The yuppie could be found working off stress with a shiatsu massage and a facial, learning as much as possible about fine wine, traveling around the world on vacation, exercising at a fancy health club, listening to Bessie Smith and Bob Marley and the Police on a tiny device attached to headphones, drinking bottled spring water, freshening up in a five-star-hotel-quality bathroom, typing away at a computer while sitting in an ergonomic chair, racking up gobs of debt on his credit card, andthe clinchereating tuna sashimi for lunch! The mere mention of tuna sashimi for lunch was apparently seen as the height of hilarity back in 1984. “A yuppie most nearly approaches sainthood,” the book noted, “when he or she is able to accomplish more things in a single day than is humanly possible.” (This was long before BlackBerries.)
All of which means that the archetypal yuppie of the eighties sounds precisely like, um, everyone you know. Trust me: There is not a single sentence in The Yuppie Handbook that could make you chuckle. By now, the entire manuscript comes across as nothing more than a rote annotation of urbane American life. “When people were denouncing yuppies, they had considerably lower incomes than yuppies, so the things yuppies spent their money on seemed frivolous and unnecessary from their vantage point,” says Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank, author of Luxury Fever. “What most people fail to anticipate is that your sense of what you need and want is very elastic. When your income rises, your consumption standard gradually adapts.”
If anything, your average upwardly mobile young professional has so outstripped and outclassed the mid-eighties yuppie that if Gordon Gekko himself were to show up in polite society in 2006, he would look kind of provincial. (These days, no host worth his fleur de sel would serve brie at a cocktail partynot when there are hundreds of obscure cheeses on display at Trader Joe’s.) Compared with us, the eighties greedhead was practically restrained.
Officially speaking, the yuppie died on October 19, 1987. That day’s stock-market crash, and the subsequent recession, ushered in the indie/slacker/die-yuppie-scum sensibility that held sway in the American head space until 1994 or so. We gulped through another crash in 2000, amid the dot-com meltdown, but the yup is impervious to boom-and-bust cycles. He’s a shape-shifter. Just like Lucifer in the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” he finds ways to reenter the American psyche. Look at how he has carved out a place for himself in movies like Wall Street and Boiler Room, in books like American Psycho and Liar’s Poker and The Smartest Guys in the Room and Bobos in Paradise, in countless rap songs.
“The yuppie never went away,” Frank says. “For a while, there was a sense that it might be better not to be too ostentatious about your consumptionlike, instead of parking the expensive Porsche out front, you bought a house with a garage in the back. But people never lost their taste for quality things.” By now, in fact, an argument could be made that the yuppie phenomenon is the most enduring and influential social movement of the past 50 years. The boomer media love to get all swoony over the Woodstock era, but how many real hippies do you know? The only remaining trace of hippie ideology can be found in supermarket aisles full of organic, farm-raised food—but don’t kid yourself: Those people creating a boom market for Whole Foods and organic baby food are yups, not hippies. Dead rebel artists like Burroughs and Kerouac were long ago turned into useful “bohemian” brands, tailor-made for Gap ads, but nobody actually aspires to be a beatnik anymore. (At this point, beret might as well be French for dickhead.)