Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

The Price Of Luxury

October 17th, 2023 2 comments


In a famous quote by P.T. Barnum, it was stated that, ““Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”  His reference was of course to ‘popular’ acts he featured in his eponymously named circus with partner James Bailey. The baser the acts, the more popular they seemed.  In the day, bearded women, tattooed strong men and morbidly obese people of ambiguous sexuality were unusual curiosities.  Today of course, not so much.

A very similar sentiment was expressed by H.L. Mencken, an American journalist who invoked, “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Anyone paying attention to current events would have to concur with the sentiments expressed by these insightful men, so many decades ago since they are confirmed again and again in our own lifetime. Today, the appetite for base amusement continues unabated and it seems that there is no spectacle too crass or raw for public consumption.

The success of so many enterprises and individuals over the decades have relied exclusively on this principle.   While invoked in reference to the American public, people of all nations are no less susceptible.  Vast empires have been built on selling consumers not just the idea, but the need, to get or experience, the next big thing. In our time,  some of the best exponents of this are such companies as NIKE, Apple and Louis Vuitton, the inspiration for this post.

Without this urge to consume fed by savvy enterprises willing to satisfy a virtual bottomless pit of demand, we wouldn’t have the grotesque consumer economy we see worldwide today. The dark side of this enormous consumer economy is the associated debt that has been taken on by naïve consumers.  At the center of this consumer vortex are the so called ‘luxury brands’ that cater to those especially insecure types who need to express their superiority over others by association with a prestigious marque. Quite a combination: the need for amusement as well as the need to assuage insecurities.

And thus it was bizarre to observe that during the insanity of the past few years of lockdowns and sequestering, companies such as LVMH, the French based vendor of premier ‘luxury’ brands actually had record sales!  How odd that during a period when people weren’t allowed to venture outside their own homes, that they would feel the need to buy a $6000 purse or $3000 alligator shoes.  The expensive cognac, I get; why drink swill if you’re in jail.  To be sure, many high priced marques do provide higher quality products, that’s not the issue. The issue is the need for average consumers to ostentatiously display these goods as a means of separating themselves from the hoi polloi. It always seemed odd to me that someone sporting a garment with CHANEL imprinted on it in bold letters was essentially broadcasting their deep insecurities.  No wealthy person would display their lack of taste in such crass fashion.

This mindset of association with brands is much worse among those who are clearly unable to live in this world.  It’s truly bizarre to see young ghetto kids wearing sneakers costing many hundreds of dollars when they couldn’t find 3 bucks for a McDonald’s burger. But it’s no less different than the suburban couple up to their hairline in mortgage debt needing to own a Mercedes and a Range Rover.

Marketers have done their jobs brilliantly in creating the insatiable demand for things that are entirely discretionary.  They’re even able to do this with food.  Next time you go to Whole Foods, have a look at the range of prices for eggs.  You will pay much more if you want to be associated with the woke crowd. Marketers have successfully capitalized on people’s need to be associated with success and wealth. Imagine the 20 something mall gal sporting a Louis Vuitton labeled bag.  As if anyone is going to associate her with Paris Hilton.

Nothing wrong with aspiring to better things of course.  That’s the natural order of things.  However, what the little people manage to do is to make people like the Bernard Arnaults of the world even wealthier…which separates them even more from their aspirant customers. Ironically that’s exactly what the little people want to do when they flash their Rolexes to the peons. And isn’t that the entire point of the Instagram generation?  To show others exactly how vanilla others’ lives are compared to theirs?  They are only emulating what works for the big guys.

More Money Less Principles

October 15th, 2019 No comments

Source: LeBron James Faces Backlash Unseen Since ‘The Decision’ – The New York Times

That’s the thing with free speech in a free society; any idiot can say anything they want without concern for any repercussions from the state.  At least that’s the theory. What you don’t expect in a free society is that something that someone says, causes actions to be taken  by another state.  The recent furor over the events surrounding LeBron James, Daryl Morey, the NBA and China and the Hong Kong protests should make some issues very clear to those people ( and there are a lot ) not paying attention to the state of society.

The first issue is the very basic identity of what it means to be an American.  Freedom is the prototypical American trait; fought for by the original founders and enshrined in an hallowed constitution;  supported numerous times by the sacrifice of the nation’s own sons for other nations; and the reason that every aspiring immigrant yearns to become a citizen. legally or otherwise.  The only people who seem to take freedom for granted are the people who live there and have never been without it.  You would think that any American would hold this aspect of their society as sacrosanct and worth defending passionately.  It wasn’t that long ago that anyone seen to be undermining core American principles was viewed with great scorn and suspicion.  Just ask Jane Fonda.

The second issue is the corruption that seems to be the flip side of the coin of obscene wealth.  This is hardly new; it’s been a characteristic of society since they first started making them.  Someone always climbs to the top of a society’s pile. Kings, Robber Barons, Gangsters and Dictators have always wielded huge amounts of influence in a society and generally, the public fared poorly if they happened to get in the way of the powerful elite.  A few generations ago, the perceived dangers of having too much concentration of power in industry led to the breakup of AT&T, then the most powerful and dominant communications company in the world.

The rise of the recent generation of Internet based companies was supposed to be different.  The Internet companies today dwarves the size of AT&T at its peak and their influence today is truly global, not just national. Even as they dominate all aspects of culture and commerce, they stridently craft their public image as being socially responsible, or as they call it in today’s parlance, woke, a nod to their hippie roots.

As it turns out, the most powerful multinational companies in the world, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter as well as retail behemoths such as Nike and Starbucks are every bit as sinister in their commercial activities as their antecedents in the world domination racket.  It seems that warm fuzzy guiding principles which are framed in corporate hallways are less important than shareholder value.  When you consider the size of the Chinese market, it’s not hard to see why that nation’s sensibilities are at the front of corporate decision making. This is Animal Farm at the corporate level. At least the old Kings and Robber Barons didn’t pretend to be doing good things for the people.

The third issue is as important as the first two and that is the realization that entertainers are not cultural and political savants. They sing, they dance, they juggle and they run around throwing and catching balls.  In other words, they are well paid to entertain us doing children’s activities that we wish we could do for a living instead of pushing either paper or brooms.  As a group they are endowed with skills that others will pay them to perform.  They’re lottery winners.  But you wouldn’t heed someone’s opinions on geopolitics just because they happened to win a lottery!

Yet this is the delusion that many of them operate under today.  They think that a narrow physical skill set entitles them to pontificate on things that are clearly out of their intellectual plane. More often than not, their utterances are not well thought out, have little basis in reality and usually fail the simple test of logic. As in this recent case, they can be terribly confused philosophically. They are out of their intellectual depth.  It’s easy to pile onto James for his recent comments, but he’s not alone.  There’s a long undistinguished list of ‘celebrities’ who continue to embarrass themselves by their uninformed utterances.  All Lebron James did was to prove that they should just stick to running and dribbling a ball…no thinking required.  There are lots of geniuses who want to play ball for a living.  James plays ball and wants to be a genius.  Neither is likely.  At least here, in the bosom of a free society, he’s able to express his vapidity.  Too bad for Hong Kong.