Sean Beckwith: Advertising the end of elitism
June 26, 2018
"If we don't elect people who focus on people instead of the developers bankrolling their campaigns, we will have a Denver that looks like Aspen, elites only."
That was part of a tweet by Colleen Zahradnicek, a candidate for Denver City Council. I don't care about Colleen or the Denver council race; my issue is with the Aspen slight. This perception, which is justified, that Aspen is exclusively for the 1 percent is irksome.
We consistently have some of the most expensive hotel rooms, real estate and gas prices in the state. Things like Food & Wine, Ideas Festival, music students playing Johann Sebastian Bach on the corner, Gucci, Gorsuch, Prada and Goop all re-enforce this stereotype.
You can get steak tartare as easily as you can get a burger. The aspect that people don't talk about is the large number of people who work and (at least try to) live in Aspen that have mundane, average- to below-average paying jobs. The front drive guys, line cooks, spa attendants, dishwashers, bussers and pretty much anyone who gets off the BRT at Rubey Park around 7 a.m. and leaves on the 5 p.m. downvalley. If the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority didn't exist, this city would have a serious staffing problem.
This notion that people are out here living Instagram lives is as real as that clarendon-filtered steak and potatoes picture you posted half sauced. It sure looks good but we all know that steak is overdone and you had to drown it in A1. If I posted as many photos from my job as I post from my weekend, people would ask me if I need therapy. Some menial locals are lucky enough to have access to exclusive parties and events, but most of the time they're stuck pouring tourists' vodka soda drinks on Saturday nights while looking at a full dance floor for some insanely expensive wedding.
However, Aspen's workforce is reluctantly forced to embrace people who spend money like Antoine Walker trying to keep up with Michael Jordan at the blackjack table. Outsiders act like because I live in Aspen I'm bros with the guy in the straight-from-the-mannequin Gucci outfit that keeps circling the block on his Ducati, desperately wanting to be seen. What velvet is to George Costanza, basketball shorts and hoodies are to me. If I could drape myself in Nike shorts and North Face pullovers, I would. The discount meat bin is my most visited section at City Market. I bought two glasses of whiskey over Food & Wine for $50 total and had to rearrange my budget for the next two weeks.
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The most interesting thing at Ideas Fest to me is the Kanye-Beethoven orchestra mash-up, and I haven't liked anything Kanye has done in five years. The last time I listened to Beethoven was probably watching "Looney Tunes."
Imagining old white people trying to dance to Yeethoven makes me extremely happy, but that's more for unintentional comedy than anything else. I think the Ideas Festival is one of the better happenings in Aspen. It's not fueled by booze and there are a ton of smart, interesting discussions happening all week, but I think the optics of it aren't great.
All of these extremely smart, educated people are gathering at the mecca of privilege to discuss pressing world issues, but the city can't figure out how to house the large Latino workforce busing up from Glenwood and Rifle within 30 miles of the Intercept Lot. People have seen through the act of masquerading behind Hunter S. Thompson and his gonzo journalism for some time now.
Aspen A.D. (after "Dumb and Dumber") has largely been exposed for the elitism rightly associated with an influx of private jets and high-end bistros and boutiques. I don't know how to fix it. You can't convince rich people that something expensive isn't nice. You can't unpave roads and tear down the town's five-star, five-diamond hotel to reinstate a brothel. An event centered around the wage gap between the front of the house and the back of the house isn't going to attract Katie Couric. Andrew Zimmern isn't going come to an all-you-can-eat Rocky Mountain oyster festival. Bad example. Tom Colicchio won't be dropping everything for a chili and brew fest.
I know there are parts of Aspen that are far from elite. Outsiders won't see the unseemly details of this area because it's off-brand and off-putting. City officials spent $50,000 on a damn logo.
Perhaps it's time for a different marketing campaign. One based on actual people who live here. I'm not sure how that'd go over, though, because no one wants to watch me fill the ice-water jug or turn the phones over. But just maybe if we can convince people we're regular enough they'll stop calling us elite — probably not, though.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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