Living the Lifestyle of a Celebrity: Conspicuous Consumption within the Leisure Class In Thorstein Veblen’s, The Theory of the Leisure Class which was first published in 1899, Veblen identifies a problem in our society for which many did not see. Veblen described society as a division of classes, one of these classes as he described as the “leisure class” or what we know today as the wealthier, upper class. In this book, Veblen describes society, and the economy, through the leisure class and analyzes their lifestyle through his time. The leisure class is a predatory culture and harmful to society, he explains, a leisure class has emerged from a “peaceable to a consistently warlike habit of life” (Veblen 7). Through this predatory class, Veblen describes various terms associated with the lifestyle of the leisure class, conspicuous consumption, vicarious leisure, and conspicuous leisure are only few terms he uses. These terms and the study of different lifestyles in different stages of development are described throughout this book, to explain the competitiveness and harm for which the upper class has brought to our society. In this paper, I will describe and discuss Veblen’s terms and lifestyles of the leisure class, how it relates to Karl Marx and his theories in society, and also similarities in which Veblen’s description of the leisure class is seen today.
According to Veblen, the leisure class developed during the barbarian era, more specifically during the transition from savagery to barbarism, which also brought a more warlike community. Veblen argued that these warlike characteristics emerged through the leisure class; the members of this class were mostly men. During this time, hunting and gathering was the primary labor work, which was mostly employed by men of the leisure class. Veblen explains that even though this type of work provided food, farming and other work was more productive than hunting and gathering. The leisure class took over these warfare positions and prevented individuals of the lower class from learning to fight or owning weapons, this is when the leisure class started to gain their power and other classes started to rely and depend on the leisure class. In the predatory culture, this time of employment becomes only a form welcome to the upper class, this is what Veblen describes as conspicuous leisure, these individuals are wealthy enough to avoid work and engage in a type of lifestyle for which no other class can live. Individuals of conspicuous leisure don’t necessarily have to work because they already have the money. Veblen explains the individual’s time is “consumed non-productively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness” (Veblen 23). During this time the leisure class started to emerge and the divisions of class’s were becoming more known to society.
Similar to Veblen, Karl Marx also believed society was made up of class divisions. He explained his theory of class division through “proletariats” (have nots) and “bourgeoisie” (haves). The proletariats were those of the poorer class, which had nothing and the bourgeoisie were the wealthier class that had everything; these individuals would be considered the leisure class. Like the bourgeoisie, Veblen explained that individuals of the leisure class were expected to have almost everything, from servants to luxuries goods, this type of conspicuous consumption defined their status within the leisure class. These individuals of the leisure class can afford servants however the “real” leisure class, or the individuals at the top of the leisure class, can afford servants and also servants who do nothing. Marx believed that “class exploitation takes place when the labor power of one man is the property of another (Romero et al.). Marx theory is shown through servants of the leisure class. “Class Exploitation” is seen in the leisure class when the labor...
Cited: Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. NewYork: Peguin, 1899. Print
David Ashley, David Michael Orenstein
August-November, 2010. Lecture
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