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Authenticity is the new exclusivity

In a recent Times Live article, Jackie May longs for the days before mass production ruined luxury goods by making it accessible to the middle class. Here’s an extract:

In a world of mass production, globalisation and conspicuous consumption, where access to a Louis Vuitton or a Prada handbag is no longer restricted to the super-rich, there is a nostalgia for what used to be defined as luxury.
[…] It’s a nostalgia for when consumption was less conspicuous and less prevalent, and excess not so wretched and hedonistic.

When was this pre-conspicuous era? She suggests the 19th century as the answer, a time when artisans created finely made wares for royalty and aristocrats. The only ones keeping this tradition alive now are the modern-day artisans who create “authentic” goods with their hands, independently fighting consumerism.

But hold on, wasn’t the term “conspicuous consumption” coined in the 19th century? Wasn’t it in that era of precious utensils and golden watches that Thorstein Veblen pointed out that the wealthy enjoyed these socially visible goods due to their price and scarcity? These days, gold and silver doesn’t cut it though. Even designer bags ain’t what they used to be. It doesn’t have the same meaning it once did, says May in the article, ever since “global corporations [sold it] to the middle market”. Is it possible, just maybe, that what’s been lost is not quality or tradition but the feeling of exclusivity?

It looks like the real annoyance here is that a luxury good like a Prada handbag no longer gives the owner the sense of distinction that it once did. It’s not that different from music snobs that complain when their favourite band goes mainstream.

So how’s a status-seeking individual supposed to get their exclusivity-fix these days? By buying handmade goods that are inevitably rare because they’re produced in small batches. So handmade axes, craft beer and artisanal bagels are now in.

If you’re into that “authentic” stuff, have a ball, but don’t pretend that it’s the antithesis of consumerism and status seeking. The search for authentic artisanal goods is an extension of conspicuous consumption, not its cure.


DASO poster: results may vary

The DA Students Organisation released a campaign poster yesterday showing a topless black woman and white man in a loving embrace. It has provoked a huge response on Facebook and Twitter.

If you take the time to read through the Facebook comments, the way South Africans respond differently to the same image is quite interesting.

We can roughly divide the response into four categories:

  1. It’s cheesy and belongs in the 90s
  2. Its simplistic portrayal of race relations is offensive
  3. It’s beautiful, we need more of this
  4. It’s repulsive, you’ve lost my vote

Reaction number 4 might even be desirable for the DA. Perhaps it’s part of a plan to shake off some of the conservative supporters the DA gained since the VF+ and NP’s decline

I generated the word cloud above to show the most commonly used words in the 890 comments people have posted since yesterday.  Below are three parodies that I’ve whipped up, enjoy.

DASO poster parody

DASO poster parody

DASO poster parody

Big in SA

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, a folk musician from Detroit, recorded two albums in 1970 and ’71. Sales weren’t great and neither were the reviews, so he gave up on his music career. He stayed unknown in America, but went platinum in South Africa.

In 1992 the Australian pop band, Indecent Obsession, released “Indio”. It was not as successful as their previous album and none of the singles made it into the Australian top 20. In South Africa, it was huge. The album reached the top of the charts and spawned hit singles like “Rebel with a cause”, “Indio” and “Kiss me”. The latter landed at number one and stayed there for 27 weeks.

Why were Rodriguez and Indecent Obsession big in South Africa but relative failures in their own countries? Was it mere chance, a local DJ’s influence or did they appeal to some odd facet of South African taste?


– Thanks to Staal,  who posed the question at Sunday lunch


Township art is a one-way street

It’s become common to find scenes of township life decorating the homes of affluent South Africans.  Do township residents do the same?   I haven’t seen any paintings of Constantia actuaries standing in their driveways, Waldorf kids at aftercare or Mrs. Ackerman carrying groceries to her Range Rover.

But maybe it’s time to depict those scenes. The robot artists could have a go at the daily lives of the wealthy, using their signature acrylic and tin style.  Let’s see who does it first.