Architecture and Status-Anxiety

A recent advertisement in El País

Ever wondered why luxury products are advertised so heavily in mass-circulation media, even though the market for such products is only a small fraction of the readership? I have, and I think I’ve figured out why: It’s because advertising for a luxury product is never intended to sell the object itself. Instead, what is being sold is the reassurance, through the very mass-advertisement of the brand, that the exclusivity of the product will be recognized by the rest of us slobs.

Luxury advertising is thus aimed at rich and poor alike, albeit with two subtly different messages. To most of us, it says: “when you see this brand of car (or shoe or handbag or Swiss watch or whatever) that is well-beyond your reach, you must show respect and move your jalopy out of the fast lane, for its owner is well-above you in the New World Pecking Order, capito?!” while to the potential owner, it says: “when you buy this product, you are buying, above all, social status and respect through our brand’s universal recognition. Our massive advertisement campaigns make sure of that.”

It is thus mainly social status that the rich are buying through expensive luxury products; social status that is socially-engineered through the art of advertisement copy, which of course does not come cheap.

Architecture is also a conveyor of status. But artists’ and architects’ brands are never blatantly advertised in the mass media as such. That would be too crass. Instead, there is a whole slew of uncritical magazines and articles in Sunday supplements that, along with a slew of uncritical museums, ‘advertise’ art and architecture to the masses, making sure that we are capable of recognizing a Koons, a Gehry, or a Zaha when we see one (and that we behave accordingly).

In the above advertisement for a famous brand of German car, it is canonical architecture (Barcelona pavilion, albeit heavily photo-shopped) that is being used to confer status to a brand; status that is in turn only available to those motorists who can afford it. And the job of the rest of us is to take careful note of that. Amen.


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  1. Rafael, la idea central de tu texto constituye una observación sociológica objetiva, irrefutable, con consecuencias socioeconómicas innegables. A pesar de aquel dicho de Gracián “Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno”, creo que te quedas corto. Tu observación de base queda clara y cada lector la puede enriquecer con nuevos ejemplos. Pero creo que tu brevedad deja espacios en silencio con que hubieras podido remachar esa observación de base…Por otro lado, ¿cuándo podremos leer reunidos en un volumen una buena selección de tus magníficos trabajos críticos?

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