Cover image for Living it up : our love affair with luxury
Living it up : our love affair with luxury
Twitchell, James B., 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xv, 309 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1160 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HF5415.32 .T95 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Economic downturns and terrorist attacks notwithstanding, America's love affair with luxury continues unabated. Over the last several years, luxury spending in the United States has been growing four times faster than overall spending. It has been characterized by political leaders as vital to the health of the American economy as a whole, even as an act of patriotism. Accordingly, indices of consumer confidence and purchasing seem unaffected by recession. This necessary consumption of unnecessary items and services is going on at all but the lowest layers of society: J.C. Penney now offers day spa treatments; Kmart sells cashmere bedspreads. So many products are claiming luxury status today that the credibility of the category itself is strained: for example, the name "pashmina" had to be invented to top mere cashmere.

We see luxury everywhere: in storefronts, advertisements, even in the workings of our imaginations. But what is it? How is it manufactured on the factory floor and in the minds of consumers? Who cares about it and who buys it? And how concerned should we be that luxuries are commanding a larger and larger percentage of both our disposable income and our aspirations?

Trolling the upscale malls of America, making his way toward the Mecca of Las Vegas, James B. Twitchell comes to some remarkable conclusions. The democratization of luxury, he contends, has been the single most important marketing phenomenon of our times. In the pages of Living It Up, Twitchell commits the academic heresy of paying respect to popular luxury consumption as a force that has united the country and the globe in a way that no war, movement, or ideology ever has. What's more, he claims, the shopping experience for Americans today has its roots in the spiritual, the religious, and the transcendent.

Deft and subtle writing, audacious ideas, and a fine sense of humor inform this entertaining and insightful book.

Author Notes

James B. Twitchell is professor of English at the University of Florida and the author of many books including Adcult USA, Lead Us Into Temptation, and 20 Ads That Shook the World.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ah, the evils of luxury. Spending for its own sake, accumulating unnecessary "stuff," the need to own for status, the trophy car, the trophy home, designer everything. But here's the conundrum: what is considered luxury for one generation is considered necessity for the next, and today's credit-addicted society makes luxury, or at least the appearance of luxury, available to all. Who better to sort the whole thing out than Twitchell, one of Newsweek's "100 Cultural Elite." He has some interesting tidbits about what has been considered opulent in the past, and he has coined a new term for those universally craved name-brand objects--opuluxe.It's image above substance--think Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Montblanc, Nike, Evian, and Starbucks. But is the desire for high-end junk as wasteful and garish as it seemed when it was available to only the few? Twitchell makes the case for a mild defense of luxury in that its mass consumption ultimately lifts up the masses economically. David Siegfried.

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the author of works on advertising, materialism and modern culture, University of Florida professor Twitchell should have been the most immune to acquisitive desire while doing research in posh Rodeo Drive and Madison Avenue stores. That he was momentarily struck with passion by a Ralph Lauren tie not only demonstrates his humanity, but also underlines one of his theses: no one is above a bit of luxury lust. The reason for this, he says, is, "We understand each other not by sharing religion, politics, or ideas. We share branded things. We speak the Esperanto of advertising, luxe populi." These are sentiments voiced by many who study consumer culture, but Twitchell addresses conspicuous consumption in a new way, free of the superior tone often adopted by his academic peers. He embarks on a course of fieldwork that is both absurdist and charming, as he chats up Fendi salespeople and stands slack-jawed in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. With the research done, but the tie unbought, he comes away with insights about the American quest for luxury products and provides a history of such yearning: "The balderdash of cloistered academics aside, human beings did not suddenly become materialistic. We have always been desirous of things." Many of those things, in the recent past and definitely in the present, have been imbued with an aura of opulence and indulgence, Twitchell posits, leading to a kind of emotional satisfaction through shopping, especially for items outside one's budget. With its intelligence and wit, Twitchell's exploration of consumerism belongs in every shopping bag. (Apr.) Forecast: Ad execs, sociologists, market analysts, spending-conscious Mercedes drivers and others will delight in Twitchell's book. It's funnier than Robert H. Frank's Luxury Fever (1999) and less pretentious than Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American (1998). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Twitchell (English and advertising, Univ. of Florida), author of Lead Us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism (CH, Nov'99) and Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture (CH, May '96), continues his ongoing exploration of commercial culture in Living It Up. His central tenet of "materialism for all" is supported by a smorgasbord of colorful examples, from dissection of luxury-themed advertising and glitzy media to visits to upscale shopping meccas (e.g., Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue). Twitchell also draws on his humanistic background to examine the democratization of luxury using literary figures and key historic events. His journey peaks with a thorough investigation into the extravagant world of Las Vegas, concluding that the quest for luxury may be considered beneficial, a unifying force. The book is very interesting, filled with intriguing current material, and written in a highly engaging, witty, and sophisticated style. Appropriate supplementary reading for graduate students and well suited for researchers, faculty, and professionals. S. D. Clark St. John's University (NY)

Table of Contents

1 Over the Top: Americans in the Lap of Luxury
2 The Social Construction of Luxury: A Taxonomy of Taste
3 Let's Go Shopping: The Streets of Material Dreams
4 Where Opuluxe Is Made and Who Makes It: LVMH and Condé Nast
5 How Luxury Becomes Necessity: The Work of Advertising
6 From Shirts to Tulips: A Musing on Luxury
7 Viva Las Vegas! A Strip of Luxury
8 Still Learning From Las Vegas: How Luxury Is Turning Religious
Conclusion: A (Mild) Defense of Luxury