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
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