Revenge spending–can ‘luxury’ be redefined in a post Coronavirus world?
I came out of 14 days quarantine yesterday, this was after about 3 weeks additional self-isolation in Indonesia. The excitement of stepping out of the front door was palpable. Mostly it was relief; to breathe, walk and feel the sun on my skin was genuinely moving. Gratitude steeped in caution, as this is a changed world I was walking into — I had not seen the UK in lockdown yet, didn’t know the rules to the supermarket shopping experience. I stepped out with caution despite my want to emerge like Julie Andrews on the side of a hill.
I’d heard the phrase ‘revenge spending’ in the context of Coronavirus almost a month ago and it immediately alerted me. I’m personally no fan of shopping which may have partly been to blame for my immediate dislike to the phrase. But coupled with the word ‘revenge’ seemed doubly sinister.
So, it seems, revenge spending is a thing. Coined in the 80’s as a phenomenon witnessed in post-cultural-revolution China, where long term sufferers of poverty and oppression were liberated and set forth to spend — a ‘fuck you’ to the hardship they had endured. And who could blame them? Similar things happened after WWII with what became known as the golden age of capitalism.
It seems that when we endure a period of hardship we feel like we deserve a treat.
Fair enough — my kids would get a sticker after visiting the dentist, why can I not buy a bigger SUV when we get out of all this hardship?
Good question. The difference this time is that the world and our understanding of it has changed.
For example — All I have heard for the last week from my window are seagulls and sirens. A mixed bag of emotions where the wildlife is returning to where it was excluded while we retreat and die. We know that our behaviour change in the last few months has made a huge difference to the climate emergency–a problem that until now humanity didn’t know how to tackle boldly enough. But due to the horrors of COVID-19 we’ve shut down the fossil fuel industry, shut off capitalism and done this in a synchronised act of global singularity. Three things that we needed to do for our planet’s climate.
Riotous revenge spending, in the context of this knowledge is a bad idea. It reverses these 3 actions — by acting as privileged individuals, we switch back on the capitalist merry-go-round and fire up the oil-burners.
We need to be careful how we switch our system back on. It’s not a good idea to just reboot and go back to business as usual, we really need to be thinking about what bits we need to keep of the new world we can see peeking through the horrors that we are enduring.
That leads me to a question — if luxury is the soothing ointment of a great suffering what then does ‘luxury’ need to be defined as in a post Coronavirus world? How can we ravenously consume luxury without sending the wildlife back to being a road-kill statistic or bring the choking smog descending back on our metropolises? (ie. fucking over the planet.)
Yesterday, luxury was stepping outside to a blue sky and the freedom to walk and breathe. The luxury I still yearn for is a hug from my children that I’ve not seen for weeks. Luxury is seeing footage of dolphins appearing back in the waterways of Venezia or eagles spotted soaring over the streets of Milano. It’s not a shiny new SUV with questionable environmental credentials, it’s not an obsolete-in-12-months mobile phone that cannot be fixed or recycled.
Brands and creators of today need to find ways of celebrating and enabling a new kind of luxury that seeks to balance our long-split world — allowing nature and humanity to co-exist. Brands need to treat the earth as part of the design process, no longer can we accept that our steamroller approach to making things, regardless of impact, are separate from the product experience. Products need to be circular in production and beneficial in a whole-world way — brands shouldn’t solve one person’s needs while fucking over someone else’s experience of the world. And we can do this with lessons from the global behaviour change that we are seeing today. This insight is too valuable to ignore.
Retaliatory consumption, Single Zhengping报复性消费
“This retaliatory consumer philosophy will only subside when the car owners in Chinese metropolises can really think rationally about the pros and cons of buying a car”
Chinese luxury industry rebounds from coronavirus thanks to ‘revenge spending’
Store traffic in China is creeping back up as coronavirus quarantine measures relax.fortune.com