June 6, 2007

missing the point

I've never understood fancy restaurants with bad food. I've also never understood fancy restaurants that serve unnecessarily complicated dishes, have spectacularly glitzy dining rooms, and serve mediocre food. Stephen Starr, I'm looking at you. It's the restaurant as status symbol.

What people really don't need is to take that attitude home. That article describes a phenomenon - probably made up, as most NYT article phenomena are - in which "even a laid-back dinner with friends can be a challenge to their sense of self-worth." That, my friends, is absurd. (The article also mentions a couple who bring their own pickled ramps to dinner parties. Which, unless they're a gift, is just rude.) Where's the fun? You might eat some good food, but all that anxiety sucks the pleasure and beauty out of it. Not to mention that it's hard to see the point of a friendship where most of the way you interact is about showing off.

Now, you might say that this is a made up phenomenon, that there is no evidence of any such trend actually existing, and that therefore there's no need to write this at all. And you'd be right, mostly. Except that the use of practical items - houses, cars, food, money, clothes, pretty much anything you might actually need - as status symbols is a function and problem of status-oriented, hierarchical culture, and it's stupid. It leads to some serious resource over-consumption, being as it's the reason people have McMansions and Hummer limousines, but the bigger issue is that it's a crap way to relate to people. You can turn around what's high-status so it's a status symbol to buy organic (see last 10 years), but the underlying problem of egotism and self-aggrandizement remains a huge barrier to an egalitarian community. And did I mention it's no fun?

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