Beyond Brushstrokes

Moderation and restraint are alien concepts in a consumer society. People are calibrated (by others) according to a status rating scale. Material things in glittering packages are impressive. Form over substance. Everything is quantified according to a price index.

The mindset of the aspiring nouveaux riches and arrivistes is fixated primarily on carat value and the quantity of acquisitions. They are obsessed with impressing the impressionable.

The mantra is money. If you’ve got, flaunt it. The louder, the better.

Society gossip, scandal, and frivolous trivia, the glamorous and superficial lifestyle attract media mileage. Positive or negative, it provides a form of “entertainment” for the “have not’s.” This is the modern version of the bread-and-circuses of the ancient Romans. (We could learn some vital lessons from history or be doomed to repeat all those mistakes.)

Marketing mavens proclaim that luxe and deluxe are “in.” The “A list” of what’s hot and what’s hotter always trigger a mad stampede to buy. The “must haves” are the elite designer brands — clothes, accessories, cars, homes, exotic pets, safaris, Antarctica and chasing the northern lights trips. The recent addition to the list is a trip to outer space. That would be the ultimate luxury. All these belong to the conspicuous consumption category.

The high profile (but sometimes irrelevant) “civic” activities could be self-promotional gimmicks disguised as charitable fundraisers. They could be used to show off the frivolous frou-frou, feathers, and frippery.

Philanthropy and charity used to be more relevant and meaningful when they were done privately, anonymously. Too much exposure somehow diminishes the act of giving. However, things have changed in this new era of social media and the selfie phenomenon. Anything goes.

For the self-important VIPs, it is never enough to have wealth. Some individuals go the extra mile to make the huge spurge and splash.

To illustrate, a young tycoon throws a lobster-caviar-and-champagne party on a ship docked near a popular resort. The blinding lights and blaring music upset the nature lovers and scare away the fish. The “TH” (trying hard) matron entertains her trophy guests in a new showcase mansion. There are fireworks, a live band, and local and foreign multi-media coverage (plus IG and FB). The hosts present dazzling, enviable perfection to their newly acquired set of friends. Everyone is entitled to “15 minutes of fame,” to paraphrase artist Andy Warhol. After that, the novelty wears off.

What an exciting life!

The game of one-upmanship and keeping up with the Joneses is anxiety provoking and expensive.

One wonders whether or not living on a grandiose scale is appropriate or politically correct in the current environment of tension. The mood on the spectrum is somber gray.

We live in interesting times. People are anxious, restless. Agitated. We worry about the practical and essential things for our families — survival, security, stability, peace and order, health, education and jobs. Now the global issue is the pandemic.

It is not “PC” to show off the status symbols of success — the yacht, jet, helicopter, and sports cars. Flashy behavior rubs people the wrong way and gives the wrong signals. It is like waving a red flag at a raging bull.

In contrast, the true-blue well-bred individual is low-key, elegant, low profile. He is a subtle presence and she speaks in a whisper. (The louder the voice, the lower the class. Volume of noise is inversely proportional to social rank.)

In the rarefied circles, certain things are not done. For example, one does not talk about money, flaunt possessions, flout the rules, or upstage one another. Civilized and genteel individuals are always poised, polite, courteous, well mannered, proper, considerate, gracious, and soft-spoken.

No one needs to prove a point. No one needs anything.

One is born, bred, and belongs. One simply is.

The amount of one’s wealth does not matter as much as one’s breeding lineage or pedigree, education, and background. Family and old friendships are precious and carefully protected. Delicadeza, honor, discretion, and propriety are the qualities of class — the old school.

The mode of behavior has radically changed over the past years. The young Turks and the social mountaineers scoff at the gentleman and lady as archaic relics of the past century.

The new set (with the exception of a few well-bred members from the old families) tends to be brash, abrasive, self-indulgent, more materialistic, and hedonistic.

Too much hype, overexposure can exacerbate the simmering situation.

Luxury, per se, is not bad. In small, tasteful doses, it is the well-deserved treat, the little indulgence and reward for hard work. People should earn that privilege.

Feeling entitled, being insensitive to others, and having many luxuries are considered capricious.

During a crisis or a disaster, one needs restraint.

The Lenten season has begun.


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.