“I realized I had three questions: How does status affect the behavior of individuals? How did the status struggles of certain groups lead to the creation of new cultural forms? And why does culture change and why does it stick?”
With his new book, STATUS AND CULTURE: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change (Viking), W. David Marx explores the narrative structure of culture and fashion (not just clothing) and how status is the driver of cultural change. We get into his thesis and why he wasn’t satisfied with the “random walk” or vitality models for how culture changes (and why fashions and taste spread, or don’t), how status is conveyed to people, and why it’s a third rail in most conversations. We also talk about cultural progression and/or stagnation, the role of the internet in cultural change, how great art gets made and why the omnivore mindset may stymie that, and how understanding the relationship between status and culture may help us build a more equitable world. We also discuss what led him to leave America for Japan, and why Tokyo is one of the best places to live. Give it a listen! And go read STATUS AND CULTURE!
“How certain behaviors and objects that are arbitrary in their value take on that value in social arrangements, that’s one of the biggest parts of human life. Yet there’s really not a field in which you learn this.”
“Geniuses are not individuals who just rise in an individual way; geniuses are system effects of individuals arriving in a particular context in response to a particular set of artistic conventions, changing them and setting those conventions for the future.”
“Tokyo must be the place with the best cost-performance ratio of any city in the world. It’s somewhere that feels like society hasn’t collapsed.”
About our Guest
W. David MarxW. David Marx is a longtime writer on culture based in Tokyo and the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Lapham’s Quarterly, Popeye, The New Republic, and Vox.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of David by Roni Xu. It’s on my instagram.