Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism

Columbia University Press
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-- Geoff Lewis, Business Week
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About the author

James B. Twitchell teaches English and advertising at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His many books include Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture and Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America, both published by Columbia.


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Additional Information

Publisher
Columbia University Press
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Published on
Jul 6, 1999
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Pages
310
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ISBN
9780231500425
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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James B. Twitchell
Economic downturns and terrorist attacks notwithstanding, America's love affair with luxury continues unabated. Over the last several years, luxury spending in the United States has been growing four times faster than overall spending. It has been characterized by political leaders as vital to the health of the American economy as a whole, even as an act of patriotism. Accordingly, indices of consumer confidence and purchasing seem unaffected by recession. This necessary consumption of unnecessary items and services is going on at all but the lowest layers of society: J.C. Penney now offers day spa treatments; Kmart sells cashmere bedspreads. So many products are claiming luxury status today that the credibility of the category itself is strained: for example, the name "pashmina" had to be invented to top mere cashmere.

We see luxury everywhere: in storefronts, advertisements, even in the workings of our imaginations. But what is it? How is it manufactured on the factory floor and in the minds of consumers? Who cares about it and who buys it? And how concerned should we be that luxuries are commanding a larger and larger percentage of both our disposable income and our aspirations?

Trolling the upscale malls of America, making his way toward the Mecca of Las Vegas, James B. Twitchell comes to some remarkable conclusions. The democratization of luxury, he contends, has been the single most important marketing phenomenon of our times. In the pages of Living It Up, Twitchell commits the academic heresy of paying respect to popular luxury consumption as a force that has united the country and the globe in a way that no war, movement, or ideology ever has. What's more, he claims, the shopping experience for Americans today has its roots in the spiritual, the religious, and the transcendent.

Deft and subtle writing, audacious ideas, and a fine sense of humor inform this entertaining and insightful book.
Greg Sestero
New York Times bestseller—now a major motion picture directed by and starring James Franco!

From the actor who somehow lived through it all, a “sharply detailed…funny book about a cinematic comedy of errors” (The New York Times): the making of the cult film phenomenon The Room.

In 2003, an independent film called The Room—starring and written, produced, and directed by a mysteriously wealthy social misfit named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Years later, it’s an international cult phenomenon, whose legions of fans attend screenings featuring costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons.

Hailed by The Huffington Post as “possibly the most important piece of literature ever printed,” The Disaster Artist is the hilarious, behind-the-scenes story of a deliciously awful cinematic phenomenon as well as the story of an odd and inspiring Hollywood friendship. Actor Greg Sestero, Tommy’s costar and longtime best friend, recounts the film’s bizarre journey to infamy, unraveling mysteries for fans (like, who is Steven? And what’s with that hospital on Guerrero Street?)—as well as the most important question: how the hell did a movie this awful ever get made? But more than just a riotously funny story about cinematic hubris, “The Disaster Artist is one of the most honest books about friendship I’ve read in years” (Los Angeles Times).
James B. Twitchell
Branding, says James Twitchell, is nothing more than commercial storytelling; brands are the stories that are associated with products. (For example, the special taste of Evian, says Twitchell, is in the brand, not the water.) Branding has become so successful, so ubiquitous that even institutions that we thought were above branding, antithetical to branding, have succumbed. Such cultural institutions as religion, higher education, and the art world have learned to love Madison Avenue or lose market share. Of course, most ministers, university presidents, and museum directors will insist that branding has nothing to do with them, but as Twitchell brilliantly demonstrates in this witty, insightful examination of three of our most important cultural institutions, wherever supply exceeds demand branding follows.
The rise of the megachurch epitomizes branding in religion. From its inception the megachurch was designed not to compete with other churches but to bring in the "unchurched," especially men, worshippers who might otherwise be home watching television or strolling through the mall on a Sunday morning. The megachurches have been phenomenally popular, none more so than Willow Creek Community Church, just south of Chicago, one of the oldest megachurches, which Twitchell analyzes in Branded Nation.
Colleges and universities have embraced branding as they have grown more alike. Especially among the top schools in the country, the student bodies, the faculties, often even the campuses themselves are practically interchangeable. What distinguishes each school is the story it tells about itself. Now every institution of higher learning has its image organizers, its brand managers, usually in the admissions or development offices, whose job it is to make their institution seem different from all the rest.
Even museums, with their multimillion-dollar Monets, have seen the advantages of branding. The blockbuster exhibitions often put familiar paintings in a new context, that is, they provide a new narrative, branding the art. Museums keep expanding their stores, placing them not just near the entrance on the ground floor but throughout the museum, in the galleries themselves. Some museums, such as the Guggenheim, even franchise themselves, turning the institution itself into a brand.
In short, high culture is beginning to look more and more like the rest of our culture.
In perhaps his most subversive observation, Twitchell doesn't condemn the branding of cultural institutions. On the contrary, he believes that branding may be invigorating our high culture, bringing it to new audiences, making it a more integral part of our lives.
Not since Bobos in Paradise has there been such a trenchant, provocative analysis of our world.
Jonathan Abrams
James B. Twitchell
As a boy, James Twitchell heard stories about his ancestors in Louisiana and even played with his great-grandfather's Civil War sword, but he never appreciated the state and the events that influenced a pivotal chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather, Marshall Harvey Twitchell, a carpetbagger from Vermont, had settled in upstate Louisiana during Reconstruction, married a local girl, and encountered much success until a fateful day in August 1874. The dramatic story of the elder Twitchell's life and near assassination fuels the author's pursuit of his family's history and a true understanding of the South.
In Look Away, Dixieland, Vermont-native Twitchell sets out from his current home inFlorida on the inauguration day of America's first black president to find the "real" South and to try to understand the truth about his illustrious ancestor. He travels in an RV from Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp across Alabama and Mississippi to Coushatta, Louisiana. As he drives through the heart of Dixie, Twitchell sorts through the prejudices he learned from his northern rearing. In searching for the culture he had held at arm's length for so long, he tours small-town southern life -- in campgrounds, cotton gins, churches, country fairs, and squirrel dog kennels -- and uncovers some fundamental truths along the way. Notably, he discovers that prejudices of race, class, and ideology are not limited by geography. As one man from Georgia mockingly summed up North versus South stereotypes, "Y'all are rude and we're stupid."
Unexpectedly, Twitchell also uncovers facts about his great-grandfather and sheds new light on his family's past. An enlightening, humorous, and refreshingly honest search, Look Away, Dixieland reveals some of the differences and similarities that ultimately define us as a nation.
James B. Twitchell
"If you ask men if they spend any time hiding, they usually look at you as if you're nuts. 'What, me hide?' But if you ask women whether men hide, they immediately know what you mean." -- from Where Men Hide

Where Men Hide is a spirited tour of the dark and often dirty places men go to find comfort, camaraderie, relaxation, and escape. Ken Ross's striking photographs and James Twitchell's lively analysis trace the evolution of these virtual caves, and question why they are rapidly disappearing.

Ross documents both traditional and contemporary male haunts, such as bars, barbershops, lodges, pool halls, strip clubs, garages, deer camps, megachurches, the basement Barcalounger, and Twitchell examines their provenance, purpose, and appeal. He finds that for centuries men have met with each other in underground lairs and clubhouses to conduct business or, in the case of strip clubs and the modern rec room, to bond and indulge in shady entertainments. In these secret dens, certain rules are abandoned while others are obeyed. However, Twitchell sees this less as exclusionary behavior and more as the result of social anxiety: when women want to get together, they just do it; when men get together, it's a production.

Drawing on literary, historical, and pop cultural sources, Twitchell connects the places men hide with figures like Hemingway and Huck Finn, Frederick Jackson Turner's theory of the American frontier, and the mythological interpretations of Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly. Instead of blaming the disappearance of the man-cave solely on feminism, simple fair play, or the demands of Title IX, Twitchell believes this evaporation is due as well to the rise of solitary pursuits such as driving, watching television, and playing videogames.

By blending together anecdote, research, and keen observation, Ross and Twitchell bring this little-discussed and controversial phenomenon to light.

James B. Twitchell
Economic downturns and terrorist attacks notwithstanding, America's love affair with luxury continues unabated. Over the last several years, luxury spending in the United States has been growing four times faster than overall spending. It has been characterized by political leaders as vital to the health of the American economy as a whole, even as an act of patriotism. Accordingly, indices of consumer confidence and purchasing seem unaffected by recession. This necessary consumption of unnecessary items and services is going on at all but the lowest layers of society: J.C. Penney now offers day spa treatments; Kmart sells cashmere bedspreads. So many products are claiming luxury status today that the credibility of the category itself is strained: for example, the name "pashmina" had to be invented to top mere cashmere.

We see luxury everywhere: in storefronts, advertisements, even in the workings of our imaginations. But what is it? How is it manufactured on the factory floor and in the minds of consumers? Who cares about it and who buys it? And how concerned should we be that luxuries are commanding a larger and larger percentage of both our disposable income and our aspirations?

Trolling the upscale malls of America, making his way toward the Mecca of Las Vegas, James B. Twitchell comes to some remarkable conclusions. The democratization of luxury, he contends, has been the single most important marketing phenomenon of our times. In the pages of Living It Up, Twitchell commits the academic heresy of paying respect to popular luxury consumption as a force that has united the country and the globe in a way that no war, movement, or ideology ever has. What's more, he claims, the shopping experience for Americans today has its roots in the spiritual, the religious, and the transcendent.

Deft and subtle writing, audacious ideas, and a fine sense of humor inform this entertaining and insightful book.
James B. Twitchell
As a boy, James Twitchell heard stories about his ancestors in Louisiana and even played with his great-grandfather's Civil War sword, but he never appreciated the state and the events that influenced a pivotal chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather, Marshall Harvey Twitchell, a carpetbagger from Vermont, had settled in upstate Louisiana during Reconstruction, married a local girl, and encountered much success until a fateful day in August 1874. The dramatic story of the elder Twitchell's life and near assassination fuels the author's pursuit of his family's history and a true understanding of the South.
In Look Away, Dixieland, Vermont-native Twitchell sets out from his current home inFlorida on the inauguration day of America's first black president to find the "real" South and to try to understand the truth about his illustrious ancestor. He travels in an RV from Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp across Alabama and Mississippi to Coushatta, Louisiana. As he drives through the heart of Dixie, Twitchell sorts through the prejudices he learned from his northern rearing. In searching for the culture he had held at arm's length for so long, he tours small-town southern life -- in campgrounds, cotton gins, churches, country fairs, and squirrel dog kennels -- and uncovers some fundamental truths along the way. Notably, he discovers that prejudices of race, class, and ideology are not limited by geography. As one man from Georgia mockingly summed up North versus South stereotypes, "Y'all are rude and we're stupid."
Unexpectedly, Twitchell also uncovers facts about his great-grandfather and sheds new light on his family's past. An enlightening, humorous, and refreshingly honest search, Look Away, Dixieland reveals some of the differences and similarities that ultimately define us as a nation.
James B. Twitchell
Not so long ago religion was a personal matter that was seldom discussed in public. No longer. Today religion is everywhere, from books to movies to television to the internet-to say nothing about politics. Now religion is marketed and advertised like any other product or service. How did this happen? And what does it mean for religion and for our culture?

Just as we shop for goods and services, we shop for church. A couple of generations ago Americans remained in the faith they were born into. Today, many Americans change their denomination or religion, sometimes several times. Churches that know how to appeal to those shopping for God are thriving. Think megachurches. Churches that don't know how to do this or don't bother are fading away. Think mainline Protestant churches.

Religion is now celebrated and shown off like a fashion accessory. We can wear our religious affiliation like a designer logo. But, says James Twitchell, this isn't because Americans are undergoing another Great Awakening; rather, it's a sign that religion providers-that is, churches-have learned how to market themselves. There is more competition among churches than ever in our history. Filling the pew is an exercise in salesmanship, and as with any marketing campaign, it requires establishing a brand identity. Successful pastors ("pastorpreneurs," Twitchell calls them) know how to speak the language of Madison Avenue as well as the language of the Bible.

In this witty, engaging book, Twitchell describes his own experiences trying out different churches to discover who knows how to "do church" well. He takes readers into the land of karaoke Christianity, where old-style contemplative sedate religion has been transformed into a public, interactive event with giant-screen televisions, generic iconography (when there is any at all), and ample parking.

Rarely has America's religious culture been examined so perceptively and so entertainingly. Shopping for God does for religion what Fast Food Nation has done for food.
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