- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1st edition (February 15, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231124961
- ISBN-13: 978-0231124966
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,083,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Living It Up 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
As the author of works on advertising, materialism and modern culture, University of Florida professor Twitchell should have been the most immune to acquisitive desire while doing research in posh Rodeo Drive and Madison Avenue stores. That he was momentarily struck with passion by a Ralph Lauren tie not only demonstrates his humanity, but also underlines one of his theses: no one is above a bit of luxury lust. The reason for this, he says, is, "We understand each other not by sharing religion, politics, or ideas. We share branded things. We speak the Esperanto of advertising, luxe populi." These are sentiments voiced by many who study consumer culture, but Twitchell addresses conspicuous consumption in a new way, free of the superior tone often adopted by his academic peers. He embarks on a course of fieldwork that is both absurdist and charming, as he chats up Fendi salespeople and stands slack-jawed in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. With the research done, but the tie unbought, he comes away with insights about the American quest for luxury products and provides a history of such yearning: "The balderdash of cloistered academics aside, human beings did not suddenly become materialistic. We have always been desirous of things." Many of those things, in the recent past and definitely in the present, have been imbued with an aura of opulence and indulgence, Twitchell posits, leading to a kind of emotional satisfaction through shopping, especially for items outside one's budget. With its intelligence and wit, Twitchell's exploration of consumerism belongs in every shopping bag.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Ah, the evils of luxury. Spending for its own sake, accumulating unnecessary "stuff," the need to own for status, the trophy car, the trophy home, designer everything. But here's the conundrum: what is considered luxury for one generation is considered necessity for the next, and today's credit-addicted society makes luxury, or at least the appearance of luxury, available to all. Who better to sort the whole thing out than Twitchell, one of Newsweek 's "100 Cultural Elite." He has some interesting tidbits about what has been considered opulent in the past, and he has coined a new term for those universally craved name-brand objects--opuluxe. It's image above substance--think Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Montblanc, Nike, Evian, and Starbucks. But is the desire for high-end junk as wasteful and garish as it seemed when it was available to only the few? Twitchell makes the case for a mild defense of luxury in that its mass consumption ultimately lifts up the masses economically. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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However, few (if any) of Twitchell's readers have conducted the research he has on all this. My own experience suggests that distinctions between Old Money and New Money are less informative than the matter of taste. (Twitchell suggests few such distinctions.) Vulgarity cuts across all economic levels but, in general, the consumption of those in the Old Money category is less conspicuous than consumption by those in the New Money category. (If Twitchell has read The Millionaire Next Door, I wonder what he thinks of Tom Stanley's conclusions.) Almost all of the affluent people I know collect and redeem coupons, are constantly alert for bargains, try to get the maximum number of shaves from a razor blade, etc. Early in life, I learned that those referred to as "tightwads" are relentlessly frugal but not opposed to "opuluxe spending" per se. Unlike most others, they maintain tight control of a "wad" which permits them to purchase just about anything they may desire.
What to make of this book? First of all, it's highly entertaining. Also, its general subject is one which has not as yet received as much attention as I think it deserves, although a number of other books ("Lux Lit") have also been published in recent years. Moreover, I think that Twitchell is really on to something important when suggesting (or at least implying) that expanding consumerism on a global basis will create greater access to "the finer things in life." Who knows? That may well raise taste levels, require higher quality and greater value from those who design and manufacture consumer products, and perhaps (just perhaps) increase both the standard of living and quality of life. Given the current War on Terrorism as well as the hostilities in the Middle East and throughout much of Africa, the sooner the participants stop shooting and start shopping, the better.
But somehow, Twitchell seems guilty about all this. He even quotes Gekko (from the movie Wall Street), a bit sheepishly. He praises "first-users" (those who buy the first VCRs, etc. at high prices) while sneering at the stereotypical yuppie with all his toys. Professor Twitchell mocks the voluntary simplicity movement by picking the most hypocritical example he can find, of a back-to-nature advocate who buys acres of her neighbor's land. But he ignores such aspects as not spending more than you have, reducing the amount of stuff you own, enjoying the occasional luxury rather than shopping as a habit.
Interesting reading if you are fascinated by our consumer culture, but a bit confusing as the professor tries to decide where he stands on over-consumption.
"Probably it shouldn't get into the hands of consumers", because they might find out they are spending too much money for ordinarily manufactured goods with high status affixed by advertising. On my trips to the US, I wondered how big, luxury only shopping malls could survive, this book tells the reason why. Europe is still more conservative with luxury spending.
I wanted to give it 5 stars, but the language used is very difficult to read. To exclude most luxury spenders?
There are several things terribly wrong with his argument, such as his ignoring the mindlessness of much consumption. He thinks consumers are aware, but that doesn't hold water, or advertisers would not make or spend so much to influence everyone, and they would not be so successful.
The real trouble I have with this book is that Twitchell never, ever connects the growing consumption of "unnecessary" luxury goods with the incredible destruction they are causing all over the world. Even a passing acknowledgment of the environmental catastrophe related to our consumption would make this a better book. At least he could admit he's only interested in luxury as a construct, as something to play with philosophically.
Still, it's definitely worth a read.