Bonheur: C’est avoir plus qui compte, imbécile ! (Why keeping up with the Joneses ain’t what it used to be)

Tu ne convoiteras point la maison de ton prochain; tu ne convoiteras point la femme de ton prochain, ni son serviteur, ni sa servante, ni son boeuf, ni son âne, ni aucune chose qui appartienne à ton prochain. Exode 20: 17
Si le Décalogue consacre son commandement ultime à interdire le désir des biens du prochain, c’est parce qu’il reconnaît lucidement dans ce désir le responsable des violences interdites dans les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Si on cessait de désirer les biens du prochain, on ne se rendrait jamais coupable ni de meurtre, ni d’adultère, ni de vol, ni de faux témoignage. Si le dixième commandement était respecté, il rendrait superflus les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Au lieu de commencer par la cause et de poursuivre par les conséquences, comme ferait un exposé philosophique, le Décalogue suit l’ordre inverse. Il pare d’abord au plus pressé: pour écarter la violence, il interdit les actions violentes. Il se retourne ensuite vers la cause et découvre le désir inspiré par le prochain. René Girard
Quand les riches s’habituent à leur richesse, la simple consommation ostentatoire perd de son attrait et les nouveaux riches se métamorphosent en anciens riches. Ils considèrent ce changement comme le summum du raffinement culturel et font de leur mieux pour le rendre aussi visible que la consommation qu’ils pratiquaient auparavant. C’est à ce moment-là qu’ils inventent la non-consommation ostentatoire, qui paraît, en surface, rompre avec l’attitude qu’elle supplante mais qui n’est, au fond, qu’une surenchère mimétique du même processus.(…) Dans notre société la non-consommation ostentatoire est présente dans bien des domaines, dans l’habillement par exemple. Les jeans déchirés, le blouson trop large, le pantalon baggy, le refus de s’apprêter sont des formes de non-consommation ostentatoire. La lecture politiquement correcte de ce phénomène est que les jeunes gens riches se sentent coupables en raison de leur pouvoir d’achat supérieur ; ils désirent, si ce n’est être pauvres, du moins le paraitre. Cette interprétation est trop idéaliste. Le vrai but est une indifférence calculée à l’égard des vêtements, un rejet ostentatoire de l’ostentation. (…) Plus nous sommes riches en fait, moins nous pouvons nous permettre de nous montrer grossièrement matérialistes car nous entrons dans une hiérarchie de jeux compétitifs qui deviennent toujours plus subtils à mesure que l’escalade progresse. A la fin, ce processus peut aboutir à un rejet total de la compétition, ce qui peut être, même si ce n’est pas toujours le cas, la plus intense des compétitions. (…) Ainsi, il existe des rivalités de renoncement plutôt que d’acquisition, de privation plutôt que de jouissance. (…) Dans toute société, la compétition peut assumer des formes paradoxales parce qu’elle peut contaminer les activités qui lui sont en principe les plus étrangères, en particulier le don. Dans le potlatch, comme dans notre société, la course au toujours moins peut se substituer à la course au toujours plus, et signifier en définitive la même chose. René Girard
Si à 50 ans, on n’a pas une Rolex, c’est quand même qu’on a raté sa vie.  Jacques Séguéla (2009)
Former graphic designer and commercial director Derrick Borte makes his feature film debut with the new black comedy The Joneses, which opened in theaters on April 16th. The film stars David Duchovny (The X-Files) and Demi Moore (Ghost) as Kate and Steve Jones, a seemingly perfect couple that are actually part of a fake family commissioned by a marketing company as a way to introduce new luxury-level products to neighborhoods around the world, using undercover marketing techniques. Jami Philbrick
Stealth marketing exists in a variety of ways from alcohol companies hiring models to go to bars and order certain drinks over and over again, to cigarette companies doing the same thing and things like that. Builders who have houses for sale outside of L.A. will do an open house with a furnished home and hire out of work actors to pretend like they are a family. They say it helps the house sell if people think that there is a happy family living there. Derrick Borte
The standard of living has gone up for each individual over the past 40 years but it has gone up for everyone. Our cars are faster now but our neighbours have faster cars too, so we haven’t got that advantage over people close to us. Without the biggest home, or the fastest car then it doesn’t give you that same excitement as it would have. Earning £1million a year appears not to be enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn £2million a year.’ (…) « A rise in income may benefit one person but it has a detrimental effect on others. If I jump up two places in the rank, then the people I jumped ahead of go backwards. So person does not just have to increase their rank they have to work hard just keep up with rather than passing the Jones. (…) Making everybody in society richer will not necessarily increase overall happiness because it is only having a higher income than other people that matters. Dr Chris Boyce (University of Warwick)
The process begins with the completely unremarkable fact that top earners have been spending at a substantially higher rate than before. They’ve been building bigger mansions, staging more elaborate weddings and coming-of-age parties for their kids, buying more and better of everything. Many social critics wag their fingers at what they perceive to be frivolous luxury spending. But that misses the point that all consumption norms are local. It’s not just the rich who spend more when they get more money. Everyone else does, too. The mansions of the rich may seem over the top to people in the middle, but the same could be said of American middle-class houses as seen by most of the planet’s 7 billion people. The important practical point is that when the rich build bigger, they shift the frame of reference that shapes the demands of the near rich, who travel in the same social circles. Perhaps it’s now the custom in those circles to host your daughter’s wedding reception at home rather than in a hotel or country club. So the near rich feel they too need a house with a ballroom. And when they build bigger, they shift the frame of reference for the group just below them, and so on, all the way down. There’s no other way to explain why the median new house built in the United States in 2007 had more than 2,300 square feet, almost 50 percent more than its counterpart in 1980. Certainly, it’s not because the median earners are awash in cash. (The median real wage for American men was actually lower in 2007 than in 1980.) Nor is there any other way to explain why the inflation-adjusted average cost of an American wedding had grown almost threefold during the same period. Middle-income families have also been struggling to meet sharply higher tuition bills and health insurance premiums. To make ends meet, they’ve taken on substantial debt, worked longer hours, and endured longer commutes to work. In the parts of the country where inequality has grown most, we’ve seen the biggest increases in bankruptcy filings and the biggest increases in divorce rates. Many have been harshly critical of families that borrowed more than they could reasonably hope to repay. If they couldn’t afford larger houses and more expensive weddings for their daughters, these critics say, they should have just scaled back. But that charge ignores the importance of context in meeting basic goals. All parents, for example, want to send their children to the best possible schools. But a good school is a relative concept. It’s one that’s better than most other schools in your area. In every country, the better schools are those that serve students whose families live in more expensive neighborhoods. So if a family is to achieve its goal, it must outbid similar families for a house in a neighborhood served by such a school. Failure to do so often means having to send your kids to a school with metal detectors at the front entrance and students who score in the 20th percentile in reading and math. Most families will do everything possible to avoid having to send their children to a school like that. But because of the logic of musical chairs, many are inevitably frustrated. No matter how aggressively everyone bids for a house in a better school district, half of all students must attend schools in the bottom half of the school quality distribution. As in the familiar stadium metaphor, all stand, hoping for a better view, only to discover that no one sees any better than if all had remained comfortably seated. Parents confront similar dilemmas when deciding how much to spend on a child’s coming-of-age party or wedding. The expenditure cascades spawned by higher spending at the top in those categories have raised expectations about how one should mark important social milestones. Of course, a family always has the option to spend considerably less on such events than most of its peers do. But it can do so only by disappointing loved ones, or by courting the impression that it failed to appreciate the importance of the occasion they were celebrating. By creating runaway demands for credit, growing income disparities also helped spawn the housing bubble that gave us the financial crisis of 2008, the lingering effects of which have forced many OWS protesters to try to launch their careers in by far the most inhospitable labor market we’ve seen since the Great Depression. Even those recent graduates who manage to find jobs will suffer a lifelong penalty in reduced wages. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that rising inequality has driven many of the 99 percent into a financial ditch. Adding insult to injury, it hasn’t really accomplished anything of value for its ostensible beneficiaries, the top 1 percent. They’ve all built bigger mansions and staged more lavish parties, yes, but in so doing, they’ve simply raised the bar that defines what’s considered adequate in these categories. Robert Frank
Depuis la récession, les Américains riches sont à la recherche de nouveaux symboles de prestige, Les yachts, jets privés et villas au bord de la mer sont tellement 2007. Etre assez riche et généreux pour avoir son nom dans la liste « Giving Pledge » pourrait rapidement devenir l’ultime badge de prestige. Robert Franck (Wealth Report)

C’est avoir plus qui compte, imbécile !

Alors que, sur fond de raréfaction des ressources (d’énergie et matières premières mais aussi de… nouveauté !) sur « une Terre qui n’est plus assez vaste pour eux », nos ultrariches peinent à trouver de produits assez chers pour assouvir leur besoin de consommation ostentatoire …

Et que pour se faire élire ou se maintenir au pouvoir nos nouveaux démagos de la Maison Blanche ou de l’Elysée appellent à faire payer les riches

Pendant qu’au-delà de sa dimension cyclique, une étude britannique confirme la dimension largement positionnelle du bonheur (les biens ne comptent que si on en a plus que le voisin) …

Retour, avec le sociologue américain Robert Frank, sur les effets pervers de cette course-poursuite avec les voisins (« keeping up with the Joneses ») …

Qui, refusant étrangement l’évidente explication par l’envie (ie. Veblen et Girard), a le mérite de montrer comment le formidable élargissement des possibilités de revenus lié aux nouvelles technologies (mais aussi à la mondialisation) entraine nécessairement l’explosion des niveaux de consommation au sommet …

Et, par mimétisme et en cascade en une véritable course aux armements généralisée, celle des groupes sociaux inférieurs …

Expliquant effectivement, sans compter la raréfaction des ressources, les risques inhérents d’emballement et leur lot de bulles, surendettement et crises à répétition …

Mais aussi, ce que dans son obsession fiscaliste notre ascétique amoureux de la rusticité népalaise semble oublier, la formidable vitalité de la société occidentale en général et de la société américaine en particulier …

Sans compter, comme il le reconnait lui-même avec les exemples de nos Gates ou Buffett, la possibilité d’appliquer à la générosité philanthropique la même redoutable machine de l’envie …

Pourquoi vous achèterez bientôt un barbecue à 5000 dollars

Propos recueillis par Sandrine Tolotti

Nouvel Observateur

29-11-2010

Quand Paris Hilton s’achète 10.000 euros de lingerie chez « Agent provocateur », les classes moyennes déferlent en tsunami chez Etam. Robert Franck, économiste et comportementaliste américain de l’université de Cornell, montre comment les riches entretiennent le cycle de l’hyperconsumérisme et propose de remplacer l’impôt sur le revenu par une taxe progressive sur la consommation. Alors que « la Course au luxe » , ouvrage datant d’il y a dix ans, sort en France chez Markus Haller, il a livré un entretien captivant à nos indépassables confrères de « Books ».

Books. – Vous travaillez sur le boom du luxe, alors même que les revenus de la majorité de la population marquent le pas. Comment ces deux réalités peuvent-elles aller de pair?

Robert Frank (DR)Robert Franck. – Le paradoxe n’est qu’apparent. Nous avons assisté dans la plupart des pays développés, ces dernières décennies, à un développement substantiel des inégalités, qui a été particulièrement spectaculaire aux États-Unis. Entre 1979 et 2003, les 20% les plus pauvres de la population américaine ont vu leurs revenus progresser de 3,5% seulement sur l’ensemble de la période. Parallèlement, les 20% les plus riches voyaient les leurs augmenter de 45,7% – et les 5% les mieux lotis de 68%. En 1980, les PDG des deux cents plus grandes entreprises américaines gagnaient 42 fois le salaire moyen d’un ouvrier ; en 2000, ils touchaient 500 fois cette somme.

Ce creusement des inégalités, par rapport à la période antérieure, au cours de laquelle tout le monde progressait sensiblement au même rythme, est lié à des transformations en profondeur des règles du jeu économique. En deux mots, nous avons vu se généraliser les « marchés où le gagnant rafle la mise » : ce sont des marchés sur lesquels de faibles écarts de performance suffisent à générer des différences considérables de rémunération; une poignée d’individus particulièrement talentueux s’y adjuge des rétributions énormes. Au début du siècle, quand l’État de l’Iowa comptait à lui seul plus de 1300 opéras, des milliers de ténors gagnaient modestement mais correctement leur vie en se produisant en public. Depuis que nous écoutons essentiellement de la musique enregistrée, le meilleur ténor du monde peut littéralement être présent partout à la fois, et être rémunéré en conséquence.

Longtemps, ce fonctionnement est resté l’apanage des mondes du sport et de l’art. Mais ces règles du jeu très concurrentielles ont gagné récemment de nombreux secteurs, comme la comptabilité, le droit, le conseil, la médecine, la banque, l’édition, le design… Notamment parce que les nouvelles technologies ont accru la puissance et le champ d’influence des meilleurs.

Ces talents de mieux en mieux rémunérés ont fait comme tout individu qui s’enrichit : ils ont augmenté leur consommation, notamment de ces biens que je définis moins par leur caractère luxueux – la définition du luxe est très circonstancielle – que par leur caractère « positionnel » : ce sont d’abord des indicateurs de standing, des marqueurs de statut social. Et ce nouveau modèle de consommation au sommet s’est répercuté sur l’ensemble de la population, via une véritable « cascade de dépenses ».

La taille minimale d’une maison n’est pas la même au Népal et au Japon

Books. – Qu’entendez-vous par «cascade de dépenses» ?

R. Franck. – Les cercles sociaux sont relativement étroits?; les nouvelles habitudes de consommation des plus riches n’ont donc pas modifié directement la consommation de l’ensemble de la population. Ils ont, en revanche, modifié le cadre de référence façonnant les aspirations de la population située juste au-dessous d’eux ; à son tour, celle-ci s’est mise à consommer davantage, bouleversant le cadre de référence des couches sociales immédiatement inférieures, et ainsi de suite tout au long de l’échelle.

Aujour­d’hui, pour prendre un exemple trivial mais évocateur, on trouve aux États-Unis des barbecues à plus de 5000 dollars. Payer un gril une somme pareille aurait été inimaginable il y a seulement vingt ans. Pourtant, le segment des barbecues à plus de 2000 dollars est celui qui progresse le plus sur ce marché. Dans la même veine, si l’on excepte le bref revers subi par le secteur du luxe en 2009, les yachts et les montres Patek Philippe se vendent toujours sur liste d’attente, et les voitures haut de gamme représentent une part croissante du marché automobile américain… D’une manière générale, les dépenses consacrées aux produits de luxe croissent à peu près quatre fois plus vite que les autres.

Un barbecue à plus de 2000 dollars

Et cette fièvre ne touche pas seulement les plus riches. En témoigne notamment l’évolution du confort moyen des logements aux États-Unis : la surface médiane des nouvelles maisons est passée de 480 mètres carrés en 1980 à 610 mètres carrés en 2001, soit une augmentation de 27%, alors que le revenu disponible d’une famille médiane ne progressait que de 15% environ.

Books. – Mais quel est le ressort du phénomène, s’il n’est pas lié à l’enrichissement de la majorité de la population?

R. Franck. – Il tient au fait que les normes de consommation du milieu où l’on vit influencent les biens et services que l’on juge essentiels à son bien-être : la taille minimale d’une maison, pour n’en avoir pas honte, n’est pas la même au Népal, au Japon, en Europe ou aux États-Unis. L’environnement et ses évolutions façonnent le jugement que les gens portent sur leur propre situation, et donc leurs décisions économiques.

Les études d’économie comportementale donnent des résultats très clairs à cet égard : si l’on demande aux gens de choisir entre un monde où ils habitent une maison de 1000 mètres carrés tandis que les autres jouissent de 2000 mètres carrés, et un monde où ils habitent une maison de 800 mètres carrés tandis que les autres n’ont que 600 mètres carrés, la plupart optent pour le second monde, celui où la taille absolue de leur maison est plus petite, mais où sa taille relative est plus grande. Dans ces conditions, le boom de la consommation positionnelle des plus riches provoque une véritable fuite en avant, qui n’est pas sans rappeler la course aux armements entre États. Dès lors que les plus riches achètent des maisons plus grandes, chacun a tendance à acheter une maison plus grande.

Books. – Parce que l’homme est un animal envieux?

R. Franck. – Non, je vois dans ce phénomène l’effet concomitant de l’augmentation des inégalités et de la logique de compétition profondément ancrée en l’homme. L’importance que nous accordons aux biens positionnels relève à mes yeux de deux niveaux d’explication. Premièrement, notre consommation a des conséquences tangibles, dont il est parfaitement légitime de se soucier. Les signaux que chacun envoie à son environnement sur son rang nourrissent ou handicapent très concrètement sa réussite.

[=> « Taxons l’hyperconsommation !» : la suite de l’entretien sur booksmag.fr]

Voir aussi:

Does Inequality Matter?

How “expenditure cascades” are squeezing the American middle class.

Robert H. Frank

Dec. 5, 2011

This essay is adapted from Robert H. Frank’s recently published book, The Darwin Economy.

Republicans have never wanted to talk about inequality, and many Democrats now seem afraid to. As a congressional Democratic adviser quoted by the New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes recently put it, the party is having difficulty articulating its position “in a way that doesn’t get us pegged as tax-and-spenders.”

The remarkable achievement of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to make continuing silence about inequality politically unacceptable. Some have criticized the movement for not pressing specific demands. Yet most protesters wouldn’t pretend to have a sophisticated understanding of the forces that have been causing growing income disparities, or the policy experience to prescribe what might be done about them. But now that the movement has forced inequality onto the agenda, the time is ripe to focus on these issues.

Because many continue to deny that income inequality has been growing, it’s useful to start with a brief review of how income growth patterns have changed since World War II. The three decades after the war saw incomes grow at an almost uniform 3 percent annual rate for families up and down the income ladder. Since the early 1970s, however, virtually all income gains have accrued to those whose incomes were highest to begin with.

It’s a striking fractal pattern. Most of the gains have gone to the top 20 percent of earners, but the lion’s share of the gains within that group have gone to the top 5 percent. And within the top 5 percent, most of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and so on.

Is this new pattern something to worry about? Many decry rising inequality because it makes those who’ve fallen behind feel impoverished. But it’s done much more than that. It has also raised the real cost to middle-income families of achieving many basic goals.

It’s done that through a process that I’ve elsewhere called “expenditure cascades.” The process begins with the completely unremarkable fact that top earners have been spending at a substantially higher rate than before. They’ve been building bigger mansions, staging more elaborate weddings and coming-of-age parties for their kids, buying more and better of everything.

Many social critics wag their fingers at what they perceive to be frivolous luxury spending. But that misses the point that all consumption norms are local. It’s not just the rich who spend more when they get more money. Everyone else does, too. The mansions of the rich may seem over the top to people in the middle, but the same could be said of American middle-class houses as seen by most of the planet’s 7 billion people.

The important practical point is that when the rich build bigger, they shift the frame of reference that shapes the demands of the near rich, who travel in the same social circles. Perhaps it’s now the custom in those circles to host your daughter’s wedding reception at home rather than in a hotel or country club. So the near rich feel they too need a house with a ballroom. And when they build bigger, they shift the frame of reference for the group just below them, and so on, all the way down.

There’s no other way to explain why the median new house built in the United States in 2007 had more than 2,300 square feet, almost 50 percent more than its counterpart in 1980. Certainly, it’s not because the median earners are awash in cash. (The median real wage for American men was actually lower in 2007 than in 1980.) Nor is there any other way to explain why the inflation-adjusted average cost of an American wedding had grown almost threefold during the same period.

Middle-income families have also been struggling to meet sharply higher tuition bills and health insurance premiums. To make ends meet, they’ve taken on substantial debt, worked longer hours, and endured longer commutes to work. In the parts of the country where inequality has grown most, we’ve seen the biggest increases in bankruptcy filings and the biggest increases in divorce rates.

Many have been harshly critical of families that borrowed more than they could reasonably hope to repay. If they couldn’t afford larger houses and more expensive weddings for their daughters, these critics say, they should have just scaled back. But that charge ignores the importance of context in meeting basic goals.

All parents, for example, want to send their children to the best possible schools. But a good school is a relative concept. It’s one that’s better than most other schools in your area. In every country, the better schools are those that serve students whose families live in more expensive neighborhoods. So if a family is to achieve its goal, it must outbid similar families for a house in a neighborhood served by such a school. Failure to do so often means having to send your kids to a school with metal detectors at the front entrance and students who score in the 20th percentile in reading and math. Most families will do everything possible to avoid having to send their children to a school like that.

But because of the logic of musical chairs, many are inevitably frustrated. No matter how aggressively everyone bids for a house in a better school district, half of all students must attend schools in the bottom half of the school quality distribution. As in the familiar stadium metaphor, all stand, hoping for a better view, only to discover that no one sees any better than if all had remained comfortably seated.

Parents confront similar dilemmas when deciding how much to spend on a child’s coming-of-age party or wedding. The expenditure cascades spawned by higher spending at the top in those categories have raised expectations about how one should mark important social milestones. Of course, a family always has the option to spend considerably less on such events than most of its peers do. But it can do so only by disappointing loved ones, or by courting the impression that it failed to appreciate the importance of the occasion they were celebrating. By creating runaway demands for credit, growing income disparities also helped spawn the housing bubble that gave us the financial crisis of 2008, the lingering effects of which have forced many OWS protesters to try to launch their careers in by far the most inhospitable labor market we’ve seen since the Great Depression. Even those recent graduates who manage to find jobs will suffer a lifelong penalty in reduced wages.

In short, it is no exaggeration to say that rising inequality has driven many of the 99 percent into a financial ditch.

Adding insult to injury, it hasn’t really accomplished anything of value for its ostensible beneficiaries, the top 1 percent. They’ve all built bigger mansions and staged more lavish parties, yes, but in so doing, they’ve simply raised the bar that defines what’s considered adequate in these categories.

In short, the growing income inequality that OWS protesters are calling to our attention is not the nonissue that many of the movement’s critics say it is. Growing income disparities have imposed enormous costs on almost everyone. OWS protesters have performed an important public service by urging the government to take inequality more seriously.

Voir également:

Money ‘only makes you happy if you have more than neighbours’

Money only makes you happy if you have more than your friends and neighbours, a new study has found.

22 Mar 2010

Despite the vast improvements in general standards of living in the past 40 years across Britain, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is still our biggest aspiration, the findings suggest.

Researchers have found that owning a fast car, a large home and having a good job may only make you happy if those around you are less well off.

The pursuit of wealth is leading more people to work longer hours as they seek to pay their mortgages and climb the social ladder.

Dr Chris Boyce, of University of Warwick’s psychology department, said Britons were victims of chronic dissatisfaction.

He looked at the responses to questions of more than 10,000 people in the British Household Panel Survey over seven years about their level of happiness and compared the responses with their income.

The study, Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction, was co-written by Professor Gordon Brown, of the University of Warwick, and Dr Simon Moore, of Cardiff University, and published in the journal Psychological Science.

The responses showed people were most happy when they had more than their neighbours.

Dr Boyce said: « The standard of living has gone up for each individual over the past 40 years but it has gone up for everyone. So our cars are faster now but our neighbours have faster cars too, so they haven’t got that advantage over people close to you.

« Without the biggest home, or the fastest car then it doesn’t give you that same excitement as it would have. »

Dr Boyce said that pursuit of wealth alone was a vicious circle.

« A rise in income may benefit one person but it has a detrimental effect on others. If I jump up two places in the rank, then the people I jumped ahead of go backwards, » he said.

« So person does not just have to increase their rank they have to work hard just keep up with rather than passing the Jones. »

Dr Boyce said the study found that relentless pursuit of economic growth would produce a wealthier society but not a happier one.

« Making everybody in society richer will not necessarily increase overall happiness because it is only having a higher income than other people that matters, » he said.

Dr Boyce said there was a danger for people to chase the cash at the expense of building strong relationships with family and friends.

« If people are putting income and ranking first then other things may get sacrificed such as family and friends, » he said.

Dr Boyce said the study raises questions about whether the relentless pursuit of economic growth was a good thing for the nation.

But he cautioned that economic growth did provide jobs which were an important requirement for happiness not just for the income they provided but for the sense of purpose they gave people.

He said more money needed to be put into mental health services in a bid to improve happiness levels.

Voir enfin:

EXCLUSIVE: Director Derrick Borte Is Keeping Up with The Joneses

Jami Philbrick

Apr 18, 2010

The director of the new black comedy starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore discusses his intriguing and compelling film

Former graphic designer and commercial director Derrick Borte makes his feature film debut with the new black comedy The Joneses, which opened in theaters on April 16th. The film stars David Duchovny (The X-Files) and Demi Moore (Ghost) as Kate and Steve Jones, a seemingly perfect couple that are actually part of a fake family commissioned by a marketing company as a way to introduce new luxury-level products to neighborhoods around the world, using undercover marketing techniques. We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Derrick Borte about the new film; it’s commentary on consumerism and working with the talented cast. Here is what the first time director had to say:

To begin with, how did you first come up with the concept for this film and what do you think would happen if a real marketing company tried this method today, would they be successful?

Derrick Borte: Well you know, stealth marketing exists in a variety of ways from alcohol companies hiring models to go to bars and order certain drinks over and over again, to cigarette companies doing the same thing and things like that. Builders who have houses for sale outside of L.A. will do an open house with a furnished home and hire out of work actors to pretend like they are a family. They say it helps the house sell if people think that there is a happy family living there. So when I saw this on this news program, I think it was John Stossel or somebody who was talking about it, I immediately thought, what if you took it to the tenth degree and throw a family out there.

Then it was time to figure out what kind of story is it? Is it a broad comedy; is it a political dark thriller? I was fascinated by reality TV and what happens when you throw strangers into a house together and this « forced intimacy » that really causes people to end up in these strange relationships. I felt like I wanted the personal stories to be in the forefront against the backdrop of the stealth marketing and the consumer culture. I knew that if I tried to make some kind of message be in the forefront that it would be preachy and people wouldn’t want to see it. So I really wanted the personal stories to carry people through and hopefully afterwards they want to talk about something, I don’t know what?

I just feel like coming from a visual arts background I was always taught that you can’t follow your work around with you anywhere to tell people what its about or try to influence how they feel about it. For me, I just wanted to kind of shine a light on something that I was seeing. It seems to strike a chord with everyone and yet it something different to each person. Its like a Rorschach test where you ask ten people who have just seen the film what they got from the film and they take something different every time. It’s sort of a celebration of consumerism and an indictment at the same time. That’s where I feel the film is successful for me, that it just makes people want to talk about it without being heavy handed about any sort of message at all.

Over the past ten years, Demi Moore has semi-retired for the most part and is very selective about the projects she chooses, how did you convince her to step back in front of the camera for this film and what do you think it was about the material that really attracted her to the project?

Derrick Borte: You know I got a phone call one day and someone said, « Demi Moore read your script; she really likes it and wants to meet with you. » So I went and sat down with her and she really got it. Everyone was loosely swimming around the project and it just all came together in time. I know how selective she is and she was really just passionate about this role. I felt like we could work together. I felt like she would be collaborative and that she would respect my ideas and wishes yet she would bring a lot to the table that I could work with. The first time I saw the two of them alone in a room together, Demi and David, they had such a chemistry that I just knew that they could play a couple and that they were right for it.

Can you talk about the character she plays, Kate, and why she is so determined to make her fake family and new job a success?

Derrick Borte: I think she is someone who … you know I had to constantly ask myself why someone would take this job? She’s obviously someone who jumped into this job for whatever reason, where you drop your life and move on and live this fake life. I think it was probably some kind of a protective thing as well as her drive but it has really become a prison for her where she can’t really have a real and fulfilling relationship. Yet maybe for her she has enough of a relationship, where she feels Motherly enough with the kids, has some sort of relationship with the husband where she gets to play a wife and sort of run a household in a way without it really tugging on the heartstrings. It’s like she’s being a wife and Mother by proxy in away where she doesn’t have to deal with the potential heartbreak of what can come with that.

Can you discuss the idea of family in the film and through this « fake » family the commentary that you are making on the modern family?.

Derrick Borte: I really wanted to focus on the isolation that these people would feel within their house. When they’re not working they’re all in their separate rooms doing their own things, I see that happening here to us, in our own families. I’m in my office working, my wife is on her computer in another room, my daughters are off in their rooms a lot and I think it is something that definitely happens to real families a lot.

If you look at the roles that David Duchovny chooses for himself when he is not doing an « X-Files » project, they are all very interesting and unique films like « The TV Set » for example, and this film seemed to fit in to that mold perfectly, so what was it that told you that David would be right for the role and that this was the type of project that he might gravitate towards?

Derrick Borte: You know, once again like with Demi he really got the character, got the story and the way that I was trying to tell it. He was so giving with his ideas and we just riffed on ideas together when we first met. I knew that he would be great to work with. As far as his choices, that’s a strange one to me and I always wonder why he’s not looked at in the same category of a leading man the way a lot of these other guys are because he is so smart, so funny and so talented. I feel like his performance is so spectacular in this film, maybe this will turn a corner for him, I don’t know?

David’s character Steve spent his whole life as a golf-pro, a used car salesman or a con-man of sorts so it’s understandable that he would adapt to this job quite well but when he begins to question the ethics of it, it shows a side of him that he seems surprised to find is there. Do you think that Steve’s unethical job actually taught him morals that he didn’t know he had?

Derrick Borte: That’s a good point, its sort of like King Midas who gets everything that he thought he wanted and realizes that he doesn’t end up with what he needs as a result or him finding a moral center that he did not know he had, you’re right. It just had to be about the personal stories of all of them really. That was really what I was focusing on.

Gary Cole (« Office Space ») plays Larry, Steve’s next-door neighbor who unfortunately gets wrapped up in the Joneses lies and deceptions, can you talk about how Larry’s downward spiral causes Steve to reevaluate his life and what it was like collaborating with Gary Cole on the film?

Derrick Borte: I think Larry could be a version of Steve in who he used to be in someway. Maybe what happens with Larry puts a mirror up to Steve in away. I think that he has found his soul that he didn’t know he had prior to that but I think it is that they have a connection in someway. I think that Steve really likes Larry. You know, when Larry gives him a gift, I think at first he’s a mark, he’s a target but once he sees that Larry is a good person it makes him question why he’s doing what he is doing.

Gary is really, and I mean this in the best of ways, he’s sort of a lunch-pale-kind-of-guy. He is so good at his job, he comes to work, he gives you so much, he is maintenance free, he just loves what he does and its obvious. It’s easy for people who have been doing this for a long time to not realize how fortunate they are. This is work but who could ask for a better job? He really seems to be a guy who appreciates that on a daily basis and is so good at what he does. All the actors in the film are like that. Glenne Headly, who plays his wife in the movie, is on that same level.

Finally, as a first time director what did you learn about the process of making feature films that you will be able to take with you to your next project?

Derrick Borte: Before I started, a few people said to me that as a first time director people are going to test my vision and that I have to hold on to it pretty tight. I couldn’t disagree with that more, in that if you have this iron-fisted grip on your vision of something then there are only two things that can happen, you’re either going to hit that mark or fall short of it. Where is if you surround yourself with great people, foster an environment and spirit of collaboration, allow people to bring to the table what they do best, allow for happy accidents, growth and the process to be what it is, then that is the only way that you can ever come back with something that is beyond your vision. To actually go beyond it was my favorite part of this whole process. To actually get to explore the material, and the characters, and all these actors were so collaborative and brought ideas to the table. It allowed me to sit back and still guide things but not be heavy handed, to give them space to work. I think that they responded well to that and that is the only way that I want to work.

I think the biggest thing on a feature is to give your-self options in the edit room. It’s not just a question of getting what you think is going to work in production, it’s a question of getting it and then having some fun with it, trying some other things so that once you are in the edit room you have options. You kind of rewrite a film in the edit room anyways so the more options you have the better. That’s really the biggest thing that I took from it, shoot anything and everything you can think of, whether you are going to use it or not but try different things and have fun. Get what you need but leave room for surprises? I’ve worked in commercials, production and post-production, directing for years so it’s really like, on a commercial when you’re working with an agency and they have a script, there really isn’t a lot of room for experimenting. There is not a lot of room for deviating from the script, you know, they don’t want you riffing on the material. So that was my favorite part of this was the freedom.

I feel very fortunate that all the actors in this film really appreciate their lives and was happy to be there. Like kids, they were just having fun, playing with the material and it was such a wonderful experience that I’m ready to get back on set again. I feel like in my daily life, when there is not a lot going on, I’m kind of a little hyperactive and stressed but when there is a set with a couple hundred people running around and the pressure is on, I feel like everything else stops and I’m in the moment and I can’t wait to get back to that place. Hopefully it will be soon as I’m scheduled to direct a project called The Zero. It’s an adaptation by Brandon Boyce who wrote Apt Pupil and Wicker Park of a Jess Walter novel. It’s actually my favorite book that I’ve read in my life. I pursued it for a long time and got a really wonderful producer and friend of mine on board, he got the book and hopefully we’ll see the first draft of the script in the next week or so. Hopefully we’ll be in pre-production quickly and I’m excited.

The Joneses was released April 16th, 2010 and stars Amber Heard, Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Ben Hollingsworth, Lauren Hutton, Catherine Dyer. The film is directed by Derrick Borte.

Voir encore:

Les Anglais renoncent aux études jugées trop chères

Assma Maad

06/11/2012

Depuis que les frais de scolarité ont triplé, le nombre d’inscrits à l’université a chuté de 15 % en Angleterre.

A la rentrée, les inscriptions ont chuté dans les universités anglaises. Presque 15.000 candidats en moins. Visiblement échaudés par le triplement des frais de scolarité, entré en vigueur cette année.

Des frais de scolarité passés de 4000 à 11.000 euros

En 2010, le gouvernement britannique a lancé une vaste réforme pour restructurer l’Enseignement supérieur britannique et «développer la compétitivité des universités anglaises au sein du marché mondial». Au passage, le coût des études est passé de 3300 livres (4117 euros) à 9000 livres (11.230 euros) par an. Ce montant qui devait être un plafond pour les universités a finalement été généralisé. D’abord adopté par les plus prestigieuses, puis les autres. Les trois quarts des facs anglaises affichent ce tarif.

Depuis, une large part de la jeunesse s’interroge sur son destin académique. Vaut-il la peine d’entamer sa vie avec une dette de 17.000 euros (selon les chiffres de l’Institute for Fiscal Studies ). Dette qui pourrait grimper à 50.000 euros pour un master 2. Les étudiants hésitent à poursuivre des études supérieures révèle The Guardian ,qui vient d’ interroger 1700 jeunes.

Les étudiants se montrent indécis

Près d’un tiers se montrent indécis avant d’entrer à l’université compte tenu des frais de scolarité. Pire, parmi les jeunes qui ont choisi de ne pas intégrer l’université, 58 % ont pris cette décision à cause des frais de scolarité trop élevés.

Ces jeunes se sentent pris dans un étau. D’un côté, ils jugent le diplôme plus nécessaire que jamais ; de l’autre, les études sont trop chères et ils redoutent de pouvoir les rentabiliser.

Le gouvernement britannique, lui, se veut rassurant: «Aller à l’université aujourd’hui est une question de capacité et non de capacité à payer. Il y a plus de bourses et de systèmes de prêts pour ceux qui viennent de familles pauvres. Et les prêts ne sont remboursés qu’à partir du moment où le jeune diplômé obtient un emploi et gagne plus de 21.000 livres».

Mais si la fronde gronde, les étudiants pourraient trouver un autre échappatoire chez les Écossais. Si le pays de Galles a suivi les pas de l’Angleterre, les frais de scolarité sont encore fixés à 1 820 livres (2 085 €) en Écosse. Or, certains universitaires craignent déjà l’arrivée massive de ce qu’ils nomment les «fee refugees» (réfugiés des frais de scolarité) et pourraient augmenter les frais uniquement pour les étudiants britanniques.

Voir enfin:

Oxford pratiquerait un « test de richesse »

Quentin Blanc

30/01/2013

L’université britannique exige que les étudiants aient 15.000 euros sur leurs comptes en banque pour leurs dépenses courantes. Chaque année, 15 % des jeunes admis à Oxford seraient obligés de renoncer à cause de ce test.

Au Royaume-Uni, Oxford est soupçonnée de discriminer par l’argent. Près de 1000 étudiants ayant gagné par leurs mérites le droit d’intégrer la vénérable institution devraient finalement y renoncer chaque année, faute de passer un «test de richesse» pratiqué par l’établissement, selon le Guardian .Des défections qui représentent tout de même près de 15 % des effectifs (7500 places offertes environ)…

Ce chiffre impressionnant a été découvert par les médias anglais suite à la plainte déposée la semaine dernière par Damien Shannon contre son université. Cet étudiant, qui avait été accepté en master d’économie et d’histoire sociale à Oxford, avait eu la mauvaise surprise d’apprendre que l’établissement exigeait qu’il ait 15.000 euros sur son compte en banque pour suivre sa formation, en plus des frais de scolarité exigés pour son inscription. Une somme importante, censée couvrir les dépenses courantes des étudiants, comme le logement, l’alimentation, ou les fournitures scolaires.

Interdiction de compter sur les revenus d’un travail étudiant

Depuis, l’affaire fait grand bruit en Angleterre, au point d’avoir été débattue au parlement. La député travailliste et ancienne ministre Hazel Blears a ainsi pris fait et cause pour Damien Shannon, en estimant que les exigences de l’université étaient «injustes, et relevant d’une logique à court terme», empêchant des jeunes gens défavorisés d’accéder à l’Enseignement supérieur.

Les jeunes incapables de remplir ce critère n’ont en effet presqu’aucune alternative, puisque l’établissement refuse de prendre en compte des éventuels revenus issus d’un travail étudiant depuis 2010. «Étudier à Oxford est très exigeant», s’est défendu l’université dans le Guardian .«La plupart des cours sont très demandés, et il est important que ceux qui y obtiennent une place soient réellement en état de les suivre».

A leurs yeux, le travail étudiant ayant «des effets négatifs sur la capacité à suivre les cours à fond», la sélection opérée en amont est parfaitement justifiée. L’affaire continue en tout cas de faire polémique, Hazel Blears exigeant que Oxford consacre plus d’argent aux bourses sur critères sociaux. Quant à Damien Shannon, il devrait rapidement en savoir plus, une première audience pour sa plainte étant prévue le mois prochain.

2 Responses to Bonheur: C’est avoir plus qui compte, imbécile ! (Why keeping up with the Joneses ain’t what it used to be)

  1. jcdurbant dit :

    AND THEN EVERYONE FOLLOWED (In a common cycle of elitization-massification of cultural shifts, a critical mass of families with sufficient means started engaging in intensive parenting, then everyone followed until more affluent parents went back to free range parenting as a corrective and reaction to it)

    Intensive parenting was first identified as a middle-class phenomenon, most notably by the sociologists Sharon Hays and Annette Lareau in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. Lareau in particular called the approach “concerted cultivation” and contrasted it with a vision of parenting she labeled “the accomplishment of natural growth,” which entails much less parental involvement and which she found to be more common among working-class and poorer parents. A big lingering question since then has been why these class differences exist: Did poorer families have different notions of what makes for good parenting, or did they simply lack the resources to practice the parenting styles they believed would be better? What’s useful about Ishizuka’s survey data is they suggest that even if parenting style differs by class, parenting attitudes—what parents think they should do—currently don’t. Jessica McCrory Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University who studies parenting and has written about it for The Atlantic, explained in an email why she thinks this new study (which she was not involved in) is significant: “If parents from different social class backgrounds are engaging in different parenting practices … it’s not because those parents value different parenting practices,” she wrote. “Instead, there must be some other reason.” Because intensive parenting requires an abundance of time and money, the reason is likely that some families have more resources than others. “Poverty not only limits parents’ ability to pay for music lessons, for example, but is also a major source of stress that can influence parents’ energy, attention, and patience when interacting with children,” Ishizuka told me.

    Academic researchers have traced the origins of intensive parenting to the mid-20th century. But the timing of how it spread is somewhat uncertain: Ishizuka said there unfortunately aren’t historical survey data showing “how pervasive cultural norms of intensive parenting were among parents of different social classes and when they may have diffused.” A plausible history of the past couple decades of American parenting, though, is that a critical mass of families with sufficient means started engaging in intensive parenting, and then everyone else followed. “That would be consistent with prior research on cultural shifts, which have shown that elite culture gradually becomes mass culture,” Calarco explained.

    Intensive parenting is a style of child-rearing fit for an age of inequality, indicative of a stratified past, present, and future. The past: As some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs. (The more extracurriculars, the logic of intensive parenting goes, the better the odds of getting into an excellent college and of securing one of the high-paying jobs that America cordons off for the best-credentialed.) The present: As Ishizuka described, intensive parenting is an ideal that’s currently out of reach for many families. And the future: Practiced as it is by some families but not others, it might replicate—or even widen—inequities in future generations.

    Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.

    In part because of the strain that intensive child-rearing puts on parents and kids, some parents have started moving away from the practice and toward free-range parenting, a hands-off child-rearing philosophy that recommends against constant monitoring (and that isn’t unlike “the accomplishment of natural growth”).

    But as Calarco has pointed out, free-range parenting comes with a double standard: When whiter, more affluent parents practice it, it’s welcomed as a corrective to more overbearing approaches, but when poorer parents and parents of color practice it, it can be viewed as neglectful. Which means free-range parenting might be rooted in inequality, just like the philosophy that it’s a reaction to.

    Joe Pinsker

    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/01/intensive-helicopter-parenting-inequality/580528/

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