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.
At the start of the clip, you’ll see the nice breakfast I got every morning. One of the best aspects of the meals I got in Malawi is that it almost always included these round chips that look like banana slices. Unlike the starch-paste chips you’re served everywhere in South Africa except for Steers, these Malawi chips are made from potatoes, albeit small ones.
I was walking around town and came across this shop called Vampire Electronics. Most of the shop signs I saw were painted and included an extended list of every service they offer. While I was taking a clip of the sign, the owner called me inside. Here he explains why he called his shop Vampire Electronics. Warning: content on the small screen may offend sensitive viewers.
This girl, who said her name was Fanny, wanted to sing her Chichewa translation of the hit from The Bodyguard to me .
The Chinese Cultural Delegation’s performance was one of the pleasant surprises at Lake of Stars. It was interesting seeing these cultural ambassadors, considering China’s increasing involvement in Malawi. The impression that I got from speaking to Malawians is that cross-cultural relations between the two countries require some work. One guy in the crowd kept shouting “You’re bad in bed” in Chichewa during the performance. Others, who were more jovial, shouted “Fank you!”
After Lake of Stars was over, we needed to find a cheap way to get from Mangochi to Blantyre, a distance of approximately 200 km. We took this minibus taxi, which played some good tunes.
On our way to Malawi, a Mozambican official stopped our bus right after we crossed the bridge over the Zambezi. He wanted to arrest one of the passengers for not wearing a shirt. On our way back we were stopped at the same spot. This time the official wanted to arrest a woman because she did not look enough like her passport photo. I sneaked a recording of it. You’ll see at the end of the clip that the bus driver manages to lure him away by promising to buy him a drink.
The video clips were recorded with the Nokia N8. I hadn’t used it much since I won it at TEDx Cape Town, but it became a trusted companion on this trip thanks to its Carl Zeiss lens and long battery life.
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.
Rossouw Nel (rossouwn)
I'm a digital marketer advising teams in 18 African countries, from Senegal to Tanzania. Check out my blog Impending Boom, it's about online trends and branding Cape Town