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 Eighties
and The Nineties
, 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so common that it is expected to have one, and having a top-of-the-line model doesn't mean much, as it gets matched and outdated within a couple of months, and society doesn't make a big deal about having an iPhone anymore since they've become the norm. Certain brands
still play it straight to a point, but if the trope appears in contemporary fiction it's likely to be either satire
Subtrope of Technology Marches On
and Society Marches On
open/close all folders
- 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.
- In Horton Hears a Who!, one of the mayor's girls wants a cell phone, claiming that everyone else in class has one. When her dad says she's exaggerating, she shows him her class photo, with everyone but her talking on their cells.
- 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.
- Parodied on Zoolander, where the title character's cell phone is impractically tiny.
- 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.
- Dave Barry had a newspaper column in the late 90s or early 00s about how smaller cell phones and larger SUVs were the status symbols of the time. He predicted a lot of traffic accidents in the future: everyone will drive vehicles the size of Delaware, but they won't be able to watch the road because they'll be too distracted by losing their rice grain-sized cell phones mid-conversation.
- 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.
- 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."
- Spoofed on 30 Rock with Dennis Duffy, who brags about being the top beeper supplier in the city, at a time when beepers were becoming obsolete.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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).
- The Chinese nickname for cell phones is due to this trope; back in the day, they were most often seen being carried by Triad head honchos, so cell phones were referred to as 大哥大 ("Big Brother's Big [Phone]").