Friday, May 7, 2010

conspicuous consumption

The utility of articles valued for their beauty depends closely upon the expensiveness of the articles. A hand-wrought silver spoon of a commercial value of some ten to twenty dollars is not ordinarily more serviceable than a machine-made spoon of the same material. It may not even be more serviceable than a machine-made spoon of some base metal, such as aluminium, the value of which may be no more than ten cents. If a close inspection should show that the supposed hand-wrought spoonwere in reality only a very clever citation of hand-wrought goods but an imitation so cleverly wrought as to give the same impression of line and service to any but a minute examination by a trained eye, the utility of the article including the gratification which the user derives from its contemplation as an object of beauty would immediately decline by some eighty or ninety per cent, or even more. The superior gratification derived from the use and contemplation of costly and supposedly beautiful products is commonly in great measure a gratification of our sense of costliness, masquerading under the name of beauty. The requirement of conspicuous wastefulness is not commonly present, consciously, in our canons of taste, but it is none the less present as a constraining norm, selectively shaping and sustaining our sense of what is beautiful, and guiding our discrimination with respect to what may legitimately be approved as beautiful and what may not.

- Thorstein Veblen

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