The allure of luxury (james, b. Twitckhell)
At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great prince who, on being
informed that the country had no bread, replied, “Let them eat cake.”
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions
Well, okay, so Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” When
Rousseau wrote those words, Marie was just 11 years old and living in Austria.
But Americans used to like the story that, when the French queen was told by
an official that the people were angry because they had no bread, she
responded, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” We liked to imagine her saying it
with a snarl and a curled lip. She was a luxury bimbo whose out-of-control
spending grated on the poor and unfortunate French people. We fought a
revolution to separate ourselves from exactly that kind of uppercrustiness.
She got her just “desserts.”
But that was 200 years ago. Now cake is one of our favorite foods, part of the
fifth food group, totally unnecessary luxury consumption. We’re not talking
about a few crumbs, but the real stuff. Brioche by the loaf. Not for nothing
has Marie become a favorite subject for current infotainment. Novelists,
historians, biographers, and even hip young filmmaker Sofia Coppola are
telling her story, not because we want her reviled but because we want to be
And we’re doing a pretty good job. Luxury spending in the United States has
been growing more than four times as fast as overall spending, and the rest
of the West is not far behind. You might think that modern wannabe Maries
are grayhairs with poodles. Not so. This spending is being done by younger
and younger consumers. Take a walk up Fifth Avenue, and then, at 58th, cross
over and continue up Madison. You’ll see who is swarming through the
stores with names we all recognize: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior,
Coach. . . . Or cruise Worth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, and you’ll see the same
furious down-marketing and up-crusting. This is the Twinkiefication of deluxe.
You don’t have to go to these streets of dreams to see who’s on a sugar high.
Take a tour of your local Costco or Sam’s Club discount warehouse and you’ll
see the same stuff, only a day old and about to become stale, being
consumed by a slightly older crowd. Observe the parking lot, where shiny
new imported sedans and SUVs are parked beside aging subcompacts. Or
spend an hour watching the Home Shopping Network, a televised flea
market for impulse buyers. Its call centers now have some 23,000 incoming
phone lines capable of handling up to 20,000 calls a minute. The network no
longer sells cubic zirconia rings. It sells Gucci handbags.
We’ve developed a powerful desire to associate with recognized objects of
little intrinsic but high positional value, which is why Martha Stewart, our faux
Marie, is down at Kmart introducing her Silver Label goods, why a courtier the
likes of Michael Graves is designing toasters for Target (pronounced by wits,
with an ironic French flair, tar-ZHAY), why the Duke of Polo, Ralph Lauren, is
marketing house paint, and why suave Cole Porter–brand furniture is
appearing on the floor at Ethan Allen stores.
Look around, and you will see that almost every category of consumables has
cake at the top. This is true not just for expensive products such as town cars
and McMansions, but for everyday objects. In bottled water, for instance,
there is Evian, advertised as if it were a liqueur. In coffee, there’s Starbucks; in
ice cream, Häagen-Dazs; in sneakers, Nike; in wine, Chateau Margaux; in
cigars, Arturo Fuente Hemingway, and well, you know the rest. Having a few
TVs around the house is fine, but what you really need is a home
entertainment center worthy of Versailles, with a JBL Ultra Synthesis One
audio system, a Vidikron Vision One front projector, a Stewart Ultramatte 150
screen, a Pioneer DV-09 DVD player, and an AMX ViewPoint remote control.
Hungry for chow with your entertainment? Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has
his own line of TV dinner entrées.
Ironically, what this poaching of deluxe by the middle class has done is make
things impossible for the truly rich. Ponder this: A generation ago, the Duke
and Duchess of Windsor surrounded themselves with the world’s finest goods—from jewelry to bed linens to flatware. The duchess, the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, would never be queen, but that didn’t
prevent her from carrying off a passable imitation of Marie. In the Windsor
household, the coasters were Cartier and the placemats were Porthault, and
the pooches ate from silver-plated Tiffany bowls.
When Sotheby’s auctioned more than 40,000 items from the Windsors’ Paris
home in 1997, the remnants of their royal life went out for bid. Most of the
items listed in the Sotheby’s catalog are still being made, either in the same
form or in an updated version. In other words, the duchess’s precious things
are within your grimy reach. From her point of view, she might just as well
take ’em to the dump.
• Chanel faux-pearl earrings given to the duchess by the duke can be picked
up for about $360 at Chanel stores.
• The duchess’s Cartier love bracelet in 18-karat gold with screw closure,
which was presented by the president of Cartier to the Windsors and other
“great lovers” in 1970 (among the other recipients: Elizabeth Taylor and
Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti), is yours for $3,625 at Cartier
• T. Anthony luggage, the Windsors’ favorite (they owned 118 such trunks), is
still being manufactured and can be bought in Manhattan.
• Hand-embroidered Porthault linens are stocked at your local mall.
• The Windsors’ stationery from the Mrs. John L. Strong company, complete
with hand-engraved monogrammed pieces on pure cotton paper, can be
yours for $80 to $750, depending on the ornamentation.
• The duke’s velvet slippers can be purchased for $188 at Brooks Brothers,
which owns the London company that made them. Instead of an E for
“Edward” below the embroidered crown, the slippers have a BB.
• Okay, okay, you’ll never own as many scarves and gloves as the duchess did,
but Hermes and Balenciaga sell exactly the same ones she wore for upward
of $300 a pop.
Here’s the takeaway: There is very little cake a rich person once gorged on
that a middle-class person can’t get on his plate. You name it; I can taste it.
So I can’t afford a casita on Bermuda, but I can get in on a time-share for a
weekend. No, I can’t own a stretch limo, but I can rent one by the hour.
Maybe Venice is out this year, but I’ll go to the Venetian in Vegas instead. I
can’t afford an Armani suit, but what about these eyeglasses with Giorgio’s
name plastered on them? Commodore Vanderbilt said that if you have to ask
how much a yacht costs, you can’t afford one, but check out my stateroom on
my chartered Majestic Princess. True, I don’t have my own Gulfstream V jet,
but I can upgrade to first class on Delta with the miles I “earn” by using my
American Express card. Is that my own Lexus out front? Or is it on lease from
a used car dealer? You’ll never know.
Lux populi may be the end of deluxe. “Real” luxury used to be for the “happy
few,” but in the world of the supra-12,000 Dow Jones industrial average,
there are only the minted many. “Sudden Wealth Syndrome,” asThe Los
Angeles Times has called it, is not just for dot.com innovators or contestants
on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but for a generation that is inheriting its
wealth through the steady attrition of the Generation Who Fought the War.
The “wealth effect,” as former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan
termed it, drives more and more money to chase after goods whose
production can hardly be called beneficial and cannot now even be called
There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that when Tom Ford, chief designer for
Gucci in the 1990s, was passing through the Newark airport (what the hell
was he doing there?!), he saw one of his swanky T-shirts on the tummy of a
portly prole. He immediately canceled the clothing line. Too late. Perhaps the
social construction of luxury as a material category has already been
deconstructed into banality.
The very unreachableness of old luxe made it safe, like an old name, old
blood, old land, an old coat of arms, or old service to the crown.
Primogeniture, the cautious passage and consolidation of wealth to the firstborn male, made the anxiety of exclusion from luxe somehow bearable. After
all, you knew your place from the moment of birth and had plenty of time to
make your peace. If you drew the short straw, not to worry. A comfortable life
as a vicar would await you. Or the officer corps.
The application of steam, then electricity, to the engines of production
brought a new market to status objects, an industrial market made up of
people who essentially bought their way into having a bloodline. These were
the people who so disturbed economist Thorstein Veblen, and from them
this new generation of consumer has descended. First the industrial rich, then
the inherited rich, and now the incidentally rich, the accidentally rich, the golden-parachute rich, the buyout rich, the lottery rich.
Call them yuppies, yippies, bobos, nobrows, or whatever, the consumers of
the new luxury have a sense of entitlement that transcends social class, a
conviction that the finest things are their birthright. Never mind that they
may have been born into a family whose ancestral estate is a tract house in
the suburbs, near the mall, not paid for, and whose family crest was
downloaded from the Internet. Ditto the signet ring design. Language reflects
this hijacking. Words such
as gourmet, premium, boutique, chic, accessory, andclassic have loosened
from their elite moorings and now describe such top-of-category items as
popcorn, hamburgers, discount brokers, shampoo, scarves, ice cream, and
trailer parks. “Luxury for all” is an oxymoron, all right, the aspirational goal of
modern culture, and the death knell of the real thing.
These new customers for luxury are younger than clients of the old luxe used
to be, there are far more of them, they make their money much sooner, and
they are far more flexible in financing and fickle in choice. They do not stay
put. When Richie Rich starts buying tulips by the ton, Nouveau Riche is right
there behind him picking them up by the pound.
In a sense, the filthy rich have only two genuine luxury items left: time and
philanthropy. As the old paradox goes, the rich share the luxury of too much
time on their hands with the very people on whom they often bestow their
philanthropy. Who knows, maybe poverty will become the new luxury, as the
philosophes predicted. Wonder Bread becomes the new cake. Once you’ve
ripped out all the old patinaed hardware, once you’ve traded in the Bentley
for a rusted-out Chevy, once you’ve carted all the polo pony shirts to
Goodwill, once you’ve given the Pollock to the Met, once you’ve taken your
last trip up Everest and into the Amazon, there’s not much left to do to
separate yourself but give the rest of the damned stuff away. Competitive
philanthropy has its allure. Why do you think there are more than 20
universities with multibillion-dollar pledge campaigns? Those bobos sure as
hell can’t do it. Little wonder that Warren Buffett dumped his load rather
casually on top of a pile amassed by another modern baron, almost as if to
say, “Top that.” Now that’s a show stopper. Even The Donald can’t trump that.
Jiaju Wang Iris
People in Society
What is the society? Society is a group of people involved in persistent
interpersonal relationships. People need to contact with other people in the
society, they need to do some work to make livings, for example, students go to
school in order to get some knowledge, people work in order to get some money
to live. Sometimes, when people do something, they may need to choose, to
consider whether it is worth to do. However, sometimes people may not have
good choices, then they need to do something that they are not willing to do. In
the article “Dog Lab”, McCarthy does the dog lab in order to get experience about
medical knowledge. Even though she hates to kill a dog to get experience, she
does the dog lab. She is afraid of getting bad grades and missing good studying
opportunity. In an other article “Shooting an Elephant”, Orwell talks about the
experience that he killed an elephant when he was a police officer in Burma. In
fact, he also did not want to kill an elephant, but, thousands of people wanted the
elephant killed and people expected him to kill it. In that situation, if he did not
shoot that elephant, people will think Orwell as an idiot, and Orwell felt he would
lose the limited authority he possessed. People will have many varied
experiences in their lives. It is general for people to do something that they hate
to do. Both authors did what they didn’t like, they killed animals which they
didn’t want to kill. Why? Sometimes, people have no choice. In some situation,
people may reduce their lines to get what they need, or, they may change their
moral line by accepting other people’s influences.
First, people might reduce their line that they use that line to define
themselves to get some advantages. Sometimes people get what they want by
doing something that they are not willing to do. In the article “Dog Lab”, the
author dislikes using a dog in order to get some knowledge, nevertheless, she did
the dog lab in the end. She knows that behavior is wrong, but she wants get
experience, she didn’t want to miss any chance to learn. As what she wrote: “ I
didn’t want to kill a dog, but, I certainly want to take advantages of every learning
opportunity offer me. And despite the fact that the course instructor had said our
grades wouldn’t be affected if we didn’t attend the lab, I wasn’t sure I believe him,
and I didn’t want to take any chances.”(McCarthy, 481) Things have different
sides which have advantages and disadvantages. She wants to get experience, to
get good grades, as the same as, she needs to kill dog to do the lab. She believes
that the price of doing this is that she needs to kill a dog. Actually, she really
doesn’t like to kill animal, she was so sorry for what she did to this dog. More,
Orwell has similar experience in
“Shoot an Elephant”. He gets social status
through shooting an elephant. If he didn’t kill uncontrolled elephant, he thinks
many of people would disdain him, look him as an idiot: “I often wondered
whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”
(Orwell, 463) Orwell brought his rifle because he thought the noise might be
useful to threaten the elephant, but, people think that he prepared to shoot the
elephant. Two thousands of people follow his steps, and hope the elephant will
be killed. In that situation, if Orwell didn’t shoot the elephant, people will look
him like a fool. He did not want people to laugh at him, he wants to be sure of his
social status, so, he shot an elephant. More, he also thinks his behavior is
representative of the European, he can’t let Burmese laugh at European, because
he is the policeman work for Europe. In short, people may satisfy their demands
by doing some things that they are reluctant to do.
Moreover, sometimes, people allowed themselves to do some wrong things
in order to get what they want, because they are influenced by other people. We
can know from article of “Dog Lab” that medical students may need to do the dog
lab in the second year. There is the sentence that: “When the second-year
students talked about Physiology, they always mentioned ‘Dog Lab’. They
mentioned it briefly but significantly, sharing knowing looks.”(479) From this
sentence, we can find that students do dog labs as normal. More and more
medical students do the dog lab to learn knowledge. People know that killing dog
to do lab is not reasonable, but, all students do the lab, then they will slowly think
that behavior is reasonable in their mind. plus, the author wants get all chances
to learn. Even though she felt guilty about dog, she accepted to join this lab. To
some extent, she might be influenced by other students, since many of people do
the lab too, she may feel better to do dog lab. Additionally. In the article of
“Shooting an Elephant”, Orwell finally shot the elephant, a part of reason is two
thousands of people hoped he can shoot, people have high enthusiasms on
shooting elephant, because they can see how the elephant be killed and they can
divide the elephant meat, more, if he didn’t shot, he will be laugh. He wrote: “A
thousands suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.
The people excepted it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two
thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.” ( 461) people might give him a
ideal that he should shoot the elephant. When he was influenced by other people
sayings, he shot the elephant. However, he has no purpose to shoot elephant
when he brought the rifle, he just wanted to threaten the elephant with noisy
shot. People live in our society, they are influenced by many things all time, we
can’t avoid. In general, we might do some unwilling things pass getting others
However, when we change our moral line to gain some benefits, we may
feel something wrong for us. In the article “Shooting an Elephant”, Orwell doesn’t
want to kill the elephant. Not only is the elephant worth a hundred pounds at the
time, but also the elephant has already calmed down. He was guilty to the
elephant: “But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his
bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that
elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him.”( 462)
when he came to the accident, the elephant do not hurt anyone, elephant’s
behaviors are normal. There are no reasons to kill the elephant, but, he doesn’t
hope people make fun with him, and he has responsibility to his country, he can
not make people laugh at his country. So, he decided to shoot. After he shot, he
realized he killed the elephant in order to get his benefits. He murdered the
animal, then he was sorry about that elephant. More, he felt guilty to elephant
owner, the owner lost many money. Another, McCarthy felt sorry for the dog as
same as. In the “Dog Lab”, she received better opportunity to learn by killing a
dog. She wrote a long sentence express her sorry for the dog: “I was disappointed
in the lab and disappoint in myself for doing it. I knew now that doing the lab was
wrong. Maybe not wrong for everyone—it was clearly a complicated and
individual choice—but wrong for me.”(485) McCarthy are so sorry for dog. She
realizes that kill a dog to do research is unmoral. The dog is innocent, killing a
dog to do lab is dehumanization. All in all, people might make some reluctant
choices that broken their moral basis, then they feel guilty, like both Orwell and
In conclusion, “Dog Lab” and “ Shooting an Elephant” describe similar story.
Both author do unwilling choice, after they did their works, they felt guilty.
McCarthy uses a dog life to do research, Orwell shot an elephant to ensure his
reputation. Orwell not only didn’t want people disdain him, but also he have
responsibility to his job, his country. If he wants to get what he wants, he will
have no choice in that situation, he must shot elephant. In our daily life, we will
make many difficult chooses, sometimes, we change our definitions of ourselves,
we would love to reduce our basic standards to gain benefits, and we might do
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