Saturday, May 14, 2011

Passing Through Status Symbol Land

I've run into folks - some of them old enough to know better - who seem to think the '50s really were "Happy Days." On that topic, I have three words:
  • Gray
  • Flannel
  • Suit (1956)
My memory's pretty good - and the 'good old days' weren't. (January 12, 2010) On the other hand, I don't think I've lived during any time when things were absolutely icky, either. Which is another topic.

Pleasant Valley Sunday on My Mind

I woke up this morning with The Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday" running through my mind. Which is how this post got started.

I don't think many folks ever sat down and decided that they'd start 'buying things they don't need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't like.' (March 12, 2011)

On the other hand, I do think that the Monkees had a point:
"...And Mr. Green, he's so serene
He's got a TV in every room...

"Another Pleasant Valley Sunday...
Here in status symbol land...

"...Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul
And make it hard for me to see....
(The Monkees:Pleasant Valley Sunday Lyric Wiki)
I also think that "status symbol1 land" is never very far away.

Here in America, we don't (generally) wear crowns or wreaths2 to show status. On the other hand, someone opined that one of today's status symbol is the 'right' pair of sneakers.3 I think she's probably right: about sneakers identifying a person's status, at least.

So, do I think status symbols are Satanic, and that only folks who have as much wealth as I do, or less, are 'saved?' Hardly.

I do think that wealth is a mixed blessing:
"3 Happy the rich man found without fault, who turns not aside after gain! Who is he, that we may praise him? he, of all his kindred, has done wonders, For he has been tested by gold and come off safe, and this remains his glory; He could have sinned but did not, could have done evil but would not, So that his possessions are secure, and the assembly recounts his praises."
(Sirach 31:8-11)
As far as I can tell, wealth isn't the problem. What we decide to do with what we've got is the issue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 10 - the Tenth Commandment, for starters)

It's avarice and envy that are on the 'don't do this' list, not being wealthy or poor. (Catechism, 2536, 2538)

By the way, I recommend following those links, and checking out what the Catholic Church has to say. I try to be informed, but I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog."

Indifference is Not Holiness

I don't envy anyone because of the sneakers that person wears. Which is no particular virtue. I could probably care less about that sort of status - but not by much.

On the other hand, I looked out the window just now and saw a nifty exercise machine that belongs to my neighbor. I'd like to have it. This, apparently, isn't wrong by itself. As long as I could find a just way to get it. (Catechism, 2537)

A closer inspection showed that it's free - an unsold item from the weekend's yard sale. I'm not taking it, by the way: my wife wouldn't like it, and that's another topic.

Keeping Priorities Straight

The sort of things I've wanted - that I've ached for, sometimes - are the usual 'guy stuff' like motorcycles and specialty vehicles: and the not-so-usual things like M. C. Escher prints, high-end information technology, and a working art studio. Of those, I've got good-enough information tech. - some of which I'm using to write this post; and I'm working on getting a good-enough studio.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops doesn't have much to say about status symbols, specifically. Apart from a passing mention in a movie review. Which is a case-in-point for why I don't go to the movies often. And that's yet another topic.

The Holy See mentions status symbols a few times on, in the context of: Etruscan jewelry, starting from ca. 7th century B.C. (in English and French); a discussion of Christian humanism in the third millennium (in Italian); and a discussion of tourism (in English).

It looks like making status symbols a priority isn't the best idea:
"...The technological advancements in communications and transport, and the incredible improvements in information technology and use of the mass media have made tourism the fastest growing industry today. What people see on the television screen, they want to experience in reality. They don't mind working longer hours to be given the opportunity to enter into another cultural world. They don't mind getting into debt ('Fly First, Pay Later' schemes) to enjoy for the moment. There is the danger that it can become a status symbol or self-gratification due to the highly competitive advertising industry...."
("People on the Move N° 96 (Suppl.)" (December 2004)4
That doesn't mean that the Catholic Church is against credit cards. Or airplanes. Or tourism:
"...Tourism can indeed become a force and a vehicle for bringing people together for peace...."
("People on the Move N° 96 (Suppl.)" (December 2004)4
I think it's pretty safe to think that what matters is where our priorities are: what we think is most important. (Matthew 6:19-21)

"Vague?" I Don't Think So

In a way, it's no wonder that some folks claim the Catholic Church is "vague." (July 18, 2009)

We're told that the "prosperity gospel" is a bad idea. But we're not told that 'poverty is next do Godliness.' In fact, a man who owned France is a Saint. (February 4, 2010)

We're told that human beings are equal. (Catechism, 1934, 1935) But that we're not all alike. (Catechism, 1936) And that this is okay. (Catechism, 1937)

It makes sense, I think: but only for folks who accept the idea that there's more to life than wealth, pleasure, and status symbols:
"Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. 'The promise [of seeing God] surpasses all beatitude. . . . In Scripture, to see is to possess. . . . Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive.'344"
(Catechism, 2548)
I don't suggest trying to find profound wisdom in songs by the Monkees. On the other hand, I think they got it right in these lines:
"...Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul
And make it hard for me to see....
(The Monkees:Pleasant Valley Sunday Lyric Wiki)
Related posts:
More, about wealth and all that (not a comprehensive list):

1 Status symbol: "a possession which is regarded as proof of the owner's social position, wealth, prestige, etc." (Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, via Free Online Dictionary)

2 "On Status Symbols in the Ancient World," The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 7 (April, 1969)

3 "Sneakers as Status Symbols," Janis Prince Inniss, Everyday Sociology Blog (May 5, 2011)

4 "People on the Move N° 96 (Suppl.)," Bringing Peoples Together for a Just Peace: Challenges to Tourism in the 21st Century, Bro. Anthony ROGERS, FSC, Executive Secretary of the Office for Human Development of the FABC, Malaysia, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (December 2004)


Brigid said...

Extra period: "the 'right' pair of sneakers.3."

And an interesting line break: "People on the Move
N° 96 (Suppl.),"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Found & fixed the 'extra' period. Thanks!

Couldn't spot the line break issue. I know I had trouble with a break in a recent post, and corrected it - maybe this was that one.

Anyway, thanks again.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.