Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury

Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury

by James B. Twitchell
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

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. (Apr.) Forecast: Ad execs, sociologists, market analysts, spending-conscious Mercedes drivers and others will delight in Twitchell's book. It's funnier than Robert H. Frank's Luxury Fever (1999) and less pretentious than Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American (1998). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Twitchell's sprightly analysis looks at the democratization of luxury. Twitchell (English and advertising, U. of Florida) writes: "How ironic that materialism may be doing the work of idealism. Someone buying a Gucci-fied Volvo in Japan may well have more in common with his counterpart in Berlin, in Toronto, in Johannesburg than he has with his own next-door neighbor precisely because of what he is buying. ... Others may pass judgment on this phenomenon, many may be horrified by the waste and redundance, but it is why so many of us all over the world are becoming part of what, for lack of a better phrase, is a mass class of upscale consumption. We understand each other not by sharing religion, politics, or ideas. We share branded things. We speak the esperanto of advertising, luxe populi." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The New York Times
The author is savvy enough to conduct most of his research in the real world. This is the rare book project that forces the writer to shop on Rodeo Drive, leaf through Vanity Fair... and visit the most extravagant spots in Las Vegas.... [An] engaging addition to the growing field of Luxe Lit.

— Janet Maslin

Business Week

Twitchell makes a persuasive argument that the desire for status goods provides a cohesive bond.

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Twitchell is an amusingly sassy writer, and he clearly had so much fun researching this book.

Booklist

Interesting tidbits... Twitchell makes the case for a mild defense of luxury in that its mass consumption ultimately lifts up the masses economically.

Times Literary Supplement
[E]xerburant, sprightly, mischievous, gaudy, dippy, endlessly entertaining...

— Eugen Weber

TLS
Exuberant, sprightly, mischievous, gaudy, dippy, endlessly entertaining, and also a bit sad.

— Eugen Weber

Choice

Very interesting... intriguing... highly engaging, witty, and sophisticated.

Australasian Journal of American Studies
Twitchell is at his best here: witty, observant, and self-deprecating... Living It Up is a pleasure to read. Twitchell is an engaging and entertaining writer.

— Ian Brailsford

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

The author is savvy enough to conduct most of his research in the real world. This is the rare book project that forces the writer to shop on Rodeo Drive, leaf through Vanity Fair... and visit the most extravagant spots in Las Vegas.... [An] engaging addition to the growing field of Luxe Lit.

Times Literary Supplement - Eugen Weber

Exuberant, sprightly, mischievous, gaudy, dippy, endlessly entertaining, and also a bit sad.

Australasian Journal of American Studies - Ian Brailsford

Twitchell is at his best here: witty, observant, and self-deprecating...Living It Up is a pleasure to read. Twitchell is an engaging and entertaining writer.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231500562
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
08/21/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
File size:
13 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

What People are saying about this

Tyler Cowen

James Twitchell is our most perceptive commentator on materialism and popular culture. Read his books!

John Seabrook

A very useful addition to the literature of shopping, from an astute observer of commercial culture.

Meet the Author

James B. Twitchell is professor of English at the University of Florida and the author of many books including Adcult USA, Lead Us Into Temptation, and 20 Ads That Shook the World.


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