Will 'The Yuck Factor' Sabotage Luxury?

Now that everybody's getting squeamish about luxury, where will we get our vicarious thrills?

Yesterday, I went to a "depression-era films" festival at a revival house. I saw a double-feature: one about plucky lovers in a Hooverville and another about dizzy moguls and their extravagant wives. It was great! And between the two, felt pretty topical: a combination of escapism and empathetic grit - to say nothing of three for the price of one movies! - is what we crave in hard times.

This time around, no one seems to know just how to handle luxury. As the Wall Street Journal puts it,

It's hard to fathom the recent announcement that Brioni and Cartier teams took second and third place at the Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow last month. Polo on snow in St. Moritz? The whole luxury-subsidized event seems as out of touch as a crocodile bicycle seat.

Accordingly, folks - even the still-very-wealthy - are cutting back on the luxe, and Fashion Week will be correspondingly subdued. All very conscientious, I'm sure, but is that really what we want? I, for one, get a sort of perverse thrill out of reading about the vile excesses of that Polo match. We know people are rich; pretending to be modest to protect our sensibilities doesn't really solve anything. Of course, I'm not saying people want it rubbed in their faces - the reaction to GOOP is proof-positive of that - but in a sense there is something reassuring about luxury carrying on, provided it's not at the expense of practicalities. What we want is acknowledgment of the situation, and then permission to carry on. Matter-of-factness. Of course, I'm not fooling myself that anyone's capable of turning out Capra-quality satire nowadays (and the finance-free universes of He's Just Not That Into You are not what I'm talking about) but our intelligence deserves no less.

The New Shopping Psychology [Wall Street Journal]