John Gapper helps us understand why intelligent, rich people like Isha Ambani and Priyanka Chopra spend so much money on their marriage. For answers he looks at the customs of Native Indian tribes in Canada. These tribes would mark a wedding with something called “Potlatch”.
“Their display is reminiscent of potlatch, the traditional ceremony of feasting and gift giving among Native Americans, which was banned by Canada in 1885. The winter feast, meaning “gift”, was a way not only of celebrating status and family bonds at events such as weddings, but of keeping the rest of the community close with largesse.
Potlatch could be extravagant, particularly after the arrival of European fur traders and their goods: some chiefs would burn canoes and pieces of shields to show off their wealth. It was compared by the US economist Thorstein Veblen to conspicuous consumption by the Victorian leisure class at balls, to which guests were invited to “witness the consumption of that excess of good things” owned by the host.”
Gapper reminds us that Veblen had told us over a century ago that “It is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. [It] must be put in evidence,”
Combine Potlatch and Veblen’s insights and you can rationalise the Ambani and Chopra weddings and those of other billionaires in China and America.
“The Ambani wedding shows how globalisation, entertainment and luxury create an even bigger splash. It is part of the shift towards “experiential luxury”, in which the rich covet experiences, such as at the 2013 wedding of the technology billionaire Sean Parker in a Californian redwood forest — guests passed through an imposing iron gate forged with the betrothed couple’s names…Weddings have become ferociously expensive because they involve a heady mix of family and status (as well as being, at least in theory, one-off events that parents feel compelled to make memorable).“
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