Right now there’s a preponderance of uber-luxury ridiculousness going on, literally playing into the macro-trends of Irony, Icons and Treats (see blog entry below). In these times of streamlining, rejecting or hiding overt materialism (i.e., Hermes goods in unmarked brown bags). I see a counter-trend of outrageous materialism. Always, when the pendulum swings one direction, another pendulum swings in the opposite direction.
Big bucks are being spent on luxuries (games, gadgets, baubles and toys) that have amped-up frivolity. A brand new Foosball table and a Barbie doll, in and of themselves, are unnecessary luxuries… so why then a Foosball table made of 24kt gold or diamond studded Barbie doll accessories? I think this is much deeper than pure materialism/consumerism. Something is going on here with all these childhood symbols emerging as luxury goods. Are the symbols telling us something? Here are some examples of some whimsical ultra-luxurious gadgets with seriously unfunny price tags.
This computer reminds me of the “haves” in Johannesburg who would insensitively, gauchely drive their Bentleys around a city teeming with “have nots”. What’s the point? We get it. You’re rich
what does this trend say about our culture?
Obviously toys are escapist, and we’ve all heard the theory that humor is the antidote to recessionary ennui. But I think these playful, kitsch luxury items are more than just mood-lifters. They demonstrate a cultural longing for childhood, childishness and the bliss of childish naivety. Perhaps the childishness is a subconscious attempt to convey I’m playful, young, doe-eyed, sweet and innocent so I couldn’t possibly be manipulative, conniving, worldly and competitive… you know, the stuff the “bad guys” are made of. Aren’t those the traits of Bernie Madoff?
Let’s face it, we’re living in a highly competitive – if not the MOST competitive – times. Everyone’s in survival mode, even millionaires. Survival mode means being cunning – sharper, smarter, faster. But in today’s society “cunning” is frowned upon because it implies greed, selfishness and possible misbehavior. Plus, isn’t it strategic if your opponents think you’re weaker than you really are? So why not deflect suspicion of being cunning like a fox by spinning an image of innocence? Wearer’s of diamond-studded Hello Kitty jewelry admit to the power of “slutty-cutie” (i.e., I can use cuteness to justify my sluttyness, or I can cover up my sluttyness with cuteness), so couldn’t Boucheron watch wearers be using the cartoon faces as a foil? To create the impression of mellowness, accessibility and conviviality?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we ought to be wary of impish men and gamine women who wear youthful fashions, cartoon jewels and play games… but I do wonder why there are so many guys around Wall Street/Tribeca who ride skateboards and scooters, wear baseball caps backwards and carry knapsacks as briefcases. Maybe it’s deflection? perhaps it’s because good ‘ol, fun luvin’ funny Tommy isn’t scrutinized as much as a slick, serious, sophisticated Gordon Gecko?
I am reminded of a powerful, cunning, genius-smart executive I worked with in South Africa who was self-deprecating, funny and intentionally wore a cheap plastic Swatch watch instead of gold Rolex (which would have appropriate for his powerful senior position in the gold industry); the Swatch was deflection and threw off business opponents who thought they were dealing with a “nice, down-to-earth bloke”, but in fact were often blindsided by a “business wolf in Swatch clothing”.
The signals we send shape how people perceive us. Consciously or unconsciously, we’re all crafting the signals we want to send to shape and manipulate how people perceive us. Could the sophisticated childishness we’re seeing in luxury items be deflection and therefore a calculated survival tactic?