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Keeping up with the Joneses: Are you tired of playing the status game?

I was thinking the other day about where I sit, in the great scheme of things. You must have done this yourself? Not just, who am I, but why am I? If it’s a really bad day, I want to know not only, why I am, and, where I am, but also why I’m not somewhere better? At my ‘later in life’ age, I’m honestly trying to solve what might be, the unsolvable.

Actually, that’s not completely true. These thoughts have been with me for years. In fact, for as long as I can remember. It’s that nagging voice, in my head that repeats and repeats the message to push harder, to succeed, to be something or somebody. To get on! Wherever or whatever, ’on,’ may be?’

I can testify that this vocal needling, starts early. Who the big shot is in the playground, is important, when you’re five or six. The one who has the remote control, toilet trained, laser Robo-PuP, is nothing less than omnipotent! If that’s not you, or if you’re not buddy-buddies with this pubescent divinity then you’re classified as ‘nobody of note.’

It doesn’t get much better when you’re a fresh-faced, naive teenager. “What do you mean you haven’t kissed Marion Biddleton? Or, Martin Biddleton?” depending on which way you swing. “Wow! Are you a loser, or what?!”

The idea, that you’re not wearing the right clothes, listening to the right music, walking the right walk, or talking the right talk, is worse than if you were to emit some undefinable and alienating, smell.

Then you move into adulthood. Better? Not really. The status hounds, are permanently snapping at your heels. It’s a must to have the right the car or cars, house or houses, or wife. Please read that as, ‘wife,’ not wives. A mistress, of course, does mean extra brownie points, with your happily un-PC mates, but having two wives, is not only rather tacky, it’s also a jailable offence.

As you grow older, peer pressure asserts itself once again. These days, exercise is so ‘de rigueur.’ Covid restrictions mean you can stay at home and Peloton yourself silly, but a true status seeker has to be seen out and about on a bike. But not just any bike. A 2021 biker is an e-biker. To get those admiring glances you must be seen speeding along on your carbon belt driven, hand polished Trail-Guzzler, as it wafts you gently to the latest plant-based, holistic, physiotherapy lounge and puncture repair.


So it goes on. Even, where you work, has an enormous effect on your social suitability. Got a job in the media, then the invitations to parties, weddings, and cool barbecues on the back lawn, overlooking the river, flood in.

Out of work, or doing something part time, in a fish canning factory, then maybe the only thing that drops onto your doormat, is a flyer for a ‘Mobile dog-clipping service,’ or from Tesco, advertising, 20% off freezer bags?

You become very cool though, if you have an expensive foreign car in the driveway of your four-bedroom semi, and membership of the local golf, tennis or croquet club. You’re seen in the right places, and can talk knowledgeably, and forever, about that break in The Hamptons or at Branson’s little Caribbean place.

When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, you’ll be expansive about the crazy red, sports-job, you bought your lovely daughter, describing it, with false modesty, and no hint of humour, as a stocking filler!

Your children, are part of the status game as well. It’s not only, making sure the kids get the best sort of education, there has to be something that will put you in that ‘one up,’ position. I knew a mother, some years ago, who sent her daughter to a certain school, not because of its academic credentials but because girls wore boaters in the Summer!

School, college, universities are all good breeding grounds for status seekers. Making good pals there, will reinforce the statement that, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know!’

That is as true today, as it was the first time, someone put the thought into words. Quite simply, it’s being in the right place, at the right time, and saying the right things, to the right people. If you’ve read, John Braine’s ‘Room At The Top,’ you’ll know exactly what I mean. If not, then briefly, it details the rise of an ambitious young man of humble origin, hungry for social acceptance and as a not insubstantial side issue, a good amount of money.

Money, money, money. It’s what makes the world go round. It’s also an annoyingly catchy song by ABBA. It’s what life’s eager beavers are keen to get hold of and in as large amounts, as possible. Making money will surely, get you where you want to be? The smell of money, of success, is a smell that some go-getter’s noses, find irresistible. Don’t be fooled though, life has a way of making you pay through that nose, for your inexorable rise to the top.

Frank Capra, the American filmmaker summed it up quite neatly: “Making money, getting yourself status in this world, is not everything at all. But, it has become everything in America. That, you really have to get going, and keep up with the Jones’s. Get a house and a car and other things, and pretty soon you’re stymied. Things own you.”

So take a good, long, hard look at yourself. Are you a status seeker? The norm, if there is such a thing, is that those who seek status, are high in narcissistic traits. Is that you? Are you comfortable with attaining status and are driven to attain it? Have you a deep, abiding respect for social hierarchy? Think about it, then agree or disagree, to the following five statements.

“It doesn’t matter to me where I stand in the social order.”

“I’m not interested in trying to impress people.”

“If other people don’t see me as something special, it’s no big deal.”

“When I achieve something, I tend to keep quiet about it.”

“I don’t need to go telling everyone when something good happens to me.”

There are no prizes, but if you’ve been honest, you’ll have the satisfaction of being able to understand who you are and whether you have ‘status-abilty’. If you haven’t, then you probably don’t care anyway. Social status for some, is of vital importance and goes well beyond becoming captain of the local golf club. There is also a dark side to status seeking.

Examples of twentieth century conflicts resulting, at least in part, from social stratification include the Holocaust and the Khmer Rouge terror of the late 1970s. In both of these violent situations, there were relationships of domination and subordination at work. Various groups were struggling to maintain, or advance their social status.

Status seeking on that level is nothing less than sobering and completely terrifying. It’s an alarming insight into exactly how this world of ours can work. A lesson, not to be forgotten.

But, I don’t want to end this way. Status, for those who want it, is out there, waiting for you, to take by the hand, and skip merrily off into the comfortable, socially acceptable sunset.

If that’s for you, I can do no more than wish you the very best of luck.

For those of you, who are quite happy to be in a, ‘couldn’t care less,’ frame of mind, here are some words on the subject from, American singer, songwriter and actress, Christina Grimmie: ‘Be stupid, be dumb, be funny, if that’s who you are. Don’t try to be someone, that society wants you to be; that’s stupid. So be yourself!’

It’s not as easy as you think, but worth giving a try.

Main pic: @pappagabor

Peter Reeves
Peter Reeves is a radio broadcaster, university lecturer and writer. He has scripted for Count Duckula and Bob the Builder and is currently producing a book with illustrator Korky Paul.

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