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January 27th, 2006, 15:35 #1
Paul Fussell: Trad Dogs, and Trad Pets In General
This is so definitive, or rather persuasive, and authoritative (it's from Paul Fussell, Class: A Guide) that I thought it deserved a thread of its own...
In domestic settings whether upper or prole, domestic animals are bound to be in attendance, and like everything else they give off class signals. Dogs first. They are classier the more they allude to nonutilitarian hunting, and thus to England. Top dogs consequently are Labradors, golden retrievers, corgis, King Charles spaniels, and Afghan hounds. To be upper-class you should have a lot of them, and they should be named after the costlier liquors, like Brandy and Whiskey. The middle class goes in for Scotties and Irish setters, often giving them Scottish or Irish names, although it reserves "Sean" (sometimes spelled "Shawn" to make sure everyone gets it) for its own human issue. Proles, for their part, like breeds that can be conceived to furnish "protection": Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, or pit bulls. Or breeds useful in utilitarian outdoor pursuits, like beagles. The thinness of dogs is often a sign of their social class. "Upper-class dogs," says Jilly Cooper, "have only one meal a day and are therefore quite thin, like their owners." She perceives too that classy people often affect certain breeds of dogs just because the classes below can't pronounce them. Thus their commitment to Rottweilers and Weimaraners. Dogs are popular with the top classes not just because, if large and rowdy especially, they convey the message that their owner is a member of the landed gentry, or what passes for it here. They're also popular among the uppers for the reason Jean Jacques Rousseau indicated over two hundred years ago when he was talking with James Boswell about dogs versus cats as pets:
ROUSSEAU: Do you like cats?
ROUSSEAU: I was sure of that. It is my test of character. There you have the despotic instinct of men. They do not like cats because the cat is free, and will never consent to become a slave. He will do nothing to your order, as the other animals do.
Thus the upper orders' fondness for a species they can order about, like their caterers, gardeners, and lawyers, and one that fawns the more it's commanded. "Sit! That's a good boy."
The dog is both more visible and more audible than the cat, and is for that reason a better class-display investment. The cat is also "less reputable," as Veblen observes, "because she is less wasteful; she may even serve a useful end," like repressing mice. Upper-class cats, the equivalent of poodles in the dog world, are those held to originate in such exotic places (that is, expensive to get to) as Burma and the Himalayas. If you are upper-middle class you'll be tempted to name the cat "Cat." Middles go in for Siamese cats, proles for alley cats, which they name "Puss." Birds in cages are very middle-class, fish in aquariums high-prole. The more elaborate the underwater "set" you provide for your goldfish--sunken galleons, mermaids, giant clams--the more prole you.
January 27th, 2006, 19:01 #2
What does Flussell say about black suits?
Fortuna elegantes adiuvit.
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