Fly less. Eat less meat. Spend less time in front of a screen. Own less. Waste less. We have become increasingly aware of the necessity of restraint – in how we travel, how we eat, and how we consume. After all, we want to keep the world in which we live alive. And yet a completely different aesthetics has taken hold of our – virtual and actual – world: an aesthetics beholden to excess; an aesthetic that shimmers, sparks, and glows luridly, that celebrates, revels, and wallows in consumption. Put simply: an aesthetics of opulence.
The world of opulence features luxury cars, jewelry, and other swanky status symbols, but also an affinity for diversity, excess, decoration, sensuality, and color. New Money in place of Quiet Luxury; drag in place of ballet; kitsch in place of “style”. It is a vulgar exhibition of (imagined) wealth, but maybe also self-empowerment through brand names?
Signs of societies that have become post-migrant, are characterized by a diversity of identities and aesthetics; of styles, symbols, worldviews. Opulence serves as much as a symbol as a desire: it is not only a sign of but a yearning for. And opulence also preserves something child-like, a fascination and longing for that which lies beyond experience and everyday reality, beyond what is reasonable. In this sense opulence is a form of sensual enjoyment and sensuality, of dwelling in the sensuous pleasures of life. It is not simply a matter of material wealth but a wealth of experiences, emotions, and pleasures that life has to offer.
To some extent the ambivalence of opulence, that is, the tension between opulence and restraint, reflects the complexity of contemporary society. We are faced with the challenge of finding a sustainable way of life that makes allowances for our environment as well as our own wishes and desires. Opulence simultaneously is the expression of excess and decadence and the striving for beauty, pleasure, and individuality, and for the freedom to make the world – beyond accepted moral and aesthetic standards – our own.