Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Man of Distinction (A Sociological Poem)

Can you tell us your secret?
How did you get such great taste?
So cool how you wear something new
You always find the perfect restaurant
You even know who to read
You stay one step ahead of us
And when we catch up you’ve already moved…..on

It’s all so perfect because you present the everyday man fa├žade
Everybody (and I mean everybody) can relate to you.
You’re an amazing balancing act
You distinguish yourself from the rest of us
But never act like you’re better than us
And that’s why it works so well.

Year in, year out, you find it before we do
You know exactly how to work the display
It’s an intangible thing
A skill we can’t compute
If asked about it, you wouldn’t even field the question
Or you’d say something clever (“I like what I like”)
But can it be so simple?

You’re a class act
You make it look so easy
Today it’s vodka
Tomorrow a cigar
Then an obscure ingredient (“Ooh, I never heard of that one before!” we say with delight)
Top it all off with a philosophy you found around the corner.

It’s incredible, all these tricks up your sleeve
We’re dazzled by the impressions you leave
You don’t have more than us
But you’re a man of distinction
And that’s enough.

Author's note: I wrote this poem to convey sociological ideas that captured my attention at a time I was reading a lot about social class--notably, the book Facing Social Class (edited by Susan T. Fiske and Hazel Rose Markus) and the blog post "High Heels And Distinction Among Women" by Lisa Wade. My poem appears in the blog post "Poetic Sociology," written by Peter Kaufman. Check out his post for great ideas about using poetry to teach sociology.

On a related note, I'm in the middle of reading a work with great insights about social class--Shamus Rahman Khan's Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School. I recommend this book and think it's a good fit for an undergraduate course on social class/social stratification. I'm thinking of teaching Social Stratification next year (would be first time teaching course) and will likely assign Khan's book along with Fiske and Markus' book, plus a few short readings (including the one mentioned above by Wade). 

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