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Conspicuous Consumption

I feel like the idea of ‘conspicuous consumption’ really shows up in Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” and I am also interested in how the concept might relate to our consumption of different foods and beverages.  As a quick refresher on ‘Taste’ and ‘taste,’ ‘Taste’ has to do with preferences in things like art and clothing, and ‘taste’ deals with preferences in food.  Clearly, Swift’s poem is concerned with Celia’s Tastes as she prepares for the evening, and her desire to look so nice for some sort of social event indicates a form of conspicuous consumption that she likely has in common with the others in attendance.  The conspicuousness is emphasized by the comparison of her emergence from her dressing room to her more grotesque nature when she (believes she is) in private.  If Celia is not trying to show off her fashions and possessions, then surely she does not need to spend five hours transforming herself from a regular woman who “shits” (118) into a “Goddess” (3).  Her extended preparation and Taste for what were likely expensive wares are intended to indicate her social status and, thus, an example of conspicuous consumption; her application of Tastes indicates her position.

So again, I find myself asking what any of this has to do with food and taste, and it turns out, it is pretty easy to make that leap.  A person’s tastes for caviar or Dom Perignon and Tastes for Ferraris and gold jewelry are both examples of conspicuous consumption in that they are both going to enhance perceptions of that person.  For instance, if I was going on a date back at home and was a bit more superficial, I might ask to borrow my dad’s new car instead of my grandmother’s old Honda, and I might go to a nice Italian place instead of Chipotle.  It is not that the Honda is a bad car or that Chipotle serves awful burritos; in terms of function, there really is not much difference at all, but the new car and the pricier Italian food convey a different message, and because that message is intentional, the consumption is conspicuous.

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2 thoughts on “Conspicuous Consumption

  1. Interesting analogy that works well. In displaying lavish goods in order to demonstrate one’s power, class and social stature, conspicuous composition, there is also functionality by having access to these things that aid in the ideology behind.

    So borrowing your dad’s new car instead of grandma’s Honda is because you choose to show a different sort of “heir” or value to yourself. As when a woman such as Celia in her Glory shows, she is not seen as the woman who was dirty, with 5 hours to prepare and just removed from the toilet. She is seen as she is, in her Glory. The idea of what it took to get there is not questioned. The taste of ‘foods’ that satisfy your level of social class and culture resides in your intentional imagery or message.

    Your idea of conspicuous composition having the same functionality as anything else, just a difference levels and what message you are trying to portray is spot on. In keeping with your example, I can take the new car to another level and request the Bentley from that person who may have access to it and then go fly on a private jet to an island or a place in Rome just to have dinner and that increases the conspicuous composition of social class to a new height. Just because I have now wanted my societal class to increase in what is deemed as it’s value and worth adding an element of power and class. When, of course, I could have gone to Chipotle and driven in Grandma’s car. The company and the conversation may have even been nearly the same, nah, couldn’t be. Good analogy to think on in this reading and other tells. I would compare it to “Keeping Up with the Jones'”.

  2. It’s interesting how you connected Swift’s work to the earlier reading we had done about Taste and taste. It brings to mind an interesting idea of how attraction works. Is it something that has been learned, throughout our lives of passing by people on the streets have we learned what we like in a partner in crime? Maybe, I think as I’ve grown up there are guys from various boy bands whom I found cute when I was younger but I don’t see them that way anymore. Some of it we are born with, like a taste for sweet things but as we get older perhaps we gain this taste for sushi. Like most things however, we must accept the bad with the good and this poem is a good example. Strephon has learned that Celia is not this perfect human and like many things he must decide if he can learn to have a “Taste” for her as more than just a woman to be had. Obviously he doesn’t like the idea but it’s just an example of how we either adapt to taste and Taste or run for the hills.

    wc 192

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