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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

All that Glitters: Catching Fish in America

What if there was a sports car that you walked by every day that was obviously incredibly expensive and this incredibly expensive sports car had really expensive-looking after-market alloy rims? Would you stop and admire this car and its bright, shiny wheels? Would you stop and stare slack-jawed at someone’s bright and shiny expensive jewelry? Don’t feel silly because this is the response that these products are designed to elicit. Luxury items operate under the same principles as fishing lures. Stupid fish!

Fishing lures are bright and shiny to attract fish and make them bite. We humans are much more sophisticated than fish because we won’t bite on a cheap Casio watch like we will on an expensive Rolex. Both of these watches perform their functions equally as well but the Rolex catches bigger fish with larger breasts.

Most people couldn’t tell you if Bach was born before or after Mozart but they can give you price approximations for every model of car sold in this country. People know that a Range Rover costs more than a Ford Focus, a Lexus more than a Hyundai. We are constantly told by the marketing people how much all this stuff around us costs and that buying it matters. Your job as a citizen--according to advertising--is to go out there and earn the money necessary to buy these bright and shiny objects so that you to can start catching fish. Get off your butt and start working!

As a civilization we reached the point of almost absolute material comfort some time ago. We have homes that are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We are way beyond hunger. Adequate food and shelter are relatively inexpensive to purchase. We all spend ridiculous amounts of money on items that simply afford us a certain degree of status. Take a look around at what you own and you will probably find lots of items that either have no utilitarian value or that represent some sort of silly luxury. We have luxury bottled water these days. What a world!

There is a commercial on TV in which a distinguished older woman is hawking gold coins. She is mostly trying to sell you on the investment value of gold but then she asks that you take the gold coins in your hands and feel them. I’m not kidding. She is making an appeal to the exact same part of the brain that makes a fish go after a lure. Please don’t hold the coins in your hands unless you want to have a guy with fish guts on his shorts pull the hook from your mouth and throw you in an ice chest.

Like the fishing lure, luxury products quite often represent an illusion. The fish thinks that it is going after food but the lure is a mere illusion of food. As I mentioned earlier, we humans are much more sophisticated than the lowly fish and what our luxury products represent is much more complex than food. The shiny rims on the sports car, the Range Rover, the Rolex all offer the illusion of an array of messages: power and sex for the most part. We are cagey little critters, we humans. Happy hunting!

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