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bags, ink pens and status anxiety [a short discourse]
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luis vuitton, mont blanc and status anxiety [a short discourse].
when we talk about such things as louis vuitton luggage and mont blanc pens we are talking primarily [and almost entirely] about status symbols.
in a utilitarian sense, [and arguably an aesthetic sense] a louis vuitton bag or mont blanc pen is no more useful or beautiful than a similar product costing 10 or 20 times less.
given this fact, what is the purpose of such products as louis vuitton luggage and mont blanc ink pens?
the real purpose behind products such as these is not necessarily to please the owner, their social utility resides in what they communicate to everybody else who looks at these products and thence whoever owns them.
and if the viewer is aware of the language, the message that the status symbol ‘should’ send to the culturally initiated, then they may read the story.
stories through product.
every single thing we own, every single thing we wear, every single thing in our homes tells a story about us.
owned objects tell stories about those who own them.
though some objects have developed into ‘personal advertisements’ which behave in a very particular way.
many [usually expensive] objects are bought primarily not as useful or even beautiful things, they are bought simply as objects to be seen by other people.
to be clear again, these objects are called status symbols.
with respect to a piece of louis vuitton luggage, or a mont blanc pen, there are no good utilitarian, qualitative or aesthetic reasons whatsoever for buying these products.
they are not even necessarily ‘the best’ of that particular product a consumer can possibly buy.
there are products that serve exactly the same purpose, and work equally as well as those products which are status symbols, but cost considerably less.
but these products do not function successfully as status symbols.
this is because they do not communicate those things which the buyer of a status symbol wants their purchased status symbol to communicate.
a mont blanc pen or louis vuitton bag exists primarily as a signal; it exists as a recognisable physical manifestation and personal advertisement of the perceived status of the consumer that owns it.
again, the status symbol product very often functions no better in any utile sense than their non-status-symbol equivalents, but costs ten, twenty or thirty times more.
a strange thing regarding status symbols.
of course, the strange thing about status symbols is that the people looking at them need to know exactly what the object is worth to receive the signal the owner wishes to send.
they need to know exactly what the status symbol is meant to mean.
what that status symbol is meant to say.
if a person owns an £800 mont blanc pen, and the person looking at the pen is entirely unaware of the brand or the ludicrously high price, then the pen simply becomes the same as every other pen.
when the viewer is unaware of what the status symbol ‘should’ be saying, the status symbol ceases entirely to be effective in terms of communicating the correct social and status signal to the viewer.
it is reduced to the status of base product, and as such communicates nothing other than the fact it is yet another product. yet another purchased object amongst countless other purchased objects.
this is why advertising and fashion media outlets make sure as many people as is possible know the correct signal any given status symbol should communicate.
product – the lingua franca of the socially anxious.
in effect what we have are groups of peers signalling to each other their social status using purchased products.
in order to understand french people i need to be able to speak french.
in order to understand what a person’s status symbols are saying about that person, i need to understand the language of their status symbols.
so it is not any notion of quality or craftsmanship that makes a status symbol expensive, it is its power to tell those who understand the status symbol something [often entirely false] about the owner.
alain de botton proposes the theory of status anxiety in his exceptional book of the same name.
i think the behaviour patterns that come about as a result of status anxiety have existed for a very long time indeed.
that said, i think we now live in an age where status anxiety and conspicuous consumption can be said to be amongst the primary driving forces of almost every human being in any given developed nation.
as i mentioned, much more often than not, the function of a status symbol has little or nothing to do with its utilitarian, or indeed, aesthetic value.
it exists to tell other people exactly how much you spent in buying it.
this seems pitiful to me.
are the vast majority of people so personally and socially insecure that they need to commit themselves to purchase ever more products to ensure their position and status in their given peer group.
once again, i assert that these people are displaying the symptoms of mental illness.
we buy to be who we are not.
as we can see with the preposterous rise of the ‘designer label’.
anything can be called a designer product.
a pen; a car, a table, a pair of sunglasses, an item of clothing, a camera, running shoes, a handbag, and item of crockery, and item of cutlery.
anything can be called a designer product.
anything can be a status symbol.
you simply have to convince people of the correct ‘story’ it tells with regard to the owner.
once you can do this successfully, you can sell any monkey buyer ‘shit with a ribbon on’ [as my father used to call products of this nature].
a distant acquaintance twice removed has a daughter.
a few years ago the daughter found herself in a position of owning a great deal of money in terms of personal debt. thousands and thousands of pounds.
she asked her parents if they would buy her a mont blanc pen as a birthday present for her.
once again, i have a say that this is, to me, mental illness.
i can see no other sensible name to give these patterns of behaviour.
my apologies to natalia
links of further interest:
alain de botton – status anxiety:
TED lecture – tim jackson – economic reality check:
NB one very important thing i will add.
if you change your circle of friends, you can change your life.
i think you know very well what i mean.
PS – the question has been asked of me ‘why che’?
i think i will leave it to a flickr contact to explain the reason: