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Your Status: You Can’t Buy It

photo: (OldTasty)

“Your status” does not just mean the assembled details that indicate how much money you have. That’s something you probably can buy, or at least it’s easier to buy than the sociological concept we’re talking about, which is the way you display to everyone else your place in the world, as you perceive it, and your inherent value. How you carry yourself is often just as important as what you’re wearing, and only one of those things can be flat-out bought with cash.

On a personal level, a one-on-one conversation or at a dinner, in medias res, behavior is almost all there is to talk about, since you’ve already made the all-important initial impression. But here we’re discussing whether or not you can buy your status (and, in case you haven’t guessed yet: you can’t).

The focus is less on behavior than consumer culture, and how its nature prevents you from just slapping a wad of bills on someone’s counter and asking to be respected by your peers, please.

1- Your status is about self-worth, not material worth

Status is not simple, but it has more to do with confidence than wealth. This isn’t to say that it’s completely independent of wealth, and in some situations a person’s going to conclude all he feels he needs to know about you based on the shoes you wear or the car you show up in.

There is a material component, of course: you display a lot about your character if you walk into a room in tailored clothes, dressed appropriately for the event, just as you say a lot about yourself if you’re carrying a hobo bindle on a stick. But almost any material example you think of is also about savviness and good taste. You need to have a discerning eye and the presence of mind to spend money intelligently in the first place.

2- Status symbols can change

Commercial status can’t be bought because it’s not a fixed concept like cost or trendiness; status isn’t the same thing from year to year. Eco-friendliness and sustainable living were on the very fringes of status considerations a few decades ago, and if your only concern had been following short-term trends or dropping cash on whichever gluttonous SUV seemed the most monolithic and, therefore, impressive, you wouldn’t just find yourself out of touch with existing status symbols. You’d be completely at odds with them.

3- Your status requires everyone’s participation

The reason these symbols change so easily is that none of them really mean anything, in and of themselves. Status only functions the way it does if we come to a mutual understanding about how to present and decode it.

An expensive designer suit is worth drastically more than the components that went into it, and even more than another suit made of the same basic stuff. At the same time, who really even knows how much a diamond is worth —¬†beyond the amount someone’s willing to pay for it?

These things communicate worth in one subculture but not in another, and you can’t carry status symbols across those boundaries: a mind-blowing Gamerscore status might be significant to whomever you knifed in Modern Warfare, but will be a poor substitute for wearing something reasonable to a dinner party.

4- Wealth without class is likely to reveal your lack of status rather than obscure it

Lots of the indicators of status, then, can be bought, but not the understanding of the cultural landscape that empowers you to buy the right ones. Spending your money on a diamond-encrusted mouse or a solid-gold iPad isn’t just a failure to buy your status, it’s also a desperate overture that blatantly demonstrates you have none.

Remember, all the visible personal cues that announce your status to the rest of the room are about command, comfort and poise, and anyone who tries to project status by crassly demanding attention is missing the point entirely. Painfully ostentatious attempts to straight-up buy your status is the consumeristic version of the same principle.

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