LIVING IT UP: Our Love Affair with Luxury

James B. Twitchell, Author . Columbia Univ. $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-231-12496-6

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).

Reviewed on: 03/11/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-7432-4506-7
Ebook - 329 pages - 978-0-231-50056-2
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