It seems as though we can never find ourselves…
Cash or credit? It’s the golden age of high mass consumption where even your personality can come in a shiny package.
As more marketing ploys are used to generate a demand for people to buy, buy, and buy, our thoughts and feelings are continually manipulated. It’s well known that sellers attach a beacon of human desire to whatever they want to sell. There’s a faulty promise that relies on a consumer’s naive hopes and expectations that comes with every new hot product.
But let us expand on this overarching fact and apply it to something that countless people take to heart — what other people think of them and the human need to be validated.
Social media has graduated into a global diorama featuring our every appearance, thought, and action — meticulously curated, always with the viewer’s pleasure in mind. The groundbreaking ability that people have to see into the lives of other people is unparalleled to previous generations. People perceive people a lot more; people judge people a lot more.
We can examine how liberalism (the philosophy and system based on liberty, emphasizing individual rights and free market economy above everything else) coincides with the pressure to document our everyday lives in a fetishizable format (e.g. social media usage). Apparently there is “guaranteed” freedom and fortune for all, so how dare you not feel it? How dare you not show it? And how dare you question if that is actually true?
The freedom to present yourself in whichever way you choose seems as though an egalitarian outlet to feed all your dreams and fascinations. After all, can’t you be whoever you want to be?
Through the late capitalist notion of hyperindividualism combined with artistic social media feeds, consumers, especially young people, work strenuously to find a paradeable identity to call their own: something attractive, effortlessly classy, with just the right pinch of niche and quirky avant garde while still falling in between the display-window brackets of the socially acceptable and sellable. Do whatever you want to do, but with the stylish caveat that it does not interfere with the way things have systematically run.
The enchanting effect of commodities relies on the typical consumer to be drawn by not merely the physical product itself but by the revered idea of it. On this premise is where our emotional attachment (regardless of whether or not it is consciously developed) to pieces of clothing, aesthetics, and status symbols is maintained.
We buy things to feel things, or more so, we buy so that others can see and presuppose characteristics about us, hoping their perception amplifies a more “noble” image of us compared to an image that, without such a commodified poise, would otherwise be looked down upon. Social media has highlighted this more than ever before.
Joy is the new sports car and romantic love is the new handbag, specifically the ones that they have. And in a society where the ruling class dictates social meaning, glamorized figures are overwhelmingly wealthy, successful, white or eurocentric, and/or conventionally attractive. Our idols are the eccentric variations of ourselves with the elimination of qualities that we were told make us innately inferior.
Socioeconomic privilege and access to luxurious artifacts may be exclusive and inaccessible, but craving it can be universal. For the working class, trying to fill these shoes is longshot after longshot. But if you can’t make it, fake it until you believe that you can. After all, how many optical illusions seem so real but are so fake?
Attention to the feelings associated with something allows us to desire it and become attached without necessarily owning it at all. Because really, who cares or knows if you actually own, understand, or engage in xyz? Would xyz be worth anything to us at all if we are incapable of posing alongside xyz so we can elevate our audience’s perception of us?
Not only can commodities represent the people we wish to become, but they serve as tools to convince the public eye that we actually are those people. Attachment to commodified aesthetics establishes likewise to the attachment with the intriguing personas behind it.
Capitalism, being notorious for commodifying everything from every-day needs to romanticized ideas, has inevitably commodified personhood, ascribed its own rules about who is worthy and who isn’t.
We begin to question if what we do, who we are, and what we look like is at all meaningful if it doesn’t allude to the sophisticated, enigmatic identities woven like silk into movie and social media tropes. Soon the adrenaline to chase the new you fades, energy wrung out of you like oil from an exhausted rag.
In reference to ourselves, the classic romcom line of “you aren’t in love with me. you’re in love with the idea of me” bluntly manifests. Because if you aren’t satisfied with the current persona you’re wearing, and you wallow in the pain and struggle of living under a system where fulfillment or happiness feels intangible, that shallow-water persona can be disposed of in exchange for a new one — whichever one is fashionable. Another updated, shiny figurine of the ideal human is bound to hit the market, anyway!
Through these strategies is how media platforms condition people to desire being consumed, all in all insinuating that your value is linked to the degree by which you can be devoured as a commodified version of yourself.
All of these endeavors are a cry for safety from the grueling hours that people are told their humanity is almost nonexistent in importance to our labor (the capacity to be exploited) or our socioeconomic status (often the capacity to exploit others).
While consumer products and grandiose aesthetics provide the essence of our needs and wants, truth be told that it has not helped us find peace with ourselves or alleviate our grief.
This is in no way to imply that we should feel ashamed of those small moments where we employ knick-knacks and artistic images to temporarily escape the stress and pressure in our lives; Frankly, the appeal is understood and, to a reasonable extent, the pleasure is beyond deserved to compensate for our constant hardships in today’s world.
But there comes a point where it is imperative to realize that we cannot always consume, consume, and consume our way out of misery produced by the same system that made consumerism seem like the only viable relief. A turning point ignites when people are conscious of how capitalism (and numerous systems of oppression) has induced a massive epidemic against our collective well-being.
We are being sold the short-term feeling of being socially or emotionally liberated, but never in correspondence to whether or not the “breaking free” from struggle is materially actualized into reality. Our needs and wants were never accounted for.
Pain is not a stylish concept used to move the plot forward to the scene where a stylish hero conquers all. The pain inflicted by oppressive systems and institutions is real — its long-term, concrete ramifications have already slipped the masses into an unjust and deprived position. We cannot forever rely on commodified fantasies for relief. Humanity does not have forever, and capitalism doesn’t wait for anyone.