Does a flourishing economy depend on delusion?
Adam Smith thought so. In a famous passage in The Theory of Moral Sentiments he described a “poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition.” The young man imagines how much easier his life would be if he could live in a grand home, attended by servants and traveling by coach rather than on foot: “He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquillity of his situation.”
The man spends his life striving to achieve his dream. He becomes wealthy, with all the luxuries he imagined, but to get there he has to work so hard that he can never relax.
“Through the whole of his life,” writes Smith, “he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquillity that is at all times in his power.” The man is deluded by the glamour of wealth, tricked by an illusion. Yet his achievement is not only real but socially beneficial: “It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind.”
Read the rest at BigQuestionsOnline.
[Photo "Ambition" by Flickr user Ashley R. Good, used under Creative Commons License.]
I barely do. These days, it's all "sexy" costumes for the ladies and decidedly un-sexy, not-even-funny joke costumes for the guys. And on the decorating front, instead of ghoulish graveyards or even dark and mysterious haunted houses, those of us trying to deck out our houses for the holiday get...glitter.
The glitter is everywhere. A stroll down the Halloween decoration aisle at Target turns up sparkly skull candy dishes, sparkly jack-o-lanterns, sparkly skeletons. Oh, there are a few more traditional foam gravestones and "the witch is in" signs, but they fade to the background. It's hard to see around the glare coming off the glittery pumpkins.
For this phenomenon, I blame Stephenie Meyer and her band of chaste, "vegetarian" vampires who, instead of burning up in the sun, sparkle like a fleet of immortals dressed for a night out at Studio 54.*
The sparkle is just one more way that vampires - who used to be a genuinely scary staple of the Halloween season - have been softened. Last year on Slate, Grady Hendrix wrote a great summary of the evolution of the vampire from bloodthirsty killer to emo virgin.
And as go the vampires, so goes all of Halloween. It's been mostly a kids' holiday for a long time and fairly sanitized in the U.S. for decades, but it used to have a tiny bit of edge. Covering everything in sparkly paint smoothes that right out.
The sparklefication of Halloween is not a surprise, though - it's mostly a matter of supply and demand. With Twilight moms holding a whole lot of purchasing power, it's only natural that the glitter goods would fly off the shelves. I can't blame product designers and stores for delivering what the people want.
But that doesn't mean I can't mourn the passing of the genuinely scary haunted house, or hope that one day we will see it's return, alongside vampires who do a little more than gaze longingly at their human prey.
*To head off the Twilight defenders: I read all of the books and I've seen the movies and I liked them. They entertained me. But I still think it sucks (pardon the pun) that Twilight vampires have overtaken all others in pop culture. There's a little variety out there, but not much, and pop fiction would be a better place if Edward Cullen had a little more diverse company. And Halloween decorating would be easier if everything didn't shed glitter on my kitchen floor.
Sophisticated gardeners typically view garden gnomes as kitsch. However, I do know one sophisticated gardener with a weakness for gnomes who has a few scattered in a large garden on a property of several acres. She jokes that she has heard that each gnome she displays lowers the value of her property by a thousand dollars.
In this light, it is fascinating to read the pages of comments on a Colorado’s 9News story which relates that someone stole almost 150 gnomes from the front landscape of an Arvada, Colorado home. Some readers sympathize with the home owner’s comment that, “You can’t have anything nice anymore.” Others argue that her idea of “nice” must have been amazingly tacky, and that someone did the neighborhood a service by getting rid of what had to have been a kitschy eyesore.
To raise money for breast cancer research, the Colorado Women’s Resource Center has advertised that they will place of flock of 20 plastic pink flamingos on a friend’s lawn for one day for a fee of $30. Knowing that displaying a flock of pink flamingos puts the homeowner’s taste in question, they also offer anti-flocking insurance for $10—just in case you fear that one of your “friends” might impose them on you.
To promote the launch of its newest product, Silky Hydroglide for Women, Moore Unique Skin Care (through our friends at KMR Communications) is offering one DG reader a gift package of skin care products for men and women. The package includes:
Razor Rash Relief: Patented cream treatment soothes skin after shaving and, with proper and consistent use, prevents future razor burn, rash, and PFB (shaving bumps caused by ingrown hairs). Formulated with anti-bacterial salicylic acid and micro-molecular technology, this emollient smoothes the skin surface, softens the hair to be shaved, and prevents new growth hair from turning back into the skin. Treats razor burn, sensitive skin, and ingrown hairs. Retail price: $12.99
Clear Skin Acne Wash: Contains emulsifying, deep cleansing colloidal sulphur and anti-bacterial salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells, clean pores, reduce oil, and clear acne on face and body. Treats acne, whiteheads and blackheads, oily skin, clogged pores. Retail price: $7.99
Body Scrub Lotion: Cool and refreshing emollient with natural grains that clear away dry skin cells for smoother feeling skin. Retail price: $12.99
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Bath, Body and Hair Oil: Mineral-rich moisturizer for dry skin and hair. Retail price: $7.99
To enter, leave a comment below (on any DG subject, but not thinly disguised spam) by midnight Pacific time on Thursday, November 11. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and notified by email. Products will be shipped directly from KMR Communications. Contest open to U.S. residents only.
Update: Congratulations to our contest winner Carl.
On a recent Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland on a tall, obese man sat down next to me. He was not morbidly obese—he could squeeze into his seat with both arm rests in place—but he did overlap his seat enough that I realized that I would have difficulty avoiding contact with him. I had gotten up early that morning, so I crossed my arms, moved as far as I could toward my wife’s seat, and managed to sleep most of the flight. Near the end of the flight my obese neighbor raised the armrest between us to get more comfortable. But he courteously took care to avoid imposing on my space any more than his bulk forced him to.
As humans we desire a certain amount of personal space, and on many occasions we will wait for the next elevator rather than crowd into a tightly-packed group of strangers. Having someone stand too close to us can feel like a form of intimidation, no matter what the person’s size. I can remember three occasions in which short, petite women made me uncomfortable by standing too close to me during casual conversations. In one case it was a colleague’s wife, and it was impossible to look down at her without being distracted by the cleavage being displayed by her provocatively low-cut dress. A petite woman once confessed to me that she sometimes liked to intimidate large women by standing very close to them. She was aware that being close to her tiny, svelte figure sometimes made larger women feel awkward and huge.
If we feel that someone is invading our personal space in an uncomfortable way, we instinctly try to move away from them. On an airplane our ability to move is limited, and the growing obesity rate means that we are increasingly likely to find ourselves sharing seating space with individuals who are too large for a single seat. Film director Kevin Smith created publicity for himself by berating Southwest for denying him a seat on one of their flights. He claimed that he could have fit into a seat with the armrests down, but as I learned on the flight to Oakland, this does not guarantee that the passenger’s bulk will not spill over onto the adjacent seat.
If the situation is extreme (as illustrated by this photo taken of a unresolved boarding situation), being pinned under the weight of another person can prove injurious. In 2002, after being pinned to the outside wall during an 11-hour Virgin Airlines flight by a grossly overweight woman, another woman passenger required hospitalization. Angered what she felt was the airline’s calloused attitude toward her ordeal, the squashed woman threatened to sue, and won a £12,000 settlement. During the investigation into the incident, the airline discovered that the obese woman’s thin husband had booked himself into the row behind his wife, which suggested that he was fully aware that sitting next to her on a long flight would be an ordeal.
Given the rising rates of obesity around the world, unless airlines find ways to deal with grossly overweight passengers (such as the purchase of an extra seat), both the obese passengers and their thinner neighbors are increasingly likely to find themselves in uncomfortable social situations. The thought that you might find yourself on a long international flight seated next to a stranger whose bulk spills onto your seat is a distinctly unglamorous image.
[“Super Size Airline” copyrighted by Flickr user Thomas Boucher and used by permission.]
If my DG email inbox is any indication, people are getting increasingly paranoid about how they look in their Facebook photos. Or at least the publicists for various skincare and beauty products hope they are.
One PR query asks, "Is Your Face Facebook Ready?"
Did you know the there are more than 500 million active users on Facebook? Most people block their walls and photo albums, but profile photos are broadcast to anyone who cares to look—from new classmates to prospective employers. Don’t let a bad complexion ruin your image on Facebook… and beyond. Prep your skin for your close up with Vichy Laboratoires skincare solutions. Whether you have acne scars, puffy eyes or oily skin, Vichy will help you put your best face forward.
Another has the subject line, "Look Picture Perfect!"
Unfortunately, every picture you are photographed in isn’t always Facebook “profile” worthy and we’ve all had photos taken that we are not proud of. Luckily, Romy Fazeli of Kymaro Health and Beauty offers quick inexpensive tips to give you a photo-ready look.
Her mixed-bag of recommendations includes a teeth whitener, body shapers, and jewelry. I wonder what they have in common?
A couple of weeks ago, I published a WSJ column citing research showing that while bicycle-helmet laws do save lives they also significantly discourage kids (especially teenagers) from riding bikes in the first place. The comments were lively and interesting—as I note in the article, this is a topic that excites all-or-nothing passions—with some people adamantly arguing that appearance is, or ought to be, completely irrelevant: "Riding a bike is not a fashion statement," declared one.
Wearing Yakkay helmets
Except, of course, that for many people it is. As both the WSJ and NYT have reported, bikes are gaining popularity among fashionable urban women. “The idea now is to look like a pedestrian on wheels,” a bike retailer told the NYT's Ruth La Ferla. Preferably one liked to be featured on The Sartorialist. The "lovely bicycle" is in, and it doesn't go with the typical bike helmet.
Fortunately, in bike-loving Scandinavia enthusiasts for both bicycles and head-protection have turned not to laws but to design. In my article, I briefly mention Yakkay, a Danish startup that offers stylish helmets with changeable covers. "If you make a stylish bicycle helmet you don’t need legislation," says CEO Michael Eide, "and in YAKKAY we wanted to make a helmet people actually want to wear." Now sold in Europe and Canada, Yakkay helmets will be available in the U.S. beginning next spring.
The Hövding: Protection without hat hair (click photo for larger image)
Taking a more radical approach is the Hövding (Chieftain), developed by Swedish designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin. An airbag disguised as a collar, it is, as Ariel Schwartz reports on Fast Company.com, "the complete antithesis of the hard-shelled helmets that cyclists have become used to." Six years in development, it will be available next year. Here's a video of how it works:
[Photos courtesy of Yakkay and Hövding.]
Unlike dresses or skirts or blouses, shoes hold their shape even when no one is wearing them, and therefore evoke a sense of promise. When you see a pair of stilettos on display in a department store or featured in a fashion magazine, you can imagine yourself wearing them and becoming the kind of person who lives a magical life, gliding around gracefully with no need for sensible, lace-up shoes. The fantasy just might become realizable by stepping into the shoes and inhabiting them.
Very often, what women “love” about shoes is this frisson of potentiality, of expectancy. When considering a beautiful or unusual pair of shoes, whether high heeled or not, they think: This is what I could be. If I wear these shoes I will become a new me—a better me—a me whom others will recognize as fearless and exciting. No longer will I be a woman who plods and clunks along. In these shoes I can be fun, edgy, sexy, unpredictable. Anything is possible.
Alas, as we know, the fantasy is never truly attainable. Gorgeous shoes do not lead to a carefree life, or even to the appearance of one.
—Leora Tanenbaum, Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them
[Photo from DeepGlamour Flickr pool, courtesy of Flickr user Dariya1. The photo's title translates "mirror of my longings."]
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I must confess a shame: a couple of years ago I gave in to the status quo. I bought a sexy Halloween costume.
Sexy Marie Antoinette took the symbol of decadence and beauty… and added a really short skirt, ruffle panties and thigh high stockings. Brilliant! History rolled in its grave while still getting a boner! Bravo, Halloween industry, BRAVO!
And you know what happened the night I wore that sexy costume? Sexy Marie Antoinette had herself a ball and flirted up a storm! Sexy Marie Antoinette yielded RESULTS. Which is why I am now a true believer in the power of sexy Halloween.
Apparently I’m not alone.
In the last few years the formerly sexy black cat, sexy devil, and sexy French maid have been retired in favor of a bevy of sexy fairy tale characters, sexy sailors, and sexy gangsters (?).
In fact, in the last few years, the effort to sex-up every aspect of Halloween has created an entire niche industry trying its darndest to come up with year’s sexiest and most unusual costume.
Everyone wants to design the next Sexy Marie Antoinette! But in the meantime, the very definition of sexy suffers. Let's take, for example, sexy crayons. Sexy clowns. Even Sexy clown fish.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, sexy golf (P.S. never sexy), sexy Elmo, even sexy Big Bird have pushed the limits on what is considered sexy, what is considered downright sad, and what is just plain disturbing.
I mean, I get the sexy Catholic school girl--she's the young high school virgin. Classic untouchable sexy. But sexy Brownie troop girl? Guys, that's just weird. Brownies are like 8 years old. WTF? What's next? A sexy baby?
In a world where sex sells and therefore is everywhere all the time, have we forgotten what sexy is? (You know who we should ask? Sexy Marie Antoinette.)
But as much as I lament the road female costumes are on, I feel worse for the men. Case in point, the To-Do List costume.
It is a sad, sad world we live in where men feel that a square, foam form over their body representing a super-sized desk item is considered hilarious enough to wear in public. Where is my giant stapler man costume? My giant tape dispenser or giant conference call triangle thing?
Look for them to be released in 2011, folks.
The day the music dies.