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Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury [Hardcover]

James B. Twitchell
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 3 2002

Economic downturns and terrorist attacks notwithstanding, America's love affair with luxury continues unabated. Over the last several years, luxury spending in the United States has been growing four times faster than overall spending. It has been characterized by political leaders as vital to the health of the American economy as a whole, even as an act of patriotism. Accordingly, indices of consumer confidence and purchasing seem unaffected by recession. This necessary consumption of unnecessary items and services is going on at all but the lowest layers of society: J.C. Penney now offers day spa treatments; Kmart sells cashmere bedspreads. So many products are claiming luxury status today that the credibility of the category itself is strained: for example, the name "pashmina" had to be invented to top mere cashmere.

We see luxury everywhere: in storefronts, advertisements, even in the workings of our imaginations. But what is it? How is it manufactured on the factory floor and in the minds of consumers? Who cares about it and who buys it? And how concerned should we be that luxuries are commanding a larger and larger percentage of both our disposable income and our aspirations?

Trolling the upscale malls of America, making his way toward the Mecca of Las Vegas, James B. Twitchell comes to some remarkable conclusions. The democratization of luxury, he contends, has been the single most important marketing phenomenon of our times. In the pages of Living It Up, Twitchell commits the academic heresy of paying respect to popular luxury consumption as a force that has united the country and the globe in a way that no war, movement, or ideology ever has. What's more, he claims, the shopping experience for Americans today has its roots in the spiritual, the religious, and the transcendent.

Deft and subtle writing, audacious ideas, and a fine sense of humor inform this entertaining and insightful book.


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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.

From Booklist

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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If you want to understand material culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century, you must understand the overwhelming importance of unnecessary material. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars A Guilty Gordon Gekko Dec 3 2003
Format:Paperback
Living it Up starts with the premise that consumption--even overconsumption--is good for the economy and good for your community. Twitchell makes a coherent argument that those who pay ridiculous prices for things they don't need make it possible for the rest of us to pay lower prices for the same things. Then, what used to be a luxury to one generation (indoor plumbing, cars, computers) becomes a necessity for the next.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Luxury, a new religion analyzed Aug. 31 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a landmark book. The author analyzes in very detail the mechanisms behind selling luxury to the public, including the religious attributes affixed to those products.
"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?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Posh LUST Feb. 26 2003
By Simon
Format:Hardcover
Entertaining book, well written, thought provoking, ultimately absolving us of our sins of posh LUST.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Contribution to "Lux Lit" July 30 2002
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The subtitle attracted me to this book: "Our Love Affair with Luxury." I assumed that the first-person plural pronoun refers to Americans in general and to affluent Americans in particular; that Twitchell views the relationship between a consumer (or consumer wannabe) and material objects resembles a love affair; finally, that luxury denotes both material objects and the lifestyle (if not quality of life) they collectively create. After having read the book, I concluded that my assumptions were essentially sound. Twitchell conducted extensive research for this book. He traveled throughout the country, roaming around various upscale retail establishments, observing salespeople and engaging in conversation with many of them. For Twitchell, what is luxury? He suggests "a mallet with which one pounds the taste of others" (does this preclude the appreciation of luxury for its own sake?) and "those things that you have that I think you shouldn't have" (does this include a terminal illness?). If I understand Twitchell (and I may well not), his research leads him to several conclusions. For example, that contemporary values are influenced significantly by advertising; that the the shoppes along Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue are "cathedrals" of consumption in which their customers are guided to "epiphanies" which determine purchase decisions; and that experiences with faux luxury (e.g. those found in the opulent casinos of Las Vegas) are better than none at all. When determining social status, Twitchell views what he calls "opuluxe spending" as a more relevant criterion than is one's ancestry: You are what you can afford to own. Not all would agree with him. I don't.
However, few (if any) of Twitchell's readers have conducted the research he has on all this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars very smart, very thoughtful May 14 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Many writers have taken on the subject of luxury spending. The issue seems to have growing weight these days given the spread of luxury products through a very broad income range. Many approach the question as if it were one of morals, or one of emptiness. The refreshing thing about Twitchell is that he understands that people simply like things and always have.
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