The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is man’s servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave’s quickness in guessing his master’s mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the relation of status—and which must for the present purpose be set down as serviceable traits—the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men’s regard as a thing of good repute.
(Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class)
Anyone know good articles on Veblen and social media? Maybe it is just too easy.
Like many of the classics, Veblen’s work has places that could use updating, but much of it remains not only relevant but increasingly so. It is probably easier to teach The Theory of the Leisure Class (TLC) today than it ever was. This article about a famous world-traveling instagram dog shows that Veblen was on to something.
John Stortz is an illustrator from Los Angeles with a passion for travel. And he doesn’t go it alone. Stortz brings along his closest pal, a rescue husky named Wolfgang who stars in gorgeous photos taken on the road. Stortz shares the pictures of Wolfgang’s travels with his more than 45,000 fans on Instagram. Some of the places he has visited with his loyal pup are the Mojave Desert, “Prada Marfa” in Texas, and the mountains of Arizona.
Followers on Instagram are stunned. “That dog is the world’s greatest!” writes one commenter, while another calls the photos an “amazing idea and way to show the beauty of the world.”
Social media provides endless examples of conspicuous consumption, and has even made forms of conspicuous leisure practical again – check of this photo of my feet as a chill poolside!
Engaging in my own unproductive leisure I came across this album of a meal that took days of preparation and lifetimes of enculturation. While the preparation and consumption are impressive indeed, it is not unique on the internet. It is part of a common genre. And while I’m not condemning anyone or anything – who doesn’t have their guilty leisure class pleasures – these contributions always make me think of this passage from TLC:
The quasi-peaceable gentleman of leisure, then, not only consumes of the staff of life beyond the minimum required for subsistence and physical efficiency, but his consumption also undergoes a specialisation as regards the quality of the goods consumed. He consumes freely and of the best, in food, drink, narcotics, shelter, services, ornaments, apparel, weapons and accoutrements, amusements, amulets, and idols or divinities. In the process of gradual amelioration which takes place in the articles of his consumption, the motive principle and proximate aim of innovation is no doubt the higher efficiency of the improved and more elaborate products for personal comfort and well-being. But that does not remain the sole purpose of their consumption. The canon of reputability is at hand and seizes upon such innovations as are, according to its standard, fit to survive. Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific; and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit.
This growth of punctilious discrimination as to qualitative excellence in eating, drinking, etc. presently affects not only the manner of life, but also the training and intellectual activity of the gentleman of leisure. He is no longer simply the successful, aggressive male,—the man of strength, resource, and intrepidity. In order to avoid stultification he must also cultivate his tastes, for it now becomes incumbent on him to discriminate with some nicety between the noble and the ignoble in consumable goods. He becomes a connoisseur in creditable viands of various degrees of merit, in manly beverages and trinkets, in seemly apparel and architecture, in weapons, games, dancers, and the narcotics. This cultivation of aesthetic faculty requires time and application, and the demands made upon the gentleman in this direction therefore tend to change his life of leisure into a more or less arduous application to the business of learning how to live a life of ostensible leisure in a becoming way. Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. His life of leisure must be conducted in due form. Hence arise good manners in the way pointed out in an earlier chapter. High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.
I did some quick googling for Veblen and various social media terms. I found this on instagram fame, this on the rich kids of instagram (??? I believe this what a thing or something), and this on the (perverse) incentives of media. If you have more, let me know.