Keeping up with the Joneses

From Steven comes a link to this article in This Magazine, the most salient (and accurate) quote from which is:

The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” in today’s world, does not always mean buying a tract home in the suburbs. It means buying a loft downtown, eating at the right restaurants, listening to obscure bands, having a pile of Mountain Equipment Co-op gear and vacationing in Thailand. It doesn’t matter how much people spend on these things, what matters is the competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.”

MEC. Check (bought a hat for Oliver there on Friday night). Thailand. Check (February 2002). Right restaurants. Not sure (what’s right? do we have “right” restaurants in Charlottetown?). Obscure bands. Check. Loft downtown. Not really, but pretty close. In general, however, they’ve got me pegged.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on December 14, 2004 - 01:27 Permalink

Peter, while after discussing this at lunch today (at the hippest spot in town!), I was filled with shame that you, Dan, and I each own cars that fit (each in a different way) in with this new defefinition of keeping up with the Joneses. We’re way too cool for our own good.

In our defence, each of us walk to work most of the time — for which Dan gets the most credit, since it is by far the greatest distance. Also, we are not cool at all — we are huge dorks.'s picture on December 14, 2004 - 01:57 Permalink

Walking instead of driving our cool cars is just another way to keep up with the joneses…..

Everything comes full circle. As the general population takes up our niche of cool we’ll have to start listening to Matchbox 20, wear clothes from places with names like “Dynamite” and “Stiches”, and eat big macs and steaks. Maybe we’ll even drive SUV’s to be different after everyone buys hybrid minimobiles.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on December 14, 2004 - 02:05 Permalink

You need to let go of that ‘huge dork’ complex you got going on Steven. Take it from a MEC clad, 4 bikes-in-shed, sushi-loving, fair trade coffee drinking, girl about town…you are cooler than you think.

Intersting (although repetitive and way too long) article.
I’m not sure I can go along with this:

Furthermore, we are often forced into competitive consumption, just to defend ourselves against the nuisances generated by other people

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2004 - 04:30 Permalink

Sure, there can be self abnegation in striving to be different (I doubt everybody in a pink mohawk actually likes the way it looks) just as there can in striving to be the same, but I think the extracts from that article are overly cynical. If people are absorbing from society that it’s good to show a little idiosyncracy, then I don’t think that’s so bad either for them or for the rest of us. If they don’t know how to make their own clothes or cars and have to shop at the mall, well then, er, welcome to the modern world.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2004 - 04:52 Permalink

Changed my mind. I think what’s really going on in those excerpts is that the author has put his or her finger on a true (long-time) emerging trend in taste/style/ethos and is just making the boring old high school complaint that “these people think they’re so cool because now they’re doing what we were doing, but they are so NOT cool because—look—everybody is doing that now.”

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on December 14, 2004 - 04:54 Permalink

Cynthia — you’re totally ruining my ‘false modesty’ routine.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on December 14, 2004 - 12:01 Permalink

Sorry Steven. A fella with that much bounce in his step, length in his hair and teeth in his head has to be cool. Consider yourself graduated.

Isaac Grant's picture
Isaac Grant on December 14, 2004 - 17:24 Permalink

Thanks for the awesome article. Adbusters and its ilk always bothered me, and I never could quite explain why — but this article did a good job of explaining to me why I was bothered.

Not that I’m any better than anyone else at all — I squarely fall into the same category of anti-consumerism consumption.