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Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change (Hardcover)
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"Subtly altered how I see the world." —Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
“[Status and Culture] consistently posits theories I'd never previously considered that instantly feel obvious.” —Chuck Klosterman, author of The Nineties
“Why are you the way that you are? Status and Culture explains nearly everything about the things you choose to be—and how the society we live in takes shape in the process.” —B.J. Novak, writer and actor
Solving the long-standing mysteries of culture—from the origin of our tastes and identities, to the perpetual cycles of fashions and fads—through a careful exploration of the fundamental human desire for status
All humans share a need to secure their social standing, and this universal motivation structures our behavior, forms our tastes, determines how we live, and ultimately shapes who we are. We can use status, then, to explain why some things become “cool,” how stylistic innovations arise, and why there are constant changes in clothing, music, food, sports, slang, travel, hairstyles, and even dog breeds.
In Status and Culture, W. David Marx weaves together the wisdom from history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, cultural theory, literary theory, art history, media studies, and neuroscience to demonstrate exactly how individual status seeking creates our cultural ecosystem. Marx examines three fundamental questions: Why do individuals cluster around arbitrary behaviors and take deep meaning from them? How do distinct styles, conventions, and sensibilities emerge? Why do we change behaviors over time and why do some behaviors stick around? The answers then provide new perspectives for understanding the seeming “weightlessness” of internet culture.
Status and Culture is a book that will appeal to business people, students, creators, and anyone who has ever wondered why things become popular, why their own preferences change over time, and how identity plays out in contemporary society. Readers of this book will walk away with deep and lasting knowledge of the often secret rules of how culture really works.
About the Author
W. David Marx is a longtime writer on culture based in Tokyo and the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Lapham’s Quarterly, Popeye, The New Republic, and Vox.
Praise for Status and Culture:
“The best explanation I’ve read for our current cultural malaise comes at the end of W. David Marx’s forthcoming Status and Culture, a book. . . that subtly altered how I see the world.”
—Michelle Goldberg, New York Times ("The Book That Explains Our Cultural Stagnation")
"Status and Culture is a valiant attempt at one of those grand cultural theories that academics don’t do so much anymore, one that argues that the internet is better at driving ephemeral fads than era-defining trends and explains why our collective vibe feels so stuck in time."
—Vulture ("Books We Can't Wait to Read This Fall")
"Marx is engaging. . . . He’s done his homework, collating the zingers and wisdom of some of our best cultural critics, sociologists, and philosophers — from Chuck Klosterman and Glenn O’Brien to Mary Douglas and, naturally, Pierre Bourdieu."
—The New York Times Book Review
“Marx’s book is wide-ranging, touching on everything from music to mega-yachts to explain the mechanisms of culture: the way trends work, how taste is formed, why Roman emperors were totally obsessed with squashing purple dye-excreting sea snails.”
“Marx's Status and Culture is a disarming, engaging study defined by its contradictory features: It's a depressing book that's fun to read, it's heavily sourced while always seeming original, and it consistently posits theories I'd never previously considered that instantly feel obvious.”
—Chuck Klosterman, author of The Nineties
“Why are you the way that you are? Status and Culture explains nearly everything about the things you choose to be—and how the society we live in takes shape in the process.”
—B.J. Novak, writer and actor
“Definitive. Status and Culture is a dazzling survey of status in all its aspects—how it operates and why we crave it. A major achievement.”
—Nik Cohn, author of Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom
“Status and Culture is both a rigorous social analysis and a delightful guilty pleasure. And that may be Marx's whole point: it is in our pop and countercultural fascinations that we find the clues to what matters to us as a society. A rich, deliciously detailed celebration of our indefatigable drive to create, and a heartfelt call for us to retrieve the virtuosity that distinguishes the true art of any age.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author, Present Shock, Team Human, and Survival of the Richest
“Working with a delightfully boundless palette of references—Chanel jackets, grain silos, Jacob the Jeweler, Japanese pop star beauty standards, and a surprisingly revelatory diversion into Magnolia Bakery and the cupcake craze of the mid-aughts—W. David Marx constructs a fantastic treatise on why things become popular and how our own impulses and choices contribute to trends. Marx has framed a truly original and engaging dissection destined to sit alongside Paul Fussell and Digby Baltzell on the bookshelves of aspiring Whit Stillmans.”
—Rachel Seville Tashjian, Fashion News Director of Harper's Bazaar, and writer of Opulent Tips newsletter
"Marx thoroughly explains complex subjects, breaking down the necessary elements and bolstering his points with research and examples that are both plentiful and entertaining. . . . Compellingly readable—essential for anyone desiring a deeper understanding of status inequity."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"An ambitious and invigorating look at how the pursuit of social status drives cultural change and innovation. . . . Marx lucidly synthesizes a vast array of academic theories amid sharp and entertaining discussions of the Beatles’ moptops, sneakerhead culture, episodes of Lassie and Sex and the City, and more. This is a stimulating and persuasive explanation of how culture works."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“W. David Marx has done it again. He tackles the ‘Grand Mystery of Culture’ this time with all the verve of a Thorstein Veblen and all the research of a Pierre Bourdieu in his examination of the significant theories of what culture is and how it actually works. I can't think of another study of this subject that is so much at the nexus of anthropology/sociology/philosophy/and social psychology today as this one in understanding where the concepts of class, status, fashion, personal identity, mass media, and technology come together to give us a map of how culture functions as a system, and offers us a conceptual framework for what we identify as culture.”
—G. Bruce Boyer, author of True Style
“If you're reading this, you are a human person in this world and you fit into society one way or another. With Status and Culture, W. David Marx has taken on a task I considered impossible, and he peeled off every single layer to get to the answer of why we are who we are in the eyes of others.”
—Jason Diamond, author of The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs
“It feels good to be asked to ‘blurb’ a respected author’s book, and Culture and Status explains exactly why that is—why we all seek status—in a way only the very particular David, who seeks truth about the human condition through examining why we want the things we want, could. The examples of status struggles and successes in popular culture, from Metropolitan and My-So Called Life to Coco Chanel and John Waters, couldn't be more spot on—and satisfying for the reader.”
—Lauren Sherman, Chief Correspondent, The Business of Fashion
"[Status and Culture] really gave me a new way to think both about these hidden forces of the zeitgeist and also about this feeling that I think a lot of people have of stuckness with where we are now and the particular role of the internet in creating that feeling."
—Michelle Goldberg, on the "The Ezra Klein Show"
"W. David Marx is one of the great culture writers at work today, and this book—which manages to balance an astute contemporary pop sensibility with the elegance and clarity of public-facing sociology in its midcentury heyday—is both a revelation and a pleasure."
—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction
"Marx points a brilliant x-ray at the atomic units of human behavior, exploring how and why people do the things they do—meticulously crafting individual identities while all having the same haircut. A useful (and detailed!) framework for postmodern existence."
—Dan Frommer, founder of The New Consumer