The American Hangover

NEW YORK – As turmoil stalks America’s financial markets and protests fill its streets, Americans’ lifestyle choices are evolving in a telling way: once seen by the rest of the world as an exuberant teenager – the globe’s extrovert, exporter of rock ’n’ roll and flashy Hollywood movies – Americans are now becoming decidedly withdrawn, or at least inward-looking. Trends in leisure activities reflect that change: frugality and making do are in; gaudy consumerism is out.

This change is due to the fragile economy, of course, but I believe that it is also psychological. After two wars and a half-dozen undeclared conflicts in the past decade, America has entered a period of unprecedented cultural hibernation.

Gardening, scrapbooking, knitting, and cooking have all become newly, shabbily chic. In the urban neighborhoods to which the young and hip are moving, city garden plots and heirloom tomatoes grown in window boxes have replaced Lexuses and Priuses.

Other young hipsters have moved farther out into the country in search of an idyllic new narrative fantasy. The young couple – he with a beard and she in a sundress and rubber boots – are homesteading in the Hudson River Valley with a flock of chickens, or in New Mexico in an ecofriendly straw-bale house. They have replaced the young couple of five years ago – he with the hedge fund, she with interior decorators – in a McMansion in Westchester County.