IMAGE:  February 2003 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
Volume 95, Issue 3
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Chicago Seven: One Year Later


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The rise in envy’s status.
In Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002) historian Susan Matt, AB’89, examines how middle-class American society changed its views on envy. From condemnation as a destructive emotion to acceptance as part of the American way of life, envy’s make-over, Matt argues, went hand in hand with the the consumer economy’s expansion at the turn of the 20th century.

Pianos were perhaps the most crucial piece of furniture for aspiring families. Faith in their refining and status-raising power was remarkably wide-spread, as merchants and social scientists discovered. This faith was demonstrated in an oft-repeated anecdote that circulated in the advertising industry: A department store in New York City had a surplus of inexpensive pianos. The store launched an ad campaign in the newspapers but could generate little interest in the cut-rate instruments. It was only when the advertising manager revamped his campaign that he was able to sell the pianos. Rather than concentrate on the instruments themselves, his new campaign focused on the enviable social benefits they could provide. The headline for his new ad was: ‘Make your daughter Mary a lady.’



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