Roger Marolt: Socially engineered for the architects of affluence
To be or not to be, that is the question of social engineering. With that, I have to dive back into the roiling runoff of local controversy that won’t recede. They’re still going after Skippy for his Instagrammed frustrated holiday rant while driving through downtown Aspen and wondering out loud, how did we get here?
Regarding Skippy, Elizabeth Milias wrote, “His recurring theme of a desire for a preferred visitor at the exclusion of others is appalling.” And then admonished him directly, “You have zero responsibility for social engineering. Your personal ideas about shaping our demographics are frightening.”
She could have, perhaps, more effectively substituted “Aspen Ski Co.,” “Walter Paepke” or many of my ancestors’ names where she refers to Skippy, because they actually accomplished what Skippy is only suggesting. They helped force Aspen’s character. Like it or not, resort towns are way more socially engineered than most towns and Aspen is even more socially engineered than most resorts. We are not a cross section of American demographics. We are intentionally different here.
Aspen is whiter, richer and more fit than average American towns. Aspen is more highly educated. It has a lower crime rate. We are more liberal. We have higher rates of drug and alcohol use, abuse and dependency. We have a higher suicide rate. We ski. This didn’t all happen by accident. This is what we set out to be, including the inadvertent side effects.
How did we do it? It’s not something in the water. It’s not just what our natural beauty attracts. Aspen targeted the people who make up its personality. Its character did not shift from the impoverished former mining town it was in the early 1900s to the glitzy retreat for the ultra-wealthy it is today by some inevitable organic evolution. Somebody set out to “socially engineer” this place to attract who they believed to be “the right people.”
This realized Aspen ideal, of course, was not accomplished all at once. The blueprint was drawn, revised, and will continue to be modified from this point on. We get what we try for. As “social engineering” is not a soothing term for most ears, Skico, some of the larger hotels and national stores, along with many developers in town, prefer to call this deliberate filtering of guests and residents as “branding.” Calling all jet owners! Do you copy? Come in.
If you don’t believe this, a quick perusal of an edition of either local newspaper or a local magazine ought to convince you. Look at the ads. What are shopping invitations for billionaires are viewed by the middle-class person as for entertainment purposes only. Nationwide, I am guessing that not much targeted internet advertising launched from here is being aimed at laptops in households with incomes less than $100,000. Even though the cost of a digital dart is minuscule, it is not part of the mission.
I am not saying this is bad. I am not saying it is good, either. I am only saying that social engineering has played the leading role in shaping the character of this town. It’s OK; it’s not like we are trying to create a superior race. But, it is naiveté in the extreme to think we have ever been above this practice or likely will ever stop doing it or that someone attempting it is necessarily evil, stupid or appalling.
So, Councilman Skippy thinks we would be better off with a different type of person here. Perhaps he meant a crowd that was more middle class, more racially diverse, more sober, more respectful, more down to earth, better at driving. Why would attempts to socially engineer Aspen toward these profiles be worse than continuing to socially engineer it toward the people with the fattest wallets? I think most of us can accurately answer that question, but there is no need to put anyone on the spot, so go ahead and just admit how much we love money and then we’ll keep it to ourselves.
I hope this perspective reframes Skippy’s holiday rant into what it really is — the expression of an opinion. This is not an offense worthy of initiating a recall effort to remove him from office. If it is frightening, then a large part of our population is terrifying, too, because many locals feel the same way. Sure, he might have said it more calmly, more politely, and laid it out it in a different format or context, but the reality is that many people for many years have agreed that Aspen has been engineered to attract the wrong kind of people and should be re-engineered to attract a more regular kind of crowd. There is no right or wrong in this. It comes down to what we prefer, all things considered. And finally, I want to say that I agree with the wise person who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, perhaps you shouldn’t say anything at all.” Of course, if you want to go off on Skippy, I suppose that would be OK. That is, if you think this town needs more hypocrites.
Roger Marolt hopes to one day be transformed from a wise guy into a wiseman. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.