes, when I think of the true plight still facing millions of Brazilians, I think of all of those people who have enjoyed the fruits of their middle-class status who suddenly find themselves having to eat breakfast bars on their flights.

I’d like to say the post gets better, but you would need a very odd definition of “better” for that to be the case.

Now, the government recruits me: Credit! Credit! Credit! And I don’t want to buy a plasma TV, nor a second cell phone, nor do I want to spend my holiday in Porto Seguro. In all honesty, I am thinking of selling my freezer, my microwave, and my answering machine. I have become a stranger in my own land. I am from the old middle class.

I’d like to say I’m shocked at the sheer and apparently-unashamed narcissism of the “old middle class,” but I regularly heard this kind of rumbling from its members in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília in my time there. There’s definitely a generational pseudo-conflict between those whose families were members of the emerging middle classes in the first half of the twentieth and those who have only recently enjoyed the fruits of their labor and an improved economy. However, it’s definitely a lopsided conflict, as the “old” generation is clearly the one with the problem. As the Christian Science Monitor article commented,

The traditional middle class sometimes looks down at what is now the new middle class, and some in the traditional middle class would consider themselves “culturally superior” to the new middle class: more American, tech-savvy, and literate than a more Brazilian pop-culture, newer to technology, and less well-read (or with little access to books). A traditional middle-class teenager, for example, might look down on a new middle-class teenager for liking sertanejo (Brazilian country music), rather than say, White Stripes.

That may seem a bit extreme. Enter Xexéo’s post, which seems hell-bent on reifying exactly those understandings of generational difference in Brazil’s middle class by starting off:

I don’t like axé [a popular style of music from the Northeast, one of the historically poorer parts of the country]. Nor pagode. Nor even university sertanejo. Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to ask: could you play something else?

Certainly, there are other components of middle class cultures and mentalities beyond this kind of narcissistic snobbery. And Xexéo’s post is so lacking in subtlety in its simplicity, selfishness, and whiny tone, it almost comes off as parody. But the sentiments within it still echoes the sincere attitudes of many of Brazil’s “old” middle class who have become increasingly disturbed by the fact that people they once thought were “below them” are now their socio-economic equals.


About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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