Comedy Is Cynical

Millions of consumers proceeded to their nearest commercial centers this week in hopes of acquiring the latest, and therefore most desirable, personal device. … “Its higher price indicates to me that it is superior, and that not everyone will be able to afford it, which only makes me want to possess it more,” said Tim Sturges, ….

“Not only will I be able to perform tasks faster than before, but my new device will also inform those around me that I am a successful individual who is up on the latest trends,” said Rebecca Hodge, whose executive job allowed her to line up for several hours in the middle of the day in order to obtain the previously unavailable item. “Its attractiveness and considerable value are, by extension, my attractiveness and considerable value.”

Consumer Robert Larson agreed.  “I’m going to take my new device wherever I go,” said Larson, holding the expensive item directly in the eyeline of several reporters. “That way no one on the street, inside the elevator, or at my place of business will ever mistake me for the sort of individual who does not own the new device.”

More at The Onion.  Since it is low status to be seen naked in public, we think it funny to see high status folks naked in public.  Similarly, while we humans seek status, it is low status to be too obviously trying to seek status.  So we get a special thrill out of seeing high status folks shown to be directly seeking status.

Comedy is full of such cynical observations like the above, far more than most other media.  (Why?)   Since we immediately recognize such descriptions, we must think this sort of behavior is pretty common.  But we only rarely admit that we are at the moment motivated by such concerns. So just how much of human behavior do most people think is driven by status seeking?  10%? 90%?  And just how different do we each think we are relative to the average?

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