Thursday, October 18, 2012

My thoughts on a $10,000 jug of barbeque sauce

Earlier this week, a 20 year old gallon jug of barbeque sauce sold on eBay for nearly $10K.  This story followed one from the previous week in which a cocktail made with a rare cognac was priced at almost $9000.  The stories don't end of the most expensive food and drink, rare whiskey in a one-of-a-kind decanter and, of course, Justin Timberlake's half-eaten French toast.

Photo courtesy of HuffPost Money

All of this makes me feel very sad.  While I have no intentions of judging how other people spend their money (since I myself live in a glass castle), I have to wonder how far we will go in our culture to commidify fame and status. Or how far we will go to acquire and confer status.

Additionally, what is deemed newsworthy?

Max Weber's unfinished 1946 essay on status groups (Essays in Sociology, p. 180-195) begins to sketch out the relationship between class and status, but never fully realizes the impact of celebrity on status ( Kurzman et al., 2007 Sociological Theory).  The notion of celebrity is arguably what defines American culture as distinct from every other culture on the planet.  To Charles E. Hurst (2005), celebrity is the spawn of capitalism and involves the commodification of reputation and status; celebrity is also seen as a product of the "culture industry" (Horkheimer and Adorno, 2002, Dialectic of Enlightenment).

Is having Michael Jordan's name linked with a container of barbeque sauce (stored for 20 years in someone's basement) what really bothers me?  Or is it the affiliation with a major fast food chain?  Is it the Macallan whiskey in the decanter, or the Lalique decanter itself that confers status?  What is it about these things that make them so incredibly prominent in the media?  These are questions that I wrestle with and eventually cast aside in frustration.

In the midst of what most of us now recognize as the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, what does it mean that people are willing to spend large amounts of money on items such as barbeque sauce linked with famous names and cocktails made with rare cognac, or even garnished with a diamond?  In what ways is that kind of spending considered useful by the spender?  Does that spending behavior indicate the desire to acquire status and celebrity?  Does the publicity around such events delineate class bias, define socioeconomic status, or is it merely a form of entertainment on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook?

Your thoughts?

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