Happy Consumerism Day

Well thank God, the damned thing’s finally over.  Eleven months of peace before another one of these awful holiday seasons rolls around , complete with its tacky displays, embarrassing traditions, and the constant insistence that you stretch your face into an ugly, manic grin.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I hate Christmas.

But it did get me thinking a lot about Consumerism – and what better day to talk about it than Boxing Day?*

Consumer Whore

If you’ve ever made the mistake of watching a Michael Moore movie, or read any Naomi Klein, then you’re probably under the impression that Consumerism is an integral part of Capitalism.  It’s a natural conflation to make – the mountains of noisy-shiny-crap you see this time of year are, after all, a by-product of our highly efficient free market system, but the underlying ideology is wholly different.  Quite frankly, it’s the sort of thing that would make Adam Smith naseuous.

But before we get to that we need to examine the blurry line between Advertising and Marketing.

Advertising is naturally occurring; it’s beneficial to both consumers and producers.  If somebody adds extra-whitening to their toothpaste, if they invent Lasik surgery to replace glasses, or if Amazon recommends a book I might like based upon my buying history – well, all that makes my life simpler.  It’s information that I want to know.  Hell, it’s damn near a public service.  Even the ‘manipulative strategies’ of ergonomically designed shopping centres end up being a marginal improvement to my life, even though some people fail to realize this.

But there comes a point where convenient turns into coercive.  At some point over the last thirty years the psychological aspect of Advertising (something which has always been present) mutated into something monstrous and ugly.  It went from showing your product in its best light (who wants to see Snaggletooth McBitchcrack plugging Colgate), to outright short-cirtuiting our prefrontal cortex and programming our lizard brain with the mantra Buy, Buy, Buy!

We were the first cohort of children to be hit with this full force.  Do you remember how desperately we longed for the latest Action Figure Man Action Figure?  How we’d grab the latest Toys’R’Us catalogue out of the mail and gaze with proto-sexual lust at the pixelated images therein?  It sickens me when I think of it, yet I still get excited whenever I go Christmas shopping for my nephews –  part of me still wants to collect all the G.I. Joe figures even though the movie sucked, and 15¢ sure as hell ain’t worth $15.

And don’t even get me started on the latest piece-of-shit hunk-of-plastic that’s coming with this week’s Happy Meals…

This is where the critical difference lies between Advertising and Marketing; Advertising informs you about a product, letting you decide if it’s the sort of thing you want – you advertise stuff that fills a pre-existing want or need.  Marketing, on the other hand, takes things that nobody wants or needs and creates a market for them (thus the term).  It fetishizes garbage, and once the jingle’s in your head it’s harder to resist than the PTSD attack which drives you to ninja-kick a traffic cop.

Capitalism is about grass-roots free enterprise, level playing fields and meritocratic selection processes.  Marketing is about taking external values, derived by a patriarchy, and injecting them directly into the Proletariat’s minds.  It tells you what to think, what game to play, and it provieds you with pointless, shiny baubles to keep you opiated until it’s time to head back to the factory.  A plastic carrot just outside of reach as you run on your hamster ball.

If they implemented this properly, and they had enough tech to pull it off, a Communist country just might survive with this sort of system in place, despite the gross inefficiencies innate to their economies.  Freedom and Quality in exchange for nifty toys – I’m pretty sure the Federation of Planets is a lot like this.

Now I’ll admit, the line’s fuzzy, and it can be  hard to differentiate at times.  The other day I saw a bunch of cell phone covers with various shades and patterns for sale.  It’s my personal opinion that Silver and Black are good enough colours for electronics, cars, clothing, handguns, kitchen appliances, and pretty much anything else you could name, but who am I to judge?  Some people like pink, I guess, and I won’t fault them for colour-coordinating with the purse they carry their dignity in.

But by the time you start buying a rubber breast-shaped keychain with LED light-up nipples, things have gone too far.

For Christ’s sake people, stop buying this garbage.  If I see one more commercial implying that an ugly, underpowered, four-door Mazda 3 sedan is sexy I’m going to come down with chronic diarrhoea – and if that happens I’ll be heading to one of those food courts you all seem to  love so much, and then I’ll anoint the nearest sink.

… but mind you, with the food they serve in those places, that might just wind up improving the smell.

Happy Fucking Holidays.

* For you American readers, Boxing Day is a lot like your Thanksgiving Day follow up, except on December 26th you’re spending all the money and gift-cards you got the day before.  It’s truly horrific to witness.

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Davis M.J. Aurini

Trained as a Historian at McMaster University, and as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces, I'm a Scholar, Author, Film Maker, and a God fearing Catholic, who loves women for their illogical nature.

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2 Responses

  1. J says:

    “Marketing, on the other hand, takes things that nobody wants or needs and creates a market for them (thus the term).”

    Very succinct definition, and definitely helps clarify if you’re not sure whether you’re being manipulated or not.

    I work at a retail bookstore (Indigo/Chapters) and it’s nauseating seeing how many people fall for the “impulse table” (yes, coined as that for a reason) strategically placed next to the lineup, and the magazines and chocolate and crap littered around the cash. You would be shocked and disgusted.

    Also think you would enjoy this (I’m afraid you’ll have to copy and paste, I don’t know how to link): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go_VtqtxCHY

    Aurini: I’d tend to be forgiving of the impulse shoppers at bookstores; one thing you need to consider is that, while people like you and me – book lovers – have strong opinions on what’s good and what’s not, we associate the smell of fresh books with a distinct air of romance, most people aren’t like this at all. Books are something they buy at WalMart or the gas station, a brief distraction, just another way to kill time in between cradle and grave like 90% of the movies and video games out there.

    So when they arrive at the bookstore their goal is to find something shiny and useless; the tables just accelerate this.

    However, I completely agree with your point that it’s shocking how effectively these tactics work. At the bookstore they were going to buy some crap anyway, but there are literally hundreds of examples out there where the exact same tactic results in impulse purchases: creating a market where there was none before.

  2. JamesDX says:

    Maybe this is me talking nonsense, but it seems like Google isn’t a company run strictly by the top and they seem to be doing quite well.

    Aurini: While it’s true that they are an advertising company, they also provide value added services in the process; if more companies were concerned with this I probably wouldn’t look down on the whole fiasco so much.