As the cold truth of the effects of the 2014 Budget come to light day by day, particularly its effects on people on low and middle incomes, novelist Armistead Maupin’s description of contemporary American life – these new hard times – seems now particularly befitting for Australia.
The new novel has been widely reviewed in recent months, attracting much interest because of the continuation of a narrative that commenced in the late 1970s. And a great area of interest is how he portrays 21st century American life, which seems a world away from his portrayals of 1970s and 1980s life in San Francisco.
In the novel, Maupin describes the situation of a gay married couple, Michael and Ben. Michael is a landscape gardener and Ben a boutique furniture maker. But in these new hard times (pp. 104-105) business and life is not how it was:
“Their clients had once come from all over – from people like them, artists and office workers – but now only the rich could afford tended gardens and custom furniture. It was the 1 percent or nobody.
There was some comfort in knowing that most of their friends were in the same leaky boat. They were counting their blessings, waiting for a sneaker wave to take them to shore….”
The couple’s social group had cut back where and how they could, living on the cheap. They still had a few well-off friends – executives at Twitter or Google, doctors or lawyers, and a few who had made some good business deals or had inherited some wealth.
“But Ben and Michael saw less of these people now – there was no denying that. Something lurked in the chasm between their incomes, something less about envy or snobbery than deep embarrassment from both directions. It was just easier to stay away” (p.105).
Maupin has hit the mark on the big rift that has emerged between the few very well off and this new large grouping – those who were once middle class…In Australia, the 2014 Budget looks set to consolidate further social polarisation – along the lines already well advanced in the USA. It looks like many of us are up for some new hard times of our own.
Post script – 7 June – More on the New Hard Times
Government budgets for emergency assistance for half a million unemployed young people. See ABC report: