Monday, October 18, 2010


The Cadillac Escalade is what the Mercedes was in another era. It’s become the car of choice amongst the same conspicuous consumers who once made the Lincoln Town Car, the Cadillac Seville, the Beemer and the Mercedes 450 symbols of a certain kind of status. Accumulate a certain level of wealth and you can own or lease an Escalade, and when you have an Escalade and a driver you are perceived as having arrived. Ownership of the Escalade doesn’t indicate you are a Warren Buffet, a Bill Gates or one of the mysterious hedge-fund types like Steven Cohen, but it serves as a kind of Maginot line. It’s not that you have one that’s important, but rather what it means when you don’t. There are other status symbols that are commonly flaunted—the black American express card and the Rolex watch—but the Escalade has become ubiquitous in the murky area that we call upper-class life, because the owner of an Escalade may be anywhere from modestly to vastly wealthy, and the vast disparities of wealth in modern American society are such that the difference can be fairly dramatic. But, as an item, what does the Escalade tell us about the times in which we live? The Mercedes was an object of great luxury that provided all kinds of creature comforts out of the reach to the owner of, say, a Ford Falcon. But the Escalade has none of the sexiness of a Beemer, the car that Pierce Brosnan drove in Golden Eye. Most luxury Escalades are black, like the classic Mercedes sedan with its black-suited driver, but the Escalade is far less svelte. It’s workmanlike. In some ways, it looks like a station wagon or a van, and until Escalades became status symbols, one didn’t even note that they were Caddies, so different were they from the famed tail-finned objects of the fifties and sixties. Owners of Escalades want to be in the club that will have them as a member; at the same time the club has changed from heathens who flaunt their wealth to being composed of the entitled whose accumulation is the result of hard work. Escalade owners seek safety (the vehicles are built like tanks), security and a certain anonymity that reflects society’s current ambivalence towards those who have money.  


  1. Curious about why you picked this topic, thinking about getting a new ride? The Escalade was once the ultimate hip hop accoutrement. If you were a young black male with a penchant to sing in rhyme and carry a Glock, your sled of choice was the Escalade. But now the truck has moved from icon to suburban assault vehicle, the ride of choice of soccer moms everywhere. If you are seeking status in your ride, via a big over the top SUV, you are now driving the GMC Denali. For the rich and famous, the Denali is easier to armor plate.

  2. I chose it because consumer items create their own iconography. This applies to trophy wives too, by the way. A Kate Moss look a like might be today's trophy, but Anna Magnani was eponymous trophy wife in the 50's--at least for proto Berlusconis

  3. I get the concept, but have you seen Kate Moss without her clothes recently. The runway pixie has developed quite a gut and a cellulite covered ass. At least in the picture I saw in the bathing suit edition of the National Enquirer. I think a better icon would be January Jones, sort of half way between Kate and Anna, but more skewed to Kate. Or maybe Rene Russo, but she has vanished from the big screen, maybe she has had some scary comestic surgery, you know the type, the kind that made Faye Dunaway look like a transvestite hooker.


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