Conspicuous Consumption: "wasteful and lavish consumption expenses to enhance social prestige."* It is one of the things the OWS movement points to just as the French bourgoisie pointed to Marie Antoinette's "affair of the necklace." It was what Martin Luther pointed to in castigating the trappings of Rome. It was Imelda Marcos' shoe closet. It was Kim Kardashian's fleet of white Rolls Royces for her wedding.
Conspicuous consumption is a direct insult to almost everyone, and while some people look upon it as a kind of social disorder (like compulsive shopping, but on a higher level), there can be no doubt that it is used not to merely elevate oneself, but to destroy what little self-respect the poor have been able to garner over time: it is not merely thumbing one's nose at a homeless person, but making certain that the homeless person feels hopeless and helpless when shown such scope or grandeur of acquisitions.
The Luxury Market
Tiffany jewels. Prada shoes. Hermes silk scarves. Armani suits. Beluga caviar. Rolex watches. Dom Perignon champaign. Bentley automobiles. Neiman Marcus.** Beverly Hills anything. The list goes on for as long as the rich have the stamina and buying power. But do the rich control the luxury market or does the luxury market control the rich? True, both NEED each other, but which one owns over 50% of the stock in the corporation of One Percenters?
For my money (what little I have), it's the luxury industry that maintains control. It's the price tag (not the quality), and the rarity (not the intrinsic value) that determines status. No matter that today's good synthetic jewels can sparkle just as much, diamonds are more valuable because they are marketed as such.***
But with marketing control comes responsibility...to market responsibility as much as the items the luxury industry purveys. Like the liquor industry, the luxury industry has a duty to curb excess.
"We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service"
A celebrity well known for her passion for jewels walks into a high end jewelry store, but upon requesting to see it's stock in the latest diamond bracelets is summarily rebuffed and told to shop elsewhere. An indignant equivalen to "WTF?!" receives the answer that she has purchased too many items there.
"Madam, we have noted that you have inappropriately purchased far too many jewels and you have not evinced the slightest bit of compassion through charitable donations or works. You obviously have no respect for others, much less the poor. We reserve the right to refuse service."
A fantastic scenario, to be sure, but one that would delight today's OWS supporters: how many of us would love to envision that happening to members of the Koch family? ****
Just Like Liquor
If conspicuous consumption is akin to irresponsible drinking, then the luxury industry has some serious responsibility issues: it has to point out to its consumers that too much is simply too much and that CC serves no other purpose than overt ostentation intended to harm someone emotionally and psychologically. "Please drink responsibly" may not have impact (on sales) but it evinces a social awareness in the face of selfish self-indulgence.
So why not "Please Purchase Responsibly"?
Hermes, Tiffany, Cartier, Gucci: think about it. It would at least show you've given some respect to the 99% and some thought about today's inequalities.