Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Status & Bling

The concepts of status & bling are nothing new. They are tied to notions of identity, rank and self-importance. Above the film Cleopatra from 1963 shows an excessive display of wealth.

Status can be considered both a legitimate position of power or rank, but it can also be the appearance of importance, without influence. In his last chapters, Berry addresses need & identity. What we need and who we are is both stable and in constant flux. Luxury is a way of augmenting both need & identity. Status & Bling enhance identity. This is why we sometimes argue that people with “identity issues” may seek power and luxury for the wrong reasons.

There are different cultural manifestations of a love of luxury. The fashion victim is one who who’s identity is contingent on purchase and brand and thus the purchase has power over him/her. Status can be the legitimate display of identity/power but we see bling as a flaunting of a sometimes false identity or an over compensation via conspicuous consumption. Below right Slick Rick.

Berry stresses a calm analysis of needs in negotiation with circumstances. Our desires for luxury must be negotiated with our basic demands and social commitments.

Globally we preference desires above needs. Below priorities in global spending, with the highest expenditure in the group being items like military and alcohol while aid to foreign countries for education and clean water are lower. See more at

Positions of social status are also highly variable. Below, Richard Avedon's Portraits of Power show a wide variety of status from the traditional American DAR, and President Ronald Reagan, to Malcolm X and Spanish Harlem's Young Lords, all of whom have different codes for status.

Status and class are normalized through media. Below images from Life Magazine captions in the 1950's indicate at left "First Class European Dress," featuring Dior and right "Upper Class India" dress.

Today, status is not as obvious through dress. Left Richard Branson has redefined the appearance and life of a billionaire and at right Mark Zuckerberg and girlfriend represent the casual Palo Alto status.

Despite social changes in status, Berry describes that the values in our time are “shallow materialism” and “commodity fetishism.” One way that luxury factors into the materialism is by always launching new desirable versions and continually staying ahead of the masses, offering new goods and improvements that keep desire alive.

The consequence of the incessant pursuit of luxury can be denial of others in need. The 2007 documentary Bling brought rappers to the heart of Sierra Leon to see the reality of the diamond industry.

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