The other day, at my local grocery storei I happened across a grey-haired gentleman in his early 50’s inspecting the cakes through the glass window in the bakery section. He stood out not for his adroite posture draped by a snow white dress shirt beneath navy blue suit jacket, not even for the casual flip of his coif, but for the flamboyantly out-of-place red hankerchief around his neck.
Now seeing a certain sort of middle-aged man wear a red hankerchief around his neck – particularly when the Canadian Finals Rodeo is in town, which it is – wouldn’t be so glaringly unusual or excessively noteworthy… were he sporting a middle-aged gut, donning a 10 gallon cowboy hat and a wearing a “Canadian tuxedo”ii to match, but this gent wasn’t. In addition to his cravat rouge, he was dressed in finely tailored slacks, the aforementioned open-collar white dress shirt, and a suit jacket that visibly shimmered with high quality beneath the store’s fluorescent lighting. And lest we forget that the official mode of transport in these parts is the Ford F-150 pick-up truck, a 21′-long salute to the area’s agricultural heritage, unless this man was gay (which couldn’t yet be ruled out), he was quite unlike any patron of the store I’d ever seen. But hey, probably still gay, right ?
But it was then that I saw a young girl of maybe 12 years dance up to the distinguished fellow, the wind beneath her feet and her luscious brown hair bouncing faithfully in tow, towards the man who was clearly her father, and ever-so-genteelly ask him a question that I couldn’t quite make out. The girl pointed towards the nearby butcher’s counter, where a woman in her late late 40’s wearing a red beretiii and an elegantly embroidered brown overcoat was directing une autre petite fille – perhaps 10 years of age – to put this or that into the shopping cart that the little girl was pushing.
For a moment, maybe two, there I stood in frank amazement as this specimen of a womaniv – her lips painted bright red to match her
French Greek hatv – verbalised commands to her darling of a daughter, who always complied both dutifully and joyfully, while the pair walked through the store, the girl ever-so-playfully exploring the potential selections while the austerely tranquile mother followed closely behind, her hands clasped behind her back like an army general inspecting his men. This mother was so far from the frazzled workaholic partner of a two-parent-working family,vi while at the same time being such a significant cut above the neotenic barbie dolls that pass for “kept women” in these parts, that I could scarcely believe my eyes.
It was at that moment that the cultural black swan hit me – the kind that defied every previously confirmatory observation – this was the heirloom quality family from TLP’s Patek Philippe ads,vii the ones who legitimately belong to the 1% and whose incidental status symbols are used to bait the aspirational 14% with whispers of legacy. This family of four – with the pretty and delightfully well-mannered girls who spoke to their mother in English and their father in what sounded like Flemishviii – was the crystallised product of – who knows ? – perhaps as many as ten generations of fine breeding, careful partner selection, cultivated manners, European culture,ix and the height of human dignityx : this was landed aristocracy, the kind that uses “weekend” and “summer” as verbs. In Edmonton. In November.xi
That something as apparently insignificant as a random family at a grocery store rattled me so was worth meditating on, a few thoughts from which :
- The Internet’s aristocracy is only at its most embryonic stages of developmentxii and the forms and customs that it will adopt are still largely unspecified,xiii even if the tools of its trade (#b-a, WoT, Bitcoin) are already established. There hasn’t yet been a single generation of a non-physical, text-based hierarchical society, much less a few dozen.xiv
That simply crossing paths with an aristocratic family in my own backyard felt like such an awakening was a reminder of how sheltered most of my day-to-day interactions with meatspace are. This entire city is essentially middle class – even the multi-millionaires shop at Walmart alongside the welfare moms and the climate’s too harsh for a San Franesque homeless population – so being raised in an upper-middle class family that traveled, debated, spoke multiple languages, and had an irreverent sense of humour was unusual for the time and place, but still a far cry from what you might properly call “plum bookers.” It’s been 80 years since my bloodline held its proper place among men of industry,xv but that gap won’t bridge itself overnight.
- You can’t underestimate the value of a top-notch tailor in signalling distinction from the herd.xvi
In summa : the road from perdition is long. Longer than your life. The bar is high. Higher than you can reach.
To close with a quote from a 20-year-old ad for Mont Blanc watches, an ad that my dad cut out of The Economist (hilariously, without recognising Johnny Depp as the celebrity tie-in) and left posted on the door of our kitchen pantry for the better part of a decadexvii : Time is precious. Use it wisely.
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- Yes, the one with all the corn-drenched hot chocolate powders.↩
- A Canadian tuxedo is a jean-jacket paired with jean-pants and a jean-shirt. And, preferably, a belt buckle the size of Texas.↩
- Though I sincerely doubt that the woman was paramilitary, at least not more so than any other parent pitted against terrorising spawn.↩
- Yes, a woman must have children. That’s how maturation of her as an individual and individuation of her as a person work. She doesn’t fully understand duty and responsibility for another life until she’s a mother. Before that, she’s just another young thing living for itself and existing only for the moment.↩
- The Greek petasos and pileus were ancestors of the modern beret, not unlike most of the “new” things you think the nation state pulled out of its ass for your personal amusement. Hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing new under the sun but the history you don’t know yet.↩
- Yes, even if both parents are lawyers and well-to-do by Canadian standards, they’ll inevitably be high-strung and fidgety messes who snap at their children to put the cookies back on the shelf in between frantic cell phone calls with colleagues and e-mails on their smartphones to their clients. This is per definitio. There are no exceptions.↩
- Quoth TLP :
The demo for this ad isn’t the Rothschilds or the 1%: they don’t buy based on ads. And they don’t need to be told what constitutes quality or authenticity, they can tell, that’s what boarding school was for. Everyone else is going to need to be hit over the head with the semiotics of quality–
i.e. see an ad campaign about those signifiers. Oh, I get it now, this is a fancy watch.
The target demo is not the 1%; the target demo is the Aspirational 14%. They know they are supposed to like quality and goodness and etiquette and discretion, but no one ever taught them what those things look like, so when someone does point it out to them they will go all in. Hence: anything in Trading Up. And they don’t care about the next generation. Not really. They don’t want them to be eaten by zombies but anything past 2069 is of no consequence. What they do care about is how a product brands them, what it says about them now, now that time is running out. Can’t afford to be subtle, which is the same thing as saying I’m willing to pay $10000 to get the message across. There’s a difference between what the brand is and what the brand says about you. You’ll pay 10x for the former and 100x for the latter.
Most products have quick, easy, memorable taglines, because most people are idiots. However, Patek Philippe’s tag line is complicated and unmemorizable:
You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.
Which is the kind of tagline a person who wants to be a wealthy, complicated, precise man who doesn’t fall for tag lines would fall for. The man in the photo is not a representation of the target demo; he is the impossible aspiration of the target demo. That explains how the kid can be in a sweater vest and not trying to murder his family.
The ad is pairing the legacy of the watch with the other imaginary legacy: the heritable family fortune. I don’t know what the Dad in that picture does for a living, but you can be sure it involves a lot of money and the son will inherit it, along with a boat (below) and the means of production (not pictured).
- Not quite German, but close.↩
- The type of European culture that gave us Rembrandt and carried Greek architecture into the new millennium, that is, not the kind that No-dickly walks to work.↩
- Of course, there are two kinds of dignity in this world : the kind you beg for, as the Greeks are currently doing, and the kind you forge for yourself, as the Greeks last did 2`300 years ago.↩
- I’m 95% confident that they were tourists, probably just making the most of the weak Canadian Dollar. And while I’d seen many such families in my travels. This kind of class DOES NOT EXIST HERE. The province was founded 110 years ago by peasants and peasant culture still reigns supreme.↩
- Our sovereignty from the soi-dissant fiat states was but a year ago this day !↩
- The advantage of the computer terminal-based interactions of the digital space is that we can work in the buff or in our underwear or in a housecoat just as well as we can work in a 3-piece suit, while still maintaining our “professionalism,” whatever that may mean. Except for perhaps at one of MP’s conferences… But even there, from the photos I’ve seen of previous editions, the dress is decidedly informal. Maybe the fourth will be different, or maybe it’ll be the twentieth conference by the time we have a proper evening gala in an Opera house with the streets out front closed to pedestrians, lest
someonesomething cross our paths while we make our way from our cars to the building.Ultimately, it’s yet to be seen how the emerging digital society will signal prosperity in meatspace. In the digital arena, we have text, of course, but how does one of La Serenissima’s finest remind the plebians in their physical midst of the latter’s inferiority ? I suppose there are always fender flags on your car, but those never quite seem to confer the legacy intended, do they.↩
- For the most part, we’re a rag-tag team of fearless computer geeks whose family histories are a far cry from that of Europe’s landed nobility. We live in modest homes, have small families, have no help around the house, buy our clothing off-the-rack, drive ourselves to work where we work for someone else, and do all the other activities that “normal” people do, even if we’re positioned to thrive and they’re positioned to starve in the medium-term. But until then, we categorically do not have servants, slaves, chefs, cleaners, gardeners, pool girls*, chauffeurs, guards, doormen, etfc. And some of us still don’t even have our own lawyers and accountants ! Yet ! (We hope.)___ ___
*WTF is a ‘pool boy’ anyways but a dude for your bored wife to bang while you’re banging your mistress ? How does that sound fair to you ? Your wife keeps herself looking hot (presuming she does) so that someone else, someone you’ve hired, can enjoy her sexy naked body ? But… why ?
EvenEspecially when she’s older, no one knows how to suck the cock like your wife does.↩
- My great-grandfather owned a ceramic tile factory in Romania, and perhaps not coincidentally, there are a few other members of the #b-a WoT whose families had mills and such. Nihil fit ex nihilo.↩
- Yes, I have a tailor… What am I, a garbage man ? That being said, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t absolutely adore my rotation of Lululemon ABC pants. They’re pretty much the best thing ever.↩
- No, my father was never enough of a sucker to actually buy such a trinket, he’s always been more of a mid-century Hamilton and Tudor kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t drawn to the tagline’s vision of giving his children a better life than the one he had, an endeavour in which he’s already succeeded. It won’t be easy to accomplish a similar feat for my heirs.↩