I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen,And one more leading nowhere, just for show
Right in the middle of the town.
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.
There would be one long staircase just going up,
And one even longer coming down,
—Fiddler On the Roof, "If I Were a Rich Man"
In a nutshell, conspicuous consumption is any extravagant spending that has no real purpose other than just to show off someone's wealth. Sometimes this leads to a vicious cycle of "keeping up with the Joneses", when two people or families each feel that they need to buy more things to show they're just as wealthy as the other, sometimes going Up to Eleven.
Anyway you look at it, these people are just spending money for the hell of it. You aren't buying a luxury car. You're buying a gold plated one. You don't just have a private jet. You have a private aircraft carrier (and not for your private army either).
Yes, there can be at least somewhat understandable reasons to spend a lot of money. If you see an expenditure for a reason like these, it's not this trope:
- Sometimes it's just a bigger and better version of a thing we need anyway. We need a car, and they buy luxury cars.
- Sometimes it's expected, or even required, for cultural reasons. Ermine Cape Effect mentions it wouldn't do for royalty to dress like slobs.
- Sometimes what these people do actually requires a large expense. A CEO of a multinational corporation often deals with people who just need to be spoken to in person, so he/she needs a private jet to accomplish that.
- Sometimes someone is trying to buy him/herself out of trouble.
This can apply just as often in Real Life as in fiction, but with fiction, some of the spending can even defy reality, thus overlapping with Fiction 500. Also common among the Nouveau Riche (often leading to A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted).
Contrast Bankruptcy Barrel.
- Richie Rich had gold-plated, gem-studded everything. Conspicuous Consumption is the only joke in his comics: mundane gadgets festooned with precious metals and minerals, landscaping feature like hedges and swimming pools shaped like dollar signs, the immense size of the Rich estate (requiring multiple ZIP codes, needing its own transit system), and so on, ad nauseum.
- In Disney's Pocahontas, Ratcliffe envisions himself wearing a suit of armor made of solid gold, beset with gemstones.
- In Ocean's 13, Al Pacino's character receives a gold plated and diamond encrusted cell phone as a gift. He's obviously been desiring one for a while.
- A long sequence in Apocalypto highlights the conspicuous consumption of the Mayan royalty to construct their ostentatious buildings. The damage this causes to the environment and their peasants is shown to be terrible. The nobility is also shown to be covered practically from head to toe in jade jewelry. In the DVD commentary, director Mel Gibson uses the name of the trope frequently to point out his thinly-veiled commentary on modern society.
- Goldfinger likes gold so much, he kills people with it!
- The title characters in Fun with Dick and Jane are very much concerned with what the neighbors think -- and what the neighbors think is that it's best to show off one's wealth. This intersects brutally with their poverty.
- Laura actually got a scene cut from the original run due to the consumption going against war time rationing.
- Melancholia features an extravagant wedding at a castle as the world ends. The director actually contacted a wedding planning service and let them go wild.
- Casino: Expected since it takes place in Las Vegas, but especially anything to do with Ginger, from her clothes and her furs to her Big Fancy House and her vault full of jewels.
- Older Than Feudalism example - in the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana, several entire chapters are devoted to explaining the over-the-top splendor of Ravana's palace, of which everything constructed is constructed of rare metals and stones, and everything natural (i.e. gardens) is of only the finest, purest quality.
- The Great Gatsby, which also deconstructs the American Dream and the Roaring Twenties into teeny, tiny pieces. Gatsby regularly throws the biggest parties just to show off, in hopes of attracting the attention of his childhood crush. In one notable scene, a guest enters his impressive library and wonders if the all books are fake. He examines them and sees that all of the books are quite real, but none of their pages have been cut. It's an entire library of unread books, just for show.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born", Salome goes in for this.
- The Satyricon by Petronius, written in Roman times, is full of this. In the chapter describing banquet of Trimalchio, a heavy silver platter is dropped by one of the household slaves, and the wealthy Trimalchio commands that the platter be left on the floor and swept out with the rest of the garbage. Between courses, the guests have their fingers washed with wine instead of water. The narrators are obviously party-crashers, but no one cares.
- The yuppie characters in American Psycho go to fancy restaurants, order impractically extravagant food, and then don't actually eat it.
- Dark Future: There's a lot of this, with the cosmetic genetic enhancements offered by GenTech, including up to five implanted sets of teeth to replace your own as they wear out, but Gavin Mantle, winner of the ZBC Blotto Lotto prize of 100 million dollars goes on a spree of spending to live up to this including a gold-plated Rolls Royce shaped like a penis, a huge mansion shaped like a pair of breasts with a swimming pool the bottom of which is covered in gemstones and a small army of personal Sexbots turns the dial up a touch more.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka tells the story of how he helped an Indian prince build an entire castle out of chocolate. The prince sees the folly of his ways when the castle melts around him. When the movies were made, only the Johnny Depp version got to see this scene realized on film.
- Interestingly averted by Star Trek's Ferengi. Their entire society is capitalism taken to the point of parody, but their profits seem to go mostly toward making more profit rather than getting wasted on ostentatious frivolities. Although Ferengi occasionally engage in some form of debauchery, their vices are surprisingly minimal. In one episode of Deep Space Nine, Quark is amazed that humans would buy their own poison in the form of cigarettes.
- On Lost, several characters, especially evil tycoon Charles Widmore, make a show of drinking the fictional MacCutcheon whiskey, a bottle of which costs several thousand dollars.
- On Chappelle's Show, one MTV Cribs parody sketch had an insanely rich celebrity (Dave Chapelle himself) who ate dinosaur eggs and sprinkled diamonds on his food because it made his "doody twinkle".
- In The Office Michael Scott manages to do this in the absence of actual wealth. When Oscar examined his finances to explain his debts he ended up dividing his spending into three categories, of which the third was the largest: Things that he needed, things that he didn't need, and things that no one, anywhere, ever needed.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 noted this in the short film Design for Dreaming, made in 1956 to advertise GM's Motorama expo. As the heroine and her man drive away in their fabulous Thunderbird II, Mike Nelson quips, "Conspicuous consumption makes our love stronger!"
- On Parks and Recreation Tom and Jean Ralphio start their own entertainment company after Jean Ralphio gets a lot of money. They primarily spend the money on extravagant furniture and hire pro basketball players and beautiful women to just hang around the office (since nobody in the company is doing any actual work). They even give everyone who visits them a free iPad. Naturally the business fails.
- Billy Joel's Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) is a criticism of blue-collar and lower-middle class New Yorkers who are prepared to literally work themselves to death, in order to be seen to keep up with the Joneses.
- Nickelback's "Rock Star" is one long ode to just what the singer's going to buy when he's successful.
- Cyrano De Bergerac
- Cyrano combines this with A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: At Act I Scene IV, Cyrano confides Le Bret that the bag of crowns he used to pay the entrance fees of the Burgundy Theater was his parental bounty and so, he has not money for the rest of the month. Even when Le Bret scolds Cyrano for his folly, Cyrano calls this "a graceful act". This conduct explains better than anything why Cyrano is condemned to a Perpetual Poverty life.
Le Bret (with the action of throwing a bag): How! The bag of crowns?...
Cyrano: Paternal bounty, in a day, thou'rt sped!
Le Bret: How live the next month?...
Cyrano: I have nothing left.
Le Bret: Folly!
Cyrano: But what a graceful action! Think!
- At Act II Scene I, We see Raguenaeu’s Bakery, where Ragueneau is giving free his pies to his friends, the starving poets… who in retribution give Ragueneau their poems and hear his own poetry (and they flatter him). Ragueneau buys a lyre made of pastry from one of his own apprentices, and when he shows it to his wife, Lisa, she lampshades that is a silly consumption. Also, when a multitude of invaders comes to his bakery at Act II scene VII and break all, he doesn’t ask them for paying the damages. This attitude explains why he is ruined at Act III.
Another Apprentice (also coming up with a tray covered by a napkin): Master, I bethought me erewhile of your tastes, and made this, which will
please you, I hope. (He uncovers the tray, and shows a large lyre made of pastry.)
Ragueneau (enchanted): A lyre!
The Apprentice: 'Tis of brioche pastry.
Ragueneau (touched): With conserved fruits.
The Apprentice: The strings, see, are of sugar.
Ragueneau (Giving him a coin): Go, drink my health!
(Seeing Lise enter): Hush! My wife. Bustle, pass on, and hide that money!
(To Lise, showing her the lyre, with a conscious look): Is it not beautiful?
Lise: 'Tis passing silly!
- An oil tycoon in Elite Beat Agents is prone to this.
- In Team Fortress 2, a Heavy Weapons Guy achievement for eating 100 Sandviches references the trope, mixed with Funetik Aksent, as Konspicious Konsumption.
- GTAIV parodies it with the in-game TV show "I'm Rich", including obvious parodies of people like Paris Hilton and others.
- The Ballad of Gay Tony introduces Yusuf Amir, who spends his money on Bling Bling Bang, Hookers and Blow, and ridiculous vanity projects like building the tallest skycraper in Liberty City. Since he apparently has the money to buy anything, the only use he has for the player character is to steal "the things they won't sell him", like military hardware.
- Pokey and Alloucious Minch's offices in the Monotoli building are made entirely of gold.
- Both Ricci and his manager in Fite sport solid gold jewelry once Ricci gets the belt.
- In Commedia 2X00, Mr. Pants' family has been earning royalties on their patent on pants for centuries. His sidekick/attendant is a solid gold robot named Goodz. Several early updates are spent in his treasure room, which includes things like a Polybius arcade machine, the Chaos Emeralds, and an electric guitar autographed by Mozart.
- Cracked.com has a list of real life ways to show off wealth.
- An episode of Cracked's Does Not Compute deals with the Numi, a real life $6500 toilet that comes with a tablet PC to pick various settings like seat temperature, bidet control, and a selection of music. Yes, music, which was composed specifically for the Numi.
- A Running Gag among the creators of Kingdom of Loathing is that the players' donations go towards "solid gold Ferraris".
- An Alvin and The Chipmunks episode had Simon develop a device that could look into possible futures. One was where the chipmunks and chipettes were incredibly wealthy. They bought their kids guitars made of diamonds, with ruby picks, and there were apparently emerald strings.
- Some of Goldie Gold's has a few of these that aren't even gadgets, like a diamond studded nail clipper.
- Similarly, Richie Rich lived this trope. Fuel for thought comes when you contrast his typical attire of a sweater with the letter R on it (or a black jacket and shorts when he was younger) to his hyper-luxurious lifestyle. It's almost as if he's Zen'd past needing to display personal bling. One Robot Chicken skit plays with this, and mixes Richie with a black rapper stereotype.
- In The Simpsons:
- Episode "Dog of Death" Homer imagines that if he won the lottery he would become the worlds largest man and be covered entirely in gold.
- The original creator of Itchy and Scratchy used the money from his settlement to buy a solid gold house.
- In the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, everything Scrooge McDuck owns is an example of this.
- A mother of another girl in Totally Spies bought a clothing chain just to get the last of a pair of exclusive shoes.
- In the Futurama movie Bender's Big Score, Earth is taken over by alien scammers who buy a fleet of solid gold, Gem-Encrusted death stars to defend it.
- When Peter Griffin of Family Guy got a 150,000 welfare check every week, the first thing he did was rent the Statue of David.
- In an episode of The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy Duck finally gets the wealth he so ardently desires and spends it on, among other things, a fancy-dress outfit (complete with powdered wig) and a hand-painted mural for the ceiling. He can't even go grocery shopping without embarking on a search for the most expensive brand of soup.
- Parodied in South Park, when the boys are shown the evils of downloading music illegally by seeing what it does to the artists: namely, forcing them to do this to a slightly lesser extent(for example, having to fly in a private jet that's one model out of date, or not being able to give their kid a private island for his birthday).
- Live-in servants. The development of household appliances through the twentieth century reflects the increasing difficulties of finding decent hired help. The proliferation of the flush toilet in middle-class households, for instance, was due in large part to the burgeoning reluctance of increasingly better-paid servants to regularly empty and clean receptacles for other peoples' shit.
- This can apply to excessive Pimped Out Dresses and Costume Porn.
- The topic illustration of the gold-plated Macintosh laptop is from an actual company that gold-plates consumer electronics.
- "I Am Rich", a short-lived iPhone app, costing $999.99, consisted simply of a glowing gem displayed on the screen. It was literally made for buyers to show off that they can blow a thousand dollars on nothing. The creator sold six before the app was pulled by Apple - mainly because some geniuses clicked on it to see whether it was real.
- The whole "bling" element of contemporary Hip Hop culture. Cultural critics (who cringe at the ostentation), black activists who 1) decry wasting money that could be used to benefit communities and 2) the whole "scandal before whitey" thing), and old-school rappers (who, besides agreeing with the activists, tend to regard "bling" as Completely Missing the Point) often disapprove, and let's just leave it at that.
- The Victorian Era was notorious for this. And across the pond, the (very appropriately named) Gilded Age
- The Golden Opulence Sundae. A $1,000 sundae that's covered in 23k edible gold leaf, the sundae is drizzled with the world's most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porceleana, and covered with chunks of rare Chuao chocolate, which is from cocoa beans harvested by the Caribbean Sea on Venezuela's coast.
- Serendipity-3, the creators of the Golden Opulence Sundae, outdid themselves by making what Guinness has declared the most expensive dessert in the world, the Frrozen Haute Chocolate tips the scales of Opulence at $25,000.
- The Egyptian Pyramids were how Pharaohs impressed everyone, gods included, with their importance. Note that they originally had an outer layer of glittering limestone. This has since come off on all but the tops of them.
- The entire concept of World's Tallest Building is very much this trope. From the Eiffel Tower to Burj Khalifa, this is essentially an enormous (pun intended) method of saying "screw you" to the rest of the planet.
- The Gaddafi family was notorious for this while in power.
- Culturally most of East Asia is prone to this. Japan has traditionally had the most status-conscious, fanatical luxury shoppers. And China who for decades had a ridiculously low standard of living has been recently experiencing bouts of conspicuous consumption, where they buy items that shout out status (e.g. factory workers spending two months worth of salary on designer bags). In fact, when abroad the average Chinese tourist, will spend more time/energy shopping than any other activity put together.
- Donald Trump and his hotels, casinos, condos, etc. From the 1980s to the present day he exemplifies this trope.
- Saddam Hussein had a golden Ak-47.