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320 pages.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.
Luxury isn't just for the rich, says James B. Twitchell. Today you don't need a six-figure income to wear pashmina, drink a limited-edition coffee at Starbucks, or drive a Mercedes home to collapse on the couch in front of a flat-screen plasma TV. In Living It Up, sharp-eyed consumer anthropologist Twitchell takes a witty and insightful look at luxury -- what it is, who defines it, and why we can't seem to get enough of it.
In recent years, says Twitchell, luxury spending has grown much faster than overall spending -- and it continues to grow despite the economic recession. Luxury has become such a powerful marketing force that it cuts across every layer of society, spawning a magazine devoted to spas, cashmere bedspreads on sale at Kmart, and a dazzling array of bottled waters.
Twitchell says that the democratization of luxury has had a unifying effect on culture. Luxury items tell a story that we want to identify with, and more people than ever aspire to the story of Ralph Lauren's Polo or Patek Philippe. Shopping itself is no longer a chore but a transcendent experience in which we shop not so much for goods as for an identity.
Sharply observed and wickedly funny, Living It Up is a revealing and entertaining examination of why we are all part of the cult of luxury.