Via the 17th century (and Wikipedia), a courtly precursor to tennis, one of the most lifestyle-driven sports.
To some degree, most people probably covet a lifestyle at some point in their lives: some seemingly predetermined mold of living that just looks right. A show like Mad Men benefits from the sheen — the aesthetic, the lifestyle — that was the cultural ideal of the 1950s. Specifically, Mad Men benefits in exploring how empty and shallow so much of that sheen was, while also being able to milk those qualities for entertainment value. But beyond that narrow realm of idealized-looking people in fancy clothes, the disconnect between lifestyles and substance rarely seems to change.
Even as the economy has stagnated due to unrestrained greed, there’ve been more and more TV networks catering to an upwardly mobile lifestyle. And, well, why wouldn’t they? TV is generally a for-profit business that caters to advertisers, and lifestyles are a premier business model. There’s never just one thing to buy; items, places and experiences are all part of the lifestyle tapestry. Often that collective is unified by the idea of ‘the best’: consuming the best food, living in the best place, etc.
Even though it’s yet to put an ‘F’ for foodies in its acronym of Home & Garden Television., HGTV is probably the premier channel of the lifestyle lot; so many shows, so many boring privileged people looking for the best life has to offer in property.
Bravo has probably been at the forefront of shallow lifestyle TV. Its output seems increasingly obsessed with utilizing the insecurities of those who proclaim to be living some golden dream. A foodie-centric show like Top Chef almost seems quaint in comparison.
There’s also Esquire now, which slightly minimizes an obsession with drama in favor of yuppie/hipster driven reality shows with a magazine-like sheen. Glossy and not particularly deep, which is the thing with lifestyles in general. In two weeks, the Bio channel will become FYI, another network focusing on — you guessed it — lifestyles.
Obviously lifestyle is quite a broad term, but I do think that the ‘style’ part of the word is intrinsic to how we think about it. As style is thought of by some people who use fashion as their ticket to being special, so is the idea of a lifestyle. In that vein, it’s not something everybody can have exactly. A lifestyle has generally been the domain of those with resources.
I guess the idea of a lifestyle will always be comforting, because it’s an insulated way to live. But places becoming tailored to lifestyles is generally one of the elements of gentrification — the process in which people are mostly as (positively) relevant to society as their privileges are. Maybe those privileges could entail resourcefulness as opposed to just resources, but it seems like we’re presented lifestyles as a dressed up approach to being a consumer as a way of life.