A Patio Man For All Seasons: Brooks Resurrects An Archetype

standard102108 A Patio Man For All Seasons: Brooks Resurrects An ArchetypeHey, look who’s back! America’s old friend, Patio Man. In his New York Times column today, David Brooks offers "Patio Man Revisited," a little check-in with his archetypal (white) suburban everyman whom he introduced to readers in a 2002 two-part story in The Weekly Standard.

Back then—when President Bush’s approval rating was at 63% and crude oil was at about $24.00 per barrel—Mr. Brooks wrote:

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed the expression of a man who is about to buy a first-class barbecue grill. He walks into a Home Depot or Lowe’s or one of the other mega hardware complexes and his eyes are glistening with a faraway visionary zeal, like one of those old prophets gazing into the promised land.

Patio Man was a regular guy, nothing at all like those Bobos (Bourgeois Bohemians) with their lattes and leather club chairs from Ethan Allen whom Mr. Brooks satirized in his 2000 book, Bobos in Paradise, which was subtitled, "The New Upper Class and How They Got There." Patio man lived in, to echo Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s now-famous formulation, the "pro-America" parts of the country. He bought that grill with his credit card. He had visions of hearty cookouts with friends and family.

Patio Man was married to "Realtor Mom" (aka, Cindy), and lived in Sprinkler City where "The people are friendly. The men are no more than 25 pounds overweight, which is the socially acceptable male paunch level in upwardly mobile America, and the children are well adjusted." (Not merely above average like those little losers in Lake Wobegon.)

Of course, when Mr. Brooks expanded his fairy tale of Patio Man and Realtor Mom into a bedtime story called On Paradise Drive—which sported a the subtitle "How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense"—some critics like Philadelphia magazine’s Sasha Issenberg picked apart his facts in a story deliciously headlined "Boo-Boos in Paradise" and Michael Kinsley, writing in The New York Times Book Review broke down Mr. Brooks’ technique:

The Brooks sociological method has four components: fearless generalizing, clever coinage, jokes and shopping lists.

Mr. Kinsley also complimented Mr. Brooks (maybe?) as follows: "At the very least, Brooks does not let the sociology get in the way of the shtick, and he wields a mean shoehorn when he needs the theory to fit the joke."

The joke continues, apparently. Today, Mr. Brooks writes:

Patio Man wants change. But this is no time for more risk or more debt. Debt in the future is no solution to the debt racked up in the past. This is a back-to-basics moment, a return to safety and the fundamentals.

Sadly, there’s no mention of Realtor Mom or those well adjusted kids. In 2002, in the second of his two Patio Man pieces, Mr. Brooks addressed his straw Patio Man directly: "Professionally, socially, parentally, you have your life together."

In tougher times, it looks like Patio Man is—to use the phrase coined by Robert D. Putnam but used by Mr. Brooks on no fewer than three times in The Times—bowling alone.

Hope he’s paid off that grill.