By on February 24, 2014

2014-Ferrari-California-T1

Even though I skipped or slept through most of my senior year Classical Civilizations course (sorry, Ms. Rogow), one of the laminated quotes in the drafty class room always caught my eye – the quip that forms the pretentious title of this entry, which translates to “it’s difficult to not write satire”.

Alain de Botton is, to my knowledge, not a car guy. He is a self-described philosopher (and prolific author) in an epoch where titling yourself as such is almost as bad as using the term “game changer”. de Botton’s newest project, The Philosopher’s Mail, is a hilarious send-up of the often mocked Daily Mail newspaper in the UK, which is a tabloid in the best tradition of Fleet Street and shlocky British yellow journalism (though it is uncharacteristically devoid of bare female breasts).

The Philosopher’s Mail recently published a brilliant send-up of the new Ferrari California T, managing to simultaneously empathize and lampoon Ferrari owners, as well as the barely re-written press releases that often characterize the introduction of one of Maranello’s newest machines. These sorts of pieces tend to appear in everything from automotive news aggregators to airline magazines to the world’s leading “men’s luxury lifestyle” publications, but they all have the same obsequiously sycophantic tone to them. You will never read a better parody of this genre.

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57 Comments on “Difficile Est Saturam Non Scribere – Alan de Botton’s Brilliant Satire Of Maranello And The Media...”


  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Vulnerable or not, methinks that is a beautiful machine!

    And were I rich (as in RICH), I’d love to have one.

    However, the poor side of me would not allow me to drive it on a real road lest it get besmudged by a smidgeon of dirt…or even worse, have a GM product get near it.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      It does have the shortest wait-list of all the Ferraris.

      And hey, what are you trying to say about GM products? Oh…I get it: when the flammable adhesive near the Ferrari’s hot bits catches fire, you don’t want to damage any nice Corvettes or Cadillacs that happen to be nearby. How thoughtful!

      • 0 avatar
        Da Coyote

        Funny you mention ‘vettes. I’ve owned two (’67 427 coupe and ’05 C6 coupe). Both were wonderful, and the only GM products which did not fall apart right in my driveway soon after purchase. However, no gubmit motors products for me now…evah! Oh, and my prime claim to idiocy is ever getting rid of that ’67.

        • 0 avatar
          TonyJZX

          the old california was a bit hmmmm…

          but this one seems to have hit the rights spots

          it looks great with F12 cues

          it has heaps of power and torque and its suitably light

          sure it costs the same as an avg. 4 bedroom house in the suburbs but you would if you could

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Do I think overpriced chuncks of plastic and carbon fiber are cool? No. If I had unlimited wealth would I buy one? No; I’d be embarrassed being seen in such a thing.

    But if somebody generally works hard, reaps their rewards, and blows it on such gaudy crap then that’s just fine by me. Far better than a nobody who does nothing better but philosophize over a bunch of meaningless crap…. maybe generating some click bait for some advertisers.

    Seriously, I don’t care much for exotic cars, or men fashion magazines, but I also don’t understand the meaning of any of this. Really, I just don’t get it…. there’s nothing better to post?

    • 0 avatar

      > But if somebody generally works hard, reaps their rewards, and blows it on such gaudy crap then that’s just fine by me. Far better than a nobody who does nothing better but philosophize over a bunch of meaningless crap.

      Ah, ‘merica:

      1. The way to ferrari money is working hard
      2. Working opposite of thinking
      3. Esp. thinking about things I don’t understand

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    TL;DR summary: “Ferrari buyers have small dicks and are overcompensating, amirite guys?”

    Sure, the new California is something I look at as crap. But just because I look at it as crap as an auto snob doesn’t mean I am going to stand for a trust fund pseudo-intellectual making fun of Ferrari buyers. With his “Ferrari buyer” representing anyone that buys an expensive car.

    Alain de Botton would have written the same article about the Dino.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen:

      I’ve seen a Dino. I’ve driven a Dino. A friend of mine has a Dino. And this car ain’t no Dino…

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      After decades of playing out pickup, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari &c stereotypes, “Car X = personality fault Y” is no longer fertile comedic territory.

      I certainly wouldn’t call this brilliant. Derek seems to be putting on the meat vest just to get the B&B lions hungry.

    • 0 avatar

      Trying to out-Merica the guy above you?

      > TL;DR summary: “Ferrari buyers have small dicks and are overcompensating, amirite guys?”

      No, the main point was that a superficial society is what leads to conspicuous consumption.

      > Sure, the new California is something I look at as crap. But just because I look at it as crap as an auto snob

      Lol, too good for not just the 200k Ferrari…

      > doesn’t mean I am going to stand for a trust fund pseudo-intellectual making fun of Ferrari buyers.

      …but rich educated types you can’t understand. Presumably because they didn’t work hard to save up like 200k Ferrari buyers.

      > Alain de Botton would have written the same article about the Dino.

      Sigh.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        The main point for those with reading comprehension is that buyers of expensive products must be trying to overcompensate for their own insecurities. With a satirical ruse that society is to blame.

        That’s not at all entirely untrue, just a boring cliché. As I pointed out by referencing the more concise wording people use to express the same cliché.

        I’m not too good for the California because it is the “cheap” Ferrari, the Dino was also the “cheap” (not technically branded) Ferrari. I am too good for it because I appreciate cars, and it is not a technically interesting car.

        But de Botton doesn’t know that. He got lucky that he picked a Ferrari whose buyers are likely to fit his hoary generalization. He would have made the same generalization about the Dino, a technically interesting car with significant intrinsic value but minimal status – not even a V8 or Ferrari badges.

        By the way, de Botton is not that educated. Definitely impressive compared to the philosophy MOOC you are attempting to complete, but not for someone aspiring to be an intellectual.

        • 0 avatar

          My comment below got moderated because it uses a bad word, so I’ll just paste it here in slightly modified form:

          —–

          For those who still don’t get why/how they’re being mocked, at the expense of explaining the joke here’s a play by play:

          1. Author seemingly brings arguments against X (rich are greedy)
          2. Reveals greater truth Y to do so
          3. Fully expressing Y implies X after all

          When you’re hurt by the butocks of a joke, instead of fulfilling that butock-hurt by explaining how it’s not *always* true, it’s better to counter with a better burn of your own and so on and so forth.

          Otherwise, the only part of the joke worth discussing is the straight portion 2.


          You argument is basically: “When I work hard enough to get my ‘rari, I won’t be one of those people because I’ll get the good one”. Ok, good for you?

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            The setup is obvious. If you think understanding the steps involved shows intelligence then that shows more about you than anyone else.

            The obviousness of the “joke”, both structurally and in the point it makes, makes it no better than the base cliché I referenced.

            I would hope to find some commonality at an auto enthusiast site supporting the idea that things can have intrinsic value. And I do, except for an outlier eager to show off what he is learning in his MOOC.

            The kind of lightweight that enjoys de Botton is going to apply his childish generalization to everything down to a Miata or FR-S.

          • 0 avatar

            > The obviousness of the “joke”, both structurally and in the point it makes, makes it no better than the base cliché I referenced.

            Sigh, it’s pretty obvious you _still_ don’t understand what’s going on. He’s not making an “argument” here.

            > The kind of lightweight that enjoys de Botton is going to apply his childish generalization to everything down to a Miata or FR-S.

            Guess what, the greater point certainly applies to purchasing cars based on image, which isn’t exactly uncommon.

            btw, as to your supposed “compensation” cliche:

            The detached arguments here really are pointless and barely even deserve to be mocked, eg “compensation”. So if a Hummer (ie macho) compensation for lack of masculinity (ie peen), what’s a Ferrari (ie rich) supposed to compensate for?

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The article wasn’t really about cars at all. I thought that should have been obvious.

          There are two basic interpretations.

          The literal one is that we are all victims of a culture in which we have elevated conspicuous consumption as a way to demonstrate status, in which case we are all to blame for it.

          The more satirical one is that this takes these recent rich-are-Holocaust-victims diatribes, and combines them with something that resembles the Robb Report to their logical conclusion by sarcastically portraying the disproportionately powerful as a class whom we have all victimized, when they aren’t victims at all. In that case, they’re just jerks.

          Neither version matches yours.

          • 0 avatar

            The greater truth to be distilled from the satire is actually a pretty decent point. We’re cultured to not only look at the cars as fantastic, but also their owners to be correspondingly interesting. “That guy has a ferrari (substitute racer-esq’s aspirational model here)!, he must’ve done good in our just world just like I will!”


            The detached arguments here really are pointless and barely even deserve to be mocked, eg “compensation”. So if a Hummer (ie macho) compensation for lack of masculinity (ie peen), what’s a Ferrari (ie rich) supposed to compensate for?

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            Show me where I claim a just world, much less that Ferrari owners are any proof of that.

            You claim below that is just an article about overcompensating:

            “the message [i.e. argument] is basically: ‘These people aren’t greedy, they’re just needy attention whores seeking validation\'”

          • 0 avatar

            > Show me where I claim a just world, much less that Ferrari owners are any proof of that.

            So why the hell do you, presumably someone who doesn’t own your aspirational ferrari (yet), have such a chip on your shoulder for those who aren’t even getting _your_ model (which is so much better an and in no way like the crappy ones)?

            Also, that line wasn’t really addressed to you anyway. I put your name in because this taking of offense at one specific model but not other another is hilarious when the article isn’t even about cars.

            > You claim below that is just an article about overcompensating.

            I addressed this above. It helps here to know what “compensates” means. Macho (eg hummer) compensates for lack of peen, as Rich (eg ferrari) compensates for ______?

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            “So why the hell do you, presumably someone who doesn’t own your aspirational ferrari (yet), have such a chip on your shoulder for those who aren’t even getting _your_ model (which is so much better an and in no way like the crappy ones)?”

            de Botton has a chip on his shoulder about Ferrari buyers. I’m not big into Ferraris personally.

            The overcompensation cliché is that someone that buys something expensive is desperately lacking validation. Expressed in lowbrow versions as feeling invalidated because of a small dick.

            The lowbrow version is:

            “Expensive (but less so) (e.g. Hummer) compensates for small dick and expensive (e.g. Ferrari) compensates for small dick.”

            de Botton elevated the cliché to:

            “Expensive (e.g. Ferrari) compensates for a lack of validation.”

            There are rich people that don’t buy expensive things, so this is piece does not stand as a general critique of the rich. It is only a critique of the rich that feel such a lack of validation that they need to overcompensate by buying expensive things. Which is fine. And often accurate. But tired and cliché.

          • 0 avatar

            Thank you

          • 0 avatar

            > de Botton has a chip on his shoulder about Ferrari buyers. I’m not big into Ferraris personally.

            He’s joking about self-victimization of the wealthy among other things; it’s pretty funny which is rather the purpose of a joke. If that’s a chip on the shoulder, how can you even stand up with whatever you’re carrying for his victims?

            > Expressed in lowbrow versions as feeling invalidated because of a small dick.

            Again, compensation has a meaning, which apparently continues to escape you, similar to:

            > “and expensive (e.g. Ferrari) compensates for small dick.” “Expensive (e.g. Ferrari) compensates for a lack of validation.”

            I imagine if we’re allow to make words mean anything we want regardless of the context, we can take leaps like:

            “racer-esq is compensating for poor word comprehension”
            “racer-esq is compensating for lack of validation”
            “racer-esq is compensating for a small dick”

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            Wow, touchy.

            I’m clear on what compensation means. If only you were.

          • 0 avatar

            > I’m clear on what compensation means. If only you were.

            I have no doubt it’ll forever be clear that (compensation = validation), or such raging besmirchments against the superficial need their defense-force, or that it’s anything about cars:

            ” With his “Ferrari buyer” representing anyone that buys an expensive car. Alain de Botton would have written the same article about the Dino.”

            Lol, a real sherlock holmes in his own mind.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            If you interpret it strictly as satire, then it’s not as issue of compensation, which would suggest an inferiority complex. Rather, it’s an attack on a superiority complex that is evident in the greed, grandstanding and conspicuous consumption of the upper classes.

            (Personally, I think that both interpretations apply. He thinks that they’re jerks, but he also sees society as being culpable for it when it celebrates such things. The English have a long tradition of mocking the upper class; this more American desire to join the upper class is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK.)

          • 0 avatar

            > The English have a long tradition of mocking the upper class; this more American desire to join the upper class is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK.

            Did the financial crisis create their new glut of temporarily embarrassed millionaires?

        • 0 avatar
          racer-esq.

          “Am I the lightweight you are referring to?”

          You really find this guy interesting? He makes obvious points disguised as revelations (e.g. Woody Allen is a Rorschach test, two days after, for example, some Hollywood blog makes the same point):

          http://blogs.indiewire.com/criticwire/woody-allen-dylan-farrow-open-letter

          http://www.philosophersmail.com/040214-relationships-allen.php

          He’s definitely built an industry up around himself, so I give him credit for being a hard working self promoter when he could have just sat on his father’s money.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s a pretty poor move to attack someone for being slow when it takes you a while to grasp their work. Should be looking for evidence they’re some kind of genius.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I got a very different take on the article, but maybe that was just me. It was actually, I felt, more sympathetic to the Ferrari buyers, and rather more pointed towards the readers themselves, but maybe that was just me.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The article is a bit too Freudian for me. There’s more to buying a Ferrari than influencing how people feel about you. In fact, there are many people who buy them and rarely if ever drive them for fear of the negative judgements jealous proles may heave in their direction. Can’t a guy just drive his Ferrari in peace?

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      There’s Freudian psychology, and then there’s someone who isn’t a psychologist writing about why he thinks people would buy nice things, and calling it a joke.

      If it’s a joke, it should be funny, rather than reading like a veiled diatribe from someone who feels they haven’t gotten the respect they deserve.

      • 0 avatar
        This Is Dawg

        It was funny. Maybe you just went in with the wrong expectations? Have you ever read The Onion? There’s a whole world of comedy out there that is written like tongue in cheek “analysis.”

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          I love the Onion. Know people who have written for them. That’s some really good funny.

          After reading most of the rest of what’s up on the Philosophers’ Mail, it seems to be a mix of satire and earnest attempts at philosophizing, which is fine. It isn’t uproariously funny, but it doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to be. It isn’t legendary analysis, but it’s free and published anonymously.

          The one article figured to be fit to print here though, is an odd one out: Maybe it’s a regional thing, pop culture tells me that in the UK, you’re liable to take more s#it for driving a flashy car than in the US, but it just comes off as smarmy, without enough substance or good humor to back it up.

          Anyway, I’ve commented way too much on this thread.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Sometimes a car is just a car.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      In some ways that was the point of the piece. I find it interesting that our own prejudices of what the topic was, or of Ferrari buyers and ridiculers in general plays out so much in the comments.

      Semiotics in action.

  • avatar
    gsp

    As somebody that could drive a Ferrari, I see this as drivel. My daily drivers are an X5 diesel and 07 Honda minivan. They say more about me than the red car would. But I might buy something from Ferrari one day. And I won’t care what people think about me whether I am driving the minivan on a weekday or a Ferrari on a Sunday.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Alan de Botton should get with Alain de Cadenet and write a piece about Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance… lots of material there.

  • avatar
    trackratmk1

    “We invest in luxuries because we want people to be nice to us”

    Speaking of infants, the satire of this piece is found by exposing the simple mind of the author who declares himself a philosopher.

  • avatar

    The only two people that I know who own Ferraris are regular guys who did very well, love cars, and have high end automobiles from other manufacturers as well. Neither owns a California, but then if you already owned an Enzo, as both do, would you buy a California?

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    The article not only mentions a Ferrari for “vulnerable people seeking approval”, but includes a high powered job, a Chanel bag, a Montcler jacket, an *Omega watch* and an Oswald Boateng suit.

    So all Derek really wants is a little TLC :)

    All in all, this kind if “greed” — if you can call it that — is pretty mild. It’s much better for the rich to use their money than to vault it away like Scrooge McDuck. Sure, there are better uses for money, but I’m not one to tell people how to spend their money.

    There are, however, dangerous forms of greed that I will criticize. There’s the incompetent form illustrated by AIG — an insurance company that didn’t have enough capital to cover disasters and helped send the U.S. economy reeling.

    And then there’s the criminal form shown by Goldman Sachs where they cheated clients and “ripped his face off!” (their expression). On one side they represented a client and on the other side, bet against the same client.

  • avatar
    Yeah_right

    The B&B is sure a cranky bunch today. At least TTAC wasn’t running another VW/UAW story.

    Look at it this way. By opening the link, you got to see a picture of Tamara Ecclestone’s magnificent right leg. Not bad for a Monday.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    that article is a load of crap

    they sell 7,000 of the blasted things every year, do they all have the same motivation?

  • avatar
    niky

    It was pretty funny, actually.

    There is only ever one reason to buy a brand new status symbol… because you want a brand new status symbol. While that might not be the conscious motivation, for any car beyond the plebian people mover, there is some element of that in it.

    For some people, a whole lot more than others.

    Those who actually prefer “the experience” are more often out buying up classic Ferraris and… garaging them… squirreling them away for some yet undecided future date for enjoyment.

    Those who aren’t speculators waiting for the price to shoot up another million or two before reselling.

  • avatar

    Wow, I agree B and B is a little grumpy.
    I thought it was a little silly but funny. Sure its just a slightly better worded version of small part big sports car joke but I for one can still find a retold classic funny.

    There is also a bit of truth in there, not saying it’s effecting a large swath of buyers but I’m certain there is a percentage of Super car sales that are driven by a desire to be liked, mainly in places like Miami and Beverly Hills where for years image trumped all.

  • avatar

    Apparently philosophy is lost on many americans hence Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      The linked article isn’t philosophical in any meaningful way. It’s a string of platitudes.

      Not everything on that site is even so bad, and I have nothing against Alain de Botton- but he probably did not write the Ferrari article, and it is junque.

  • avatar

    This article and comments make for an interesting expose on the american psyche:

    1. American bravado believes itself every bit the peer of wealth, and apparently the “wealthy” have a chip on their shoulder about consumption.

    2. Americans have poor literacy. The article’s more interesting point reflects on the superficiality of social relationships, which presumably creates this need to front.

    3. Combined, this urgent need to dismiss anything that’s a bit harder to understand. It’s tempting to ponder why, but who knows what those who don’t think are thinking.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      That’s as facile an argument against the folks responding, as anyone has made against the article.

      The article didn’t really break any interesting ground in “the superficiality of social relationships,” it just made some simple assumptions about how anyone who buys something expensive is emotionally damaged, and must have a corrupted sense of how others perceive them. It’s not their fault they want a Ferrari, poor wittle babies, they’ve just been made by the world around them to feel as though they aren’t worthy of, or won’t receive respect without Luxury Goods. Poor things.

      This isn’t really a topic I even care about, but it’s frustrating watching people respond to this as if it were dialectic discourse rather than rehashing some stereotypes with pretense.

      • 0 avatar

        > The article didn’t really break any interesting ground in “the superficiality of social relationships,” it just made some simple assumptions about how anyone who buys something expensive is emotionally damaged, and must have a corrupted sense of how others perceive them. It’s not their fault they want a Ferrari, poor wittle babies, they’ve just been made by the world around them to feel as though they aren’t worthy of, or won’t receive respect without Luxury Goods. Poor things.

        Is this supposed to reply to or any way address my comment? It reads like this:

        A: 2+2=4
        B: Oh, mr fancy pants here, all thinking 2 and 2 make 4. that must make you sooooo special.

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          I don’t know; what I gleaned from your post was that stupid American commenters had dismissed an insightful article on human relations because it’s out of their depth. So, I said that was wrong. It’s not hard to understand, it’s just written on a false premise.

          I took umbrage, maybe I misread.

          • 0 avatar

            > American commenters had dismissed an insightful article on human relations because it’s out of their depth

            Given that they objectively missed the main premise as evidenced by the comments, the claim is accurate. Whether the premise is insightful is irrelevant at that point.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “it just made some simple assumptions about how anyone who buys something expensive is emotionally damaged”

        Taken at its face, the article says that all of us contribute to the problem, as we’ve created a social order that makes status-seeking victims out of all of us.

        Or you could see the whole thing as a pisstake, in which case these people really are ***holes, after all.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, when the message is basically: “These people aren’t greedy, they’re just needy attention whores seeking validation”, replies of “it’s not compensating” or “they work so hard” make zero sense.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    This entire thread of comments is semiotics in action. I am sure that Umberto Eco’s next novel will be a satire of how social media changes the nature of audiences and their reactions to creative work…

  • avatar

    For those who still don’t get why/how they’re being mocked, at the expense of explaining the joke here’s a play by play:

    1. Author seemingly brings arguments against X
    2. Reveals greater truth Y to do so
    3. Fully expressing Y implies X after all

    When you’re hurt by the butt of a joke, instead of fulfilling that butthurt by explaining how it’s not *always* true, it’s better to counter with a better burn of your own and so on and so forth.

    Otherwise, the only part of the joke worth discussing is the straight portion 2.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Having grown up in L.A. I would say, Yes, cars are used to project image, wealth and power. Learned this in high school, seeing the rich kids drive BMW’s and Vettes, whilst the poor slobs drove old Crown Vics or rode the bus! As for the shallow rich: best summarized in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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