Created By: lu127 on January 7, 2013 Last Edited By: lu127 on February 20, 2013
Troped

Status Cell Phone

Cell phones denote high status

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Trope
This thread says to split Cell Phone, so here we go.
In modern times, cell phones serve as a status symbol. Before the cell phone, there was the beeper, a sign that you were important and needed, and before that, the cigar. In The '80s and The '90s, when mainstream cell phone ownership was starting to take root, carrying a cell phone was a shorthand for high status and wealth. Businessmen were always bound to show up with one.

Due to cell phones becoming mainstream in recent years, their role as a status symbol in media evolved. Sure, anyone might own one, but only the wealthiest had the ultra-advanced camera phone decorated with gems and a super fast internet connection. Special attention was paid to the brand and the utilities of the phone denote the character's status, making it ripe for Product Placement. Expect the Rich Bitch and the Phoneaholic Teenager to show up with one.

This trope is slowly dying out in today's day and age. Cell phones have become so common that it is expected to have one, and having a top-of-the-line model doesn't mean much, as it gets matched and outdated within a couple of months, and society doesn't make a big deal about having an Android anymore since they've become the norm.

Subtrope of Technology Marches On and Society Marches On.

Examples:

[[folder:Film]]
  • In the 1980 comedy film Caddyshack, Rodney Dangerfield plays Al Czervik, a real-estate developer who is shown to be eccentric/filthy rich right from the start. He has a telephone right in his golf bag, which he answers while out on the course. This was not a typical "brick" phone, but from what we could see it was more like a typical 1970s desk phone, complete with an acoustic ringing bell and a coiled handset cord.
  • The main characters in Clueless all having mobile phones despite being in high school was intended as a joke about how spoilt and well-off they were. Modern viewers tend not to understand why a high school student with a mobile phone is supposed to be funny.
  • Harry from When Harry Met Sally... has a fake plastic car phone, just so he can fake talking on it, to look rich and important when someone else is talking on theirs.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • In the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel Business Unusual (written in 1997, set in 1986) Mel's dad is a businessman who's extremely proud of his mobile phone. The Doctor, who knows that in ten years they'll be a fraction of the size and a lot more common, isn't impressed.
  • In Kim Newman's short story "Organ Donors", Sally Rhodes's new job includes being provided with a "portable phone", which is indicative of how important it is (although being Sally, she doesn't actually use it). Newman notes this as one of the things that makes the story an Unintentional Period Piece.
  • In the "Jeffery's" recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live the manager of a Jeffery's (designer clothing) store has a very tiny phone, about half the size of his thumb. In the last sketch he has a really large brick phone. When the sales clerks laugh at him he says "big is the new small. Cami Diaz has one twice this size."
  • Gordon Gecko on Wall Street has an extravagant, top-of-the-the-line, and brick-sized cell phone. This is used as a Technology Marches On gag in the sequel 'Money Never Sleeps' when he is released from prison and gets said phone, now obsolete, returned to him.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • On Corner Gas the town of Dog's River is in the middle of nowhere and has really lousy cell reception. The residents are forced to use special cellphone with bulky signal boosters. When it is announced that a new cell tower will be erected in the town, the main characters get new cellphones and a try to show up each other by gettign progressively smaller cellphones. However, when the plans for the new cell tower are abandoned, they have to go back to their old bulky models.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • An early 2000s episode of Arthur had the local Rich Bitch, Muffy, as the only character known to have a cell phone.
  • Daria: The main character's parents both own cellphones, in the middle-late 1990's when this was comparitively rare and cellphones were the size and shape of housebricks. Helen Morgendorffer carries hers because she is genuinely in a high-status high-wage job (lawyer). Jake Morgendorffer carries his because he aspires to be in a high-status well-paid job.
  • In "Brian Wallows, Peter Swallows" on Family Guy, Brian sings a song about how society has changed since the 50's. He sings a line about a businessman with a cell phone and how busy his life must be, then mentioning how the phone will give him a tumor, but his doctor will see it and admit how cool he is.
    Those fancy cellphones, make people mumble "gee whiz, look how important he is, his life must rule!"
    He'll get a tumor, but on the surgery day, the doc will see it and say "Man, you must really be cool!"
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Other]]
  • In the modern folklore version of 1990s Russia, a cell phone is a stereotypical attribute of a nouveau riche New Russian, along with a Mercedes 600 and a crimson jacket.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
  • An urban legend from when cell phones were still a rarity: On a busy commuter train, some businessman is loudly chatting on a cellular phone, mostly with "important" sounding talk. Then an older man on the train suffers a heart attack. When other passengers and/or a conductor approaches the businessman to call 911 on his cell phone, he eventually sheepishly admits that the phone is a fake (and was obviously just trying to impress people with it).
[[/folder]]
Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • January 7, 2013
    MsCC93
    In The Proud Family, in the Christmas Special, Pennny is obsessed with getting a phone for Christmas.
  • January 7, 2013
    aurora369
    In the modern folklore version of 1990s Russia, a cell phone is a stereotypical attribute of a nouveau riche New Russian, along with a Mercedes 600 and a crimson jacket.
  • January 7, 2013
    DRCEQ
    This is pretty much a Dead Horse Trope in today's day and age. Cell phones have become so common that it is expected to have one, and having a top-of-the-line model doesn't mean much, as it gets matched and outdated within a couple of months, and society doesn't make a big deal about having an Android anymore since they've become the norm.
  • January 7, 2013
    SKJAM
    And before the cell phone, it was the "beeper" that was a status symbol, although in that case, it designated that you were important rather than wealthy, though some overlap applied.
  • January 7, 2013
    StarSword
    Western Animation:
    • An early 2000s episode of Arthur had the local Rich Bitch, Muffy, as the only character known to have a cell phone.
  • January 7, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell had a giant brick type cell phone, which was (and still is) called a "Zack Morris phone" in his honor. It's wild! A teenager, in school no less, has his own cell phone! How edgy! How absurd!
    • In the late seventies series Hart To Hart the Harts, a millionaire and his wife who go around solving murder mysteries, have car phones in each of their cars.
    • The song "Car Phone", To The Tune Of "Convoy," which demonstrates the owner as a stuck up yuppie.
      He's got a bitchin' car phone / He thinks he owns the road / Yeah, he's got a brand-new car phone / He's stuck in the yuppie mode / Since he has a brand-new car phone / You better not get in his way / He's gonna use that car phone / To make his name in L.A./ Car phone!
  • January 8, 2013
    Folamh3
    • The main characters in Clueless all having mobile phones despite being in high school was intended as a joke about how spoilt and well-off they were. Modern viewers tend not to understand why a high school student with a mobile phone is supposed to be funny.
  • January 8, 2013
    DaibhidC
    • In the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel Business Unusual (written in 1997, set in 1986) Mel's dad is a businessman who's extremely proud of his mobile phone. The Doctor, who knows that in ten years they'll be a fraction of the size and a lot more common, isn't impressed.
    • In Kim Newman's short story "Organ Donors", Sally Rhodes's new job includes being provided with a "portable phone", which is indicative of how important it is (although being Sally, she doesn't actually use it). Newman notes this as one of the things that makes the story an Unintentional Period Piece.
  • January 8, 2013
    DRCEQ
    • In "Brian Wallows, Peter Swallows" on Family Guy, Brian sings a song about how society has changed since the 50's. He sings a line about a businessman with a cell phone and how busy his life must be, then mentioning how the phone will give him a tumor, but his doctor will see it and admit how cool he is.
      Those fancy cellphones, make people mumble "gee whiz, look how important he is, his life must rule!"
      He'll get a tumor, but on the surgery day, the doc will see it and say "Man, you must really be cool!"
  • January 9, 2013
    lu127
    I am not certain what category The New Russia example fits in. It might be better suited for the description.

    SKJAM, can you elaborate on the beeper?
  • January 9, 2013
    SKJAM
    The "beeper" was the earliest form of the pager. First introduced in 1950, it was a simple radio receiver that would beep when it got a signal on a specified frequency. The person with the beeper would then call a specific telephone number to see what was up. The earliest adopters were doctors who could then attend social events while "on call". Thus they could be reached in an emergency without being tied to a landline phone.

    Naturally, other professions which could be called in at any moment also adopted beepers, and having a beeper became a symbol that you were important and needed. Many people had beepers who didn't strictly need them as a status symbol.

    Later versions became the full-fledged pager, able to display first numeric characters, then short text messages, and eventually short voice mails. And then the cell phone came in.
  • January 9, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^ It's Humor.
  • January 10, 2013
    AgProv
    Western Animation: Daria Morgendorffer's parents both own cellphones, in the middle-late 1990's when this was comparitively rare and cellphones were the size and shape of housebricks. Helen Morgendorffer carries hers because she is genuinely in a high-status high-wage job (lawyer). Jake Morgendorffer carries his because he aspires to be in a high-status well-paid job.
  • January 11, 2013
    DRCEQ
    Even though the topic hasn't been updated with all the examples given so far, more than enough have been provided that I'm gonna give this a hat.
  • January 11, 2013
    SquirrelGuy
    In the 1980 comedy film Caddyshack, Rodney Dangerfield plays Al Czervik, a real-estate developer who is shown to be eccentric/filthy rich right from the start. He has a telephone right in his golf bag, which he answers while out on the course. This was not a typical "brick" phone, but from what we could see it was more like a typical 1970s desk phone, complete with an acoustic ringing bell and a coiled handset cord.
  • January 12, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Used in a 2011 ad for Boost Mobile prepaid cell phone service, where a man goes on a job interview surrounded by Muppets singing to him about his "big boy phone." The point being, you can get a phone from us which doesn't cost a lot but doesn't look like a cheap-ass phone - it's a real smartphone
  • January 19, 2013
    SquirrelGuy
    There was an urban legend from when cell phones were still a rarity. On a busy commuter train, some businessman is loudly chatting on a cellular phone, mostly with "important" sounding talk. Then an older man on the train suffers a heart attack. When other passengers and/or a conductor approaches the businessman to call 911 on his cell phone, he eventually sheepishly admits that the phone is a fake (and was obviously just trying to impress people with it) http://www.snopes.com/embarrass/business/fakephone.asp
  • January 21, 2013
    lakingsif
    The characters of Revenge seem to get through a lot of mobile phones, minus Jack the barman, of course, who more often than not uses a landline.

    -- Many of the phones which are seen as Status Symbols are white, and if phones are released in black and white versions, the white one comes out later (Sony and Apple are fond of this). This aspect could be related to YKTTW The Rich Have White Stuff (i.e. white phones as status symbol).
  • January 21, 2013
    dotchan
    • Gordon Gecko on Wall Street has an extravagant, top-of-the-the-line, and brick-sized cell phone. (This is used as a Technology Marches On gag in the sequel 'Money Never Sleeps' when he is released from prison and gets said phone, now obsolete, returned to him.
  • January 21, 2013
    dotchan
    • Gordon Gecko on Wall Street has an extravagant, top-of-the-the-line, and brick-sized cell phone. (This is used as a Technology Marches On gag in the sequel 'Money Never Sleeps' when he is released from prison and gets said phone, now obsolete, returned to him.
  • January 21, 2013
    nielas
    • On Corner Gas the town of Dog's River is in the middle of nowhere and has really lousy cell reception. The residents are forced to use special cellphone with bulky signal boosters. When it is announced that a new cell tower will be erected in the town, the main characters get new cellphones and a try to show up each other by gettign progressively smaller cellphones. However, when the plans for the new cell tower are abandoned, they have to go back to their old bulky models.
  • January 22, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the "Jeffery's" recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live the manager of a Jeffery's (designer clothing) store has a very tiny phone, about half the size of his thumb. In the last sketch he has a really large brick phone. When the sales clerks laugh at him he says "big is the new small. Cami Diaz has one twice this size."
  • January 31, 2013
    ArkadyDarell
    Actually, this isn't quite a dead horse IRL. It's rather common for middle class and rich people to say a poor person can't really be poor because they have a cell phone, ignoring the fact that nowadays there's many cheap cells and pay-as-you-go plans, and that it's not uncommon for even rural farmers in poor countries to have smartphones. (Since it's actually a cheap way to set up things like communications, internet, and mobile banking, compared to the infrastructure that landlines and traditional banking would need.)
  • January 31, 2013
    DRCEQ
    ^ "Cell phones have become so common that it is expected to have one, and having a top-of-the-line model doesn't mean much"

    "it's not uncommon for even rural farmers in poor countries to have smartphones."

    Yep. Dead horse. Nobody makes a big deal about it anymore. Remember, the idea of this trope is that Cell phone = High social status. Having one is something worth flaunting over others because they don't have one.

    If even farmers in poor countries can access a smartphone with very little difficulty, then Humanity in general has gone well beyond the point where anyone can brag about having it.

    Sure, people can still brag about getting one, but the usual reaction would be "So? I have one too, big deal."
  • January 31, 2013
    ArkadyDarell
    ^ You seem to have missed this part of my comment:

    "It's rather common for middle class and rich people to say a poor person can't really be poor because they have a cell phone,"

    As in, it's still actually considered a big deal to have one in a social sense. It just ironically isn't a big deal in a purely practical sense, and the social perception hasn't yet fully caught up.
  • January 31, 2013
    dspeyer
    The "Check Out Life Before Cell Phones" section from Technology Marches On already contains some of this. Though this sounds more like a subtrope of Society Marches On.

    Creating a trope for this may still be correct, but there should probably be some reshuffling to limit duplication.
  • January 31, 2013
    DRCEQ
    ^^ I'm still not seeing that as an argument against it being a dead horse trope. Try replacing the word "Cell Phone" with "Pencil" in that sentence. Doesn't mean very much anymore does it, because of how common pencils are. Well, cell phones have reached that level of commonality, and it's pretty much expected for everyone to have one, regardless of social or economic status. It's not about proving that people can't be poor if they can afford one, it's about showing how they used to be a significant factor of saying "Hey, I'm better than you because I have one and you don't."
  • February 4, 2013
    lu127
    Took out the Dead Horse Trope, it's a bit of a meaningless label. The description should be clear enough.
  • February 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the late 80s/early 90s Heel Professional Wrestling manager Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) carried a brick-style phone to the ring and was often seen on it, and almost as often used it as a Foreign Object.
  • February 4, 2013
    DRCEQ
    If it's no longer a Dead Horse Trope, then it is a Discredited Trope instead.
  • February 4, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    Eh, no.
  • February 19, 2013
    randomsurfer
    I'd say the concept is still around nowadays, except Inverted - how lame you must be to not have a cell phone when everybody has a cell phone.
  • February 20, 2013
    TooBah
    Harry (Billy Crystal) of When Harry Met Sally has a fake plastic car phone, just so he can fake talking on it, to look rich and important when someone else is talking on theirs.
  • February 20, 2013
    lu127
    I'll be launching before the weekend if no objections are presented.
  • February 20, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Best to add that nowadays the trope is inverted-losers are still the ones who don't have cell phones, specially BECAUSE they're very easy to access.
  • February 20, 2013
    DRCEQ
    I still say this is a dead horse or at least a discredited trope. Nobody thinks that having a cell phones makes you a bigshot anymore, and the very idea that it actually did at one point in time only makes people glad that it is no longer the case.
  • February 20, 2013
    Xtifr
    ^ I think that may only be true in the first-world, if it's even true there.
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