The social hierarchy of some groups is relatively “flat” and people are mostly treated as equals. But many groups are defined by a palpable “vertical” hierarchy based on clout and social class. In these groups, people spend a huge chunk of their social energy gaining and maintaining personal status.
Social climbing and posing with influential bloggers @ SXSW. image: vissage
At the top of the social class pyramid are the uber-elite members with the most highly-desired traits. In the venture capital / startup world, they are the rich investors and people whose companies were acquired by larger companies. In the conference scene, it’s the big name “rockstar” bloggers and speakers who jet around the world – blurring the line between business and partying. Online, it’s the power users with the strongest Twitter / Digg accounts or blog followings – who have the digital influence to launch new content into the heights of popularity.
Because the elite have money to invest in new ideas… or they can to decide who gets to speak at conferences or whose stories make the home page – they literally have the power to define what’s cool in a scene. The elite caste members set the mold that those below them feel great pressure to emulate. The pressure to leave behind those with undesirable traits can be heavy – even if that includes oneself. Change your clothes, get a new haircut, learn the lingo and get seen talking to the right people!
The Principle of Proximity
Social climbing is usually done by the principle of proximity – where the ticket to higher class is frequently associating with people of a higher class than yours. You don’t have to be a rich genius; you just have find a way to be associated with one. You can date one, or even just work as their low-level assistant – an you’ll be treated as a member of a influential servant caste. You don’t have to be a famous blogger, you just have to be seen @replying to them on Twitter all the time. At social media conferences, one can observe people “posing” and clamoring to stand in dense groups near higher-status people… while lower status, less-connected people stand in sparse groups on the periphery.
Naomi Dunford writes about the pandemic of social climbing at SXSW – and how name dropping, ass kissing, and using cryptic buzzwords help people establish themselves as well-connected “somebodies” in the know. Dr. Trix writes a fascinating analysis of classism and vanity in the West Coast rave scene – where he describes people emptying their back accounts on custom clothes, tattoos and piercings in order to be accepted by the elite, rich trustafarian peacocks.
Dr. Trix argues that members of higher classes usually subject people to a lot of scrutiny before accepting them into their world and they tend to look down the most on the people in the class directly below theirs. The billionaires smirk at the millionaires… and so on down the ladder. As you move down the class ladder towards the bottom, people become more welcoming because they are heavily oppressed by the upper classes. Social climbing gets a bad name because it often involves turning a cold shoulder. Even if some people don’t intentionally oppress others, they spend so much time and energy “climbing” that they rarely have any energy left to smile or chat with someone who can’t help boost their status.
Social climbers are always reaching up – but they sometimes stamp down on the fingers of others below them. Road blocking is my term for deliberately excluding or sabotaging people – with the (unconscious) intention of maintaining your one’s perch on the social ladder. It’s where social climbing can get pathological and downright nasty.
Road blocks can be a simple as quietly pulling out someone’s speaker application because you’d rather have the limelight to yourself – or as complex as creating a whole suite of false, libelous rumors about someone and spreading them on multiple fronts. Online “bury brigades” gang up and sabotage people’s social media efforts.
Cliques and private companies use unwritten road blocks to keep everyone new out – allowing them to hand filter those with the most desirable traits. Talentless hacks use roadblocks to prevent other people from competing with them, as do best-of-breed champions. Road blocking often done in competitive social scenes, but it’s the shadow side of social climbing that is rarely talked about.
What is your own observations on social climbing? What is the hierarchy of different social classes in our scene — which groups are at the top and bottom?
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Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.