n. The tendency for originally upscale products to eventually become popular with the working class; the tendency for most elements of the culture to eventually appeal to the lowest common denominator.
[T]he usual life cycle of consumer products in the U.S [is that] they're first adopted by upscale metropolitan clusters before undergoing a process called "proletarian drift" that eventually sends them to the hinterland. Eventually, even Starbucks caffe latte ends up at an isolated market in Appalachia.
Paul Fussell, the nation's newest world-class curmudgeon, is taking aim at The American Experiment. For the 58-year-old don, author and omni-pundit, that includes even the leafy collegiate charm of Princeton. "It used to be a great center of wit," says Fussell in mid-stroll, glowering at the placid streetscape, "but now it's subject to prole drift." Prole drift? "Everything in the modern world drifts prole-ward all the time. Even the better classes have to wait in long lines, the quality of food degenerates, airline seating grows more cramped. In another 100 years, there will be no visible difference between the Soviet Union and the United States."
This phrase wears its brazen elitism on its sleeve thanks to its use of the adjective proletarian which, at best, refers to the working class, but in its most hostile sense is a sneering reference to the lowest of the low, the vulgar and the vile. (The word comes from the Latin proletarius, the lowest class of Roman citizen who served the state only by reproducing.) Proletarian drift was likely coined by the academic Paul Fussell, although he called it prole drift. That phrase appears in his 1983 book Class and also in the interview excerpted in the earliest citation.