Luxury and Being a Man

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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60 Responses

  1. This is only a little bit related, but I was reminded of it all the same.

    For a brief stint, there was a radio station back in Colosse. This was before Jack Radio and Bob Radio and all that. They took great pains to say how they were different, mocking the traditional radio formats. They had a spoof of an insipid morning show. They said “We don’t have contests because our station is so awesome that we don’t need to pay you to listen to it.”

    I can’t remember what other ones they had. Within a couple months, they had a morning show. They had contests.

    The station actually did remarkably well from the get-go. Not the #1 station or anything, but shot up near the top ten in a competitive, large market. Ironically, it was never meant to do particularly well. The signal was coming out of a suburb and was pretty weak. The company – an investment firm – had purchased it because they wanted the spot on the dial, which they intended to hold for a while and sell for a profit. (I think they only stated doing the other stuff when they realized that they actually had a real radio station on their hands.) They did, to Clear Channel, but then CC had to turn around and sell it again because FCC. Now it’s something in Spanish.

    I find the rise and fall of this station to be really quite fascinating.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I used to mock smart phone users. I now walk around with my eyes fixed on a small oblong object.Report

    • I used to mock cell phone users, but I have one now. I currently mock smart phone users, but perhaps in the next 5 or 10 years, I’ll get one.

      But those examples probably don’t count as much because part of my concern isn’t the “luxury” of owning a cell phone or smart phone, it’s the added hassle of owning one. The “convenience” of being able to look up anything on the spot strikes me as stress-inducing, just like the “convenience” of someone being able to call me anywhere. I also don’t like the “convenience” of having so much information cached away into something so small that can be stolen, lost, or damaged. Too much worry.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley says:

      The iPhone was that first luxury consumer electronic where I really felt OMG I have to own this.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Preying on one’s insecurities is a very basic, and very common, technique in selling. Even when you can consciously spot it and cognitively counter it, it still wears on you.

    And, of course, it frequently serves to heighten gendered stereotypes as well. There’s no stopping it, as far as I can see. But it’s terrible.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    This reminds me of the Lexus commercial where the driver is doing everything but driving: thinking about that email, etc. and why I hate all that technology. Really, who the hell needs a car that auto parks? Or one that auto stops if it senses you’re not applying the break soon enough. If you need that you’re not driving so get off the damn road.

    God, just give me a car with a straight six, a manual, some AC and I’m good. We buy and sell cars today that have 250+ horsepower and can perform routinely cruise above 80 mph and cost over 40 grand. And everyone uses them to commute to work with an average speed of 30.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Damon says:

      Heh, and I want a self-driving car so I don’t have to waste travel time actually driving, and because I don’t trust you or anyone else to always be paying attention and making good choices.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to James Hanley says:

        And I want the exact opposite because, based upon 30 years of observation, I’m a better driver than the majority of the people I see driving on the road with me.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        I wonder how many people think they’re average or below-average drivers. As with most things, I imagine a substantial minority of drivers do.

        I’m sure you’re one of the people who’s right, though.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to James Hanley says:

        @damon

        Yeah, you’re an above average driver, just like everyone else.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        …where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the drivers above average…Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to James Hanley says:

        As I said, based upon my observations I am. Whether or not I actually am, I can’t say for sure. But I don’t text and drive, or talk on the phone and drive. I somehow manage to actually drive the speed limit, not 15 to 20 miles BELOW it, as I, and about 15 other drivers, had the misfortune to be behind some fool who couldn’t manage to travel 10 miles at the posted speed. I seem to be able to stay within the lanes of the road, not like the driver in the CRV who drifted so far over the other side of the road he was in danger of hitting the curb. I seem to understand the concept of “merge” and don’t drive to the end of the merge lane, stop, and put my blinker on, hoping someone will decelerate from 55 to zero to let me in. If you call that average, what do you call the fools I described…that I see every day?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

        Nothing personal, Damon, I think they were just referencing the surveys on driving where almost everyone considered themselves above average. Some of us really are of course.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

        Damon,
        I frankly would bet that you’re a better driver than me. Still, most drivers aren’t busy planning for what to do if a car does something unexpected (pulls out in front of you, slams on breaks, accelerates into you…). I don’t think above average is enough, frankly.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to James Hanley says:

        @kimmi
        Like I said, I can’t say, but I actually do keep an eye out, especially for drivers looking to pull out crossing my direction of travel. I actually looked one woman in the eye so I know she saw me, right before she pulled out directly in front of me. My car sustained almost 10 grand in damage. Her car, not so much. Fortunately it was her fault. Really, how reckless or clueless do you have to be to see a guy travelling at 45 mph oncoming to you and decide to pull out in front of him at about 20 miles per hour?Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Damon says:

      Really, who the hell needs a car that auto parks?

      Someone who can’t parallel park.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Damon says:

      My Sweetie just purchased a new VW Golf; he was bummed that he couldn’t get one with crank windows; said it was hard to find a car that wasn’t over-gadgeted and didn’t have some big screen on the dashboard to screw up his night vision. This was the closest he could get.

      Of course, tomorrow he’ll go pick up one of our kids and a friend at the train station in Portland, and it will be snowing, so he’ll take my car, which is all-wheel drive, has snow tires, and though it’s bigger, get’s better gas mileage.Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    We want fancy things, but if we don’t have them, we are perfectly happy mocking those who do.

    On the flip side, consider the new rollout of Dish network ads starring Rob Lowe as both sexy Dish network subscriber and disgusting awkward hairy loser Comcast subscriber.

    There are no levels which ad companies won’t go below if the pinheads writing the scripts convince themselves its gonna be perceived as cool.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    My very unscientific study of car commercials makes me think car companies break their demographics into these four rough categories.

    1. Young, single dudes.

    2. Well-to-do, middle-aged men.

    3. Families

    4. Rugged Dudes.

    Car commercials aimed at demographic one usually look like micro-versions of the Italian Job or Bullit and feature young guys zooming around the city. These ads are all about fun fun fun. #2 ads feature a very nice looking car easily handling sharp mountain curves, it also usually autumn in these ads (which ads even more symbolism now that I think about it). Ads for category #3 are either emotional (think the now stable Lexus holiday commercials) or focus on space and/or safety. Ads for category #4 are all about the damage your car can take and often deal with eschewing luxury.

    My favorite car ads belong to the Japanese of course. When I lived in Japan, there was one campaign called “Drive Your Dreams” by Toyota. Interestingly this ad campaign seemed aimed at young, professional women which is unfortuneatly rare and odd for car ads. The one I remember starred George Clooney. He is calling some generic corporate meeting to an end and a young woman gets up the nerve to ask what he is doing for the weekend. George Clooney extends his hand to show a ring. The camera shows the disappointed face of the woman. The camera switches back and shows George Clooney open his clutched hand and we see that it is not a wedding ring but a key ring. You next see the car pull up to some weekend resort that looks like a French Chalet (presumably with George Clooney and the young woman inside the car.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      You don’t think car companies advertise to women?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy

        I haven’t watched TV in a while but my experience with car commercials is that women are advertised to in their capacity as moms but not in their capacity as women especially if they are single women purchasing a vehicle for themselves. I’ve never seen an ad aimed at well-to-do upper middle class woman saying “You should buy this car because you are a well-to-do upper-middle class woman and deserve a smooth and sporty ride.” I’ve never seen an ad with women zooming around the city except in the passenger seat. Women sometimes receive gifts from their boyfriends/husbands in the now common Lexus Christmas commercials but they are not being presented as the one who went down to the store to do the negotiations and purchase, that was the man’s job.

        If you can post a counter example from youtube that was broadcast on American television, I will reconsider my view.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, advertising to women-as-moms is still advertising to women. It seems noteworthy that you describe the groups as you do.

        Here is an example of a car being advertised to women-as-moms:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNKqhUlqPq4

        And here is an example of exactly what you say doesn’t exist:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkEw1rsBUak#t=22

        Given the recent posts on the ubiquitousness of “expertise” (including one of your own!), it stands out that you describe your analysis as “unscientific” while noting you haven’t watched TV “in a while” yet nonetheless push your theory and demand evidence before being willing to reconsider.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy @vikram-bath

        I didn’t say advertising cars to women without being in their mom capacity was non-existent but merely that it was seemingly rare.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Actually, you said exactly what you say you didn’t say:

        “I haven’t watched TV in a while but my experience with car commercials is that women are advertised to in their capacity as moms but not in their capacity as women especially if they are single women purchasing a vehicle for themselves. I’ve never seen an ad aimed at well-to-do upper middle class woman saying “You should buy this car because you are a well-to-do upper-middle class woman and deserve a smooth and sporty ride.” I’ve never seen an ad with women zooming around the city except in the passenger seat.”

        But whatever…Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Aiming a product such as a car to women has to be more subtle. The reason is that men will often never buy a woman’s product. Many cars do indeed sell primarily to females (the Beetle, the Juke, mini vans). Women cross over to male aimed positioning much more fluidly than the reverse. Thus the apparent discrepancy between male and female targeted ads.

      Note a similar trend in names. Guys names can morph over time to girls names. But parents try not to feminine their boys.

      Perhaps women are just much more secure in their gender.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:

        @roger

        How do you define what is and what is not a masculine product, a feminine product, and a gender neutral product?

        In all the essays I’ve read about Basic B***h, the idea is that the products owned or identify by a Basic B***h are unmistakably feminine. These include pumpkin spice lattes, leggings, and UGG boots.

        http://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/basic-class-anxiety

        ‘And as Noreen Malone pointed out in New York Magazine, “basic” is primarily a label wielded against a particular type of woman: one who “likes being a woman, or at least she buys the products that are so inherently female-skewing that they don’t even NEED to be explicitly marketed to women … she delights in all the things that men dismiss as unserious or that don’t even register for them as existing — celebrity gossip, patterned disposable cocktail napkins that mean something sentimental.”’

        These strikes me as generally true. I suppose I could buy leggings but I doubt I could find a pair that fit my size and I am also a guy. I just don’t have any strong desire for leggings and ugg boots (I once did own a pair of black sneakers that were made by UGG with the lining. They were very warm and wonderful in winter.) The celeb magazine thing is interesting but I also have absolutely zero interest in sports and have a special loathing for phrases like mancave and movember.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

        Perhaps women are just much more secure in their gender.

        Heh. Perhaps they’re more secure in other things as well.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Roger says:

        If women are more secure in their gender, its because being a woman is generally perceived as an innate thing in our culture. “Women are, men act.” In the fantasy novels or movies that feature some sort of mysterious, prophetic or special waif who happens to be a woman that woman or girl tends to be special simply because she is. Most of the companions in the New Doctor Who fit this profile. They are all women and innately special for some reason. Men and boys do not get a generic specialness in our culture, they have to earn it through action. Harry Potter might be the chosen one to defeat Voldemort but he still has to put a lot of effort into reaching that goal.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        Lee,
        wish fulfillment for women (as Dr. who undoubtedly is) is just like Leisure Suit Larry — guy shows up, women swoon, for no reason other than “he’s there”. Granted, Leisure suit larry shows up in beer commercials more than full television shows…Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        I never actually built products positioned for a particular gender (except perhaps for motorcycle insurance). I built financial products and we positioned the product around a target market by analyzing what a typical buyer was like based on demographics and psychographics. We then often fine tuned the products by building features which especially appealed to the target. Marketing was then specifically designed with the target in mind (in both the message and the medium used to reach the target).

        I am confident that when GM introduces a new model they have research on what their typical buyer will probably look like. You don’t say this mini van is for soccer moms, but you do build features in the van soccer moms want, you do choose a message which soccer moms respond to, and you do purchase ad space in the magazines soccer moms read.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Roger says:

        @saul-degraw — I could help you find leggings that fit you, and I bet you would look adorbz!Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Roger says:

        But anyway, I think @leeesq basically has it right. It does feel to me that more men have trouble living up to the ideas of masculinity that women do to femininity. Which does not mean that femininity is any less constructed. Nor does it mean that its standards are easier to achieve. It can be darn difficult to present femme. Many women find it quite unnatural.

        But what I think happens is this: men who fail to achieve full-bore, balls-to-the-wall, dudely masculinity are punished more than women who are not quite feminine.

        Which, look, I have experience here!

        Anyway, I think this is totes real. Actually, I think it sucks. The ways gender is policed are fucking toxic.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Roger says:

        (Grrrrr! I got used to forums with an edit function.)Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Roger says:

        @veronica-d
        It does feel to me that more men have trouble living up to the ideas of masculinity that women do to femininity.

        I think it’s more that *failing* to live up to masculinity is a bigger problem for men than failing to live up to femininity is for women.

        Women can be, temporarily, less feminine. They are judged moment by moment, and although this judging is often just as harsh as for men, lapses are *easily forgiven*. Or some aspects of their life can be non-feminine as long as they can correctly dress up and be feminine when required. Whereas a man who does something coded as ‘not masculine’ has that tarring him for a long time in certain social universes.

        I.e., women can wear stained jeans and over-sized flannel shirts, as long as they put on nice outfit in public. Men, OTOH, cannot wear dresses in private. Women can like hunting, or whatever is a traditional masculine activity, as long as it’s something they go and do and then stop doing. (Which is, obviously, how hunting works.) But men cannot knit, at all.

        This is not to say that women don’t have some sort of minimum threshold to meet to be feminine, or that certain things can’t disqualify them for long periods of time. But with women, femininity generally seems to be a running *average*. Whereas with men, it’s not, or at least there are a lot more disqualifiers.

        This imbalance has the interesting result in slowly moving more and more behaviors feminine, or at least no longer masculine. Women start doing something masculine rarely, and it creeps forward until it’s no longer coded as masculine. (And, as Roger pointed out, names are doing the same thing. A girl with a boy’s name is just slightly quirky. A boy with a girl’s name is something else.)

        And, in turn, this results in a problem with a certain sort of men. As any sort of feminine behavior is *completely* out of bounds, they can’t compete between each other within that realm. And, in fact, if women do it, it can’t be masculine, which means they have just defined ‘masculine’ as ‘stuff men do that women don’t’. (This is called ‘subtractive masculinity’.)

        And this is partially the cause of the freak-outs when women intrude into traditionally masculine spaces. The men often aren’t policing women because they don’t want women there, they’re policing women because if women *can* do that, they are unsure how to define ‘men’.(1) They feel that their masculine is disappearing, and, if that was actually how masculinity was defined, they’d be right.

        And that is my Grand Unified Theory of…I don’t have a good name yet. But I think it explains a lot.

        1) Of course, they run into the problem that, like I said, women’s behavior can’t actually be policed that way. As long as the women can turn back into princesses on demand, no one else cares. Even misgynists outside that space rarely go along with their ideas. Meanwhile, rational men quite like the existence of women that share their interests.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Roger says:

        @davidtc — That all seems totally on target. I don’t know if there is a name for this particular idea, but it seems to be a common enough position among feminists who think about masculine issues. Some insights show up in Whipping Girl (Serano) and Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser (Thorn). Likewise, Unspeakable Things (Penny) has a great “about the menz” chapter that also addresses this.

        By the way, I think the key difference between a feminist approach to the issue and a male-based [1] approach is this: the feminists will center women, how these attempts at masculinity hurt and exclude women. Contrastingly, the men will center their experiences.

        (Which is as it should be. However, this brings to mind one of my hobby horses, the degree to which women have to struggle to have our voices heard. But that’s a separate topic.)

        Anyway, I think this is a promising area for communication between thoughtful women and men.

        [1] I say “male-based” rather than “masculinist” cuz the latter term seems colonized by assholes.Report

  7. Avatar Roger says:

    “We want fancy things, but if we don’t have them, we are perfectly happy mocking those who do. And later, when we get those things, all is forgotten.”

    Awesome commentary on human nature and envy.Report

  8. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    “Because what kind of girly man wants a heated steering wheel?”

    OK, I’m going to finish reading the rest of this post in just a sec, but first… what kind of person of any sort wants a heated steering wheel?

    “I sure do love my new Escape and all, but I can’t help notice that my hands are never really, really sweaty whenever I get where I”m going. I wish they’d fix that.”Report

  9. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    And now that I’ve read the whole thing…

    I think this is limited to neither cars or luxury items. It’s a pretty universal Sales 101 technique: when your competitor has a feature that people like and you don’t have, make an assumptive statement that argues strongly for why that feature is bad/makes you look bad, rather than try to explain why you don’t have it.

    And if you think car commercials are bad, try walking into an actual dealership and drop a quick line about how you like the other manufacturer’s [whatever], because those dudes spend hours practicing Howie-long-heated-stearing-wheel responses with their bosses and each other every day.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I think this is limited to neither cars or luxury items.

      Agreed, but I thought I’d try under-claiming once in a post to see how it felt. I didn’t have any examples fitting the pattern outside of the auto industry in mind.

      Regarding luxury, I would argue it’s *all* luxury at this point.Report

  10. Avatar gingergene says:

    Makes me think of this.Report