Throughout history, people have often been idle, and they have always had holidays. Even in the darkest periods of the Dark Ages, the rich hunted, jousted, sang, danced and made love. The peasants gorged, got drunk and cavorted. Yet, true leisure must have its regular and acknowledged hours of work, which requires a sophisticated commercial and industrial society. For many centuries, leisure was a way for the rich to dispel boredom. With the industrial revolution a pseudo gentry and upper middle class was created and leisure slowly and steadily became an industry. Eccentricity, like exhibitionism , is released in a leisured world. Only the idle rich can easily be themselves….
At the heart of the Great Gatsby and implicit in other works by F.Scott Fitzgerald was a central insight to what Thorstein Veblen termed “conspicuous consumption.” Fitzgerald had a clear understanding that the twentieth century was to take elements of the American mythology of individualism, circumvent its intention and then embed it within a structure of consumerism, financial and real estate speculation and the rise of different strains of the leisure class and the “good life” which would color bourgeois thinking. The idealism of the early settlers and the vision of the founding fathers would quickly mutate into a consumerist ideology, one which was apparent to De Tocqueville and later further articulated by Thoreau. Liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness would morph into a series of choices about where one plays golf and what to wear, and who could join.
…Where Tiger would provide the crafted corporate sound bite, Earl could be relied upon to shatter the peace with pronouncements that left the rest of Team Woods aghast. Five years have passed since his death from prostate cancer, but this wizened old Vietnam vet’s description of Scotland remains quite brilliantly brutal.
“It’s for white people,” he once said. “People had better be glad that the Scots lived there instead of the soul brothers, or golf would never have been invented. We wouldn’t have been stupid enough to go out in that weather, play a silly-ass game and freeze to death.” Read More:http://www.nationalpost.com/news/Tiger+time/4809266/story.html
What we see with golf, as a metaphor for the nature of consumer society, is that the consumption of the activity is not about conformism, its about distinction from the masses and among the masses. The clubs people belong to set them apart from others; the equipment they own and who they play with. Golf is a metaphor for the axiom that comparative preferences generate competitive consumption and what matters is the competitive structure of this consumption.
…For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she was a golf champion, and every one knew her name. Then it was something more. I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something — most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don’t in the beginning — and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it — and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy’s. At her first big golf tournament
e was a row that nearly reached the newspapers — a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal — then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind… ( F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
F.Scott Fitzgeral, Winter Dreams:Dexter knew that there was something dismal about this Northern spring, just as he knew there was something gorgeous about the fall. Fall made him clinch his hands and tremble and repeat idiotic sentences to himself, and make brisk abrupt gestures of command to imaginary audiences and armies. October filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic triumph, and in this mood the fleeting brilliant impressions of the summer at Sherry Island were ready grist to his mill. He became a golf champion and defeated Mr. T. A. Hedrick in a marvellous match played a hundred times over the fairways of his imagination, a match each detail of which he changed about untiringly–sometimes he won with almost laughable ease, sometimes he came up magnificently from behind. Again, stepping from a Pierce-Arrow automobile, like Mr. Mortimer Jones, he strolled frigidly into the lounge of the Sherry Island Golf Club– or perhaps, surrounded by an admiring crowd, he gave an exhibition of fancy diving from the spring-board of the club raft. . . . Among those who watched him in open-mouthed wonder was Mr. Mortimer Jones…..
….When he was twenty-three Mr. Hart–one of the gray-haired men who like to say “Now there’s a boy”–gave him a guest card to the Sherry Island Golf Club for a week-end. So he signed his name one day on the register, and that afternoon played golf in a foursome with Mr. Hart and Mr. Sandwood and Mr. T. A. Hedrick. He did not consider it necessary to remark that he had once carried Mr. Hart’s bag over this same links, and that he knew every trap and gully with his eyes shut–but he found himself glancing at the four caddies who trailed them, trying to catch a gleam or gesture that would remind him of himself, that would lessen the gap which lay between his present and his past….
…It was a curious day, slashed abruptly with fleeting, familiar impressions. One minute he had the sense of being a trespasser–in the next he was impressed by the tremendous superiority he felt toward Mr. T. A. Hedrick, who was a bore and not even a good golfer any more.
Then, because of a ball Mr. Hart lost near the fifteenth green, an enormous thing happened. While they were searching the stiff grasses of the rough there was a clear call of “Fore!” from behind a hill in their rear. And as they all turned abruptly from their search a bright new ball sliced abruptly over the hill and caught Mr. T. A. Hedrick in the abdomen.
“By Gad!” cried Mr. T. A. Hedrick, “they ought to put some of these crazy women off the course. It’s getting to be outrageous.” Read More:http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/winterd/winter.html
As Thorstein Veblen put it, the discrimination against women and “artisans” at the most prestigious country clubs is rooted in a complex process of rank and distinction:Thus men and women both work, yet male effort is reserved for domains of activity that involve some element of “exploit” (and thus “cannot without derogation be compared with the uneventful diligence of the women” [1899, 5]). The concept of “property,” extending beyond mere personal possession, emerges also during this stage, modeled on the relationship of domination toward women. Ownership begins with the domination of women (what we would now call “mate-guarding behavior”), and is subsequently extended to encompass physical objects. It is therefore, first and foremost, a system of rank. “Ownership began and grew into a human institution on grounds unrelated to the subsistence minimum. The dominant incentive was from the outset the invidious distinction attaching to wealth”(1899, 26).Read More:http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/veblen.pdf
Heath:More importantly, Veblen argues that the upper classes cannot be held responsible for the structure of the class system, since that structure is upheld and reproduced through a system of emulation that occurs at all levels of society. What they can be held responsible for is the specific content that gets propagated through this system of emulation – the habits and ideas that are promoted. It is here that its most pernicious influence is felt. The problem arises as a consequence of what Veblen describes as the “industrial exemption” of the upper classes.
Veblen views culture – and in particular, the prevailing set of economic institutions – as an adaptive system. This means that it changes over time in response to environmental pressures. Read More:http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/veblen.pdf
Veblen:The opposition of the [upper] class to changes in the cultural scheme is instinctive, and does not rest primarily on an interested calculation of material advantages; it is an instinctive revulsion at any departure from the accepted way of doing and of looking at things – a revulsion common to all men and only to be overcome by stress of circumstances. All change in habits of life and of thought is irksome. The difference in this respect between the wealthy and the common run of mankind lies not so much in the motive which prompts to conservatism as in the degree of exposure to the economic forces that urge a change (1899, 199). Read More:http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/veblen.pdf