Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Consumption - graciela.

I guess I'll write too but I'd like to make a point for consumption. This is an opinion piece with bits of a conversation I have with an alternative universe version of myself.

Consumption as Individuality
One of the things that drives mass consumption and production, strangely enough, is our need to be individuals amongst the masses. It’s not enough that we physically are different but we need to show people that we are. Through some combination of marketing and our own issues about living in modernity, we’ve managed to extend our personalities, interests, and individuality to objects outside of ourselves. These things represent us and we use them to communicate things about ourselves to others around us. You can tell some things about people, like their tax bracket, musical interests, beliefs, etc. just by looking in their closet or around the house. For some of us, consumption makes us feel guilty and if you’ve become aware of the fact that you do “express” yourself with objects, it can be even more cumbersome. But what is the alternative?

A few months ago my dad went on some tirade about how we don’t need 70 different versions of the same shoe. But imagine if there were only 2 styles of shoes that came in 3 colors. We’d like to believe that we’d be okay with this because we don’t need to consume. As though somehow we’re on some kind of fringe where no one can touch us. But how could any of us be “different” from one another if we are limited by our consumption choices? G-d forbid any of us dress exactly like Britney Spears because that is the only choice in the market. Products help define us and it extends beyond fashion and bleeds into any and every aspect of buying power.

“Ok, well how could the laundry detergent I buy say anything about me?

Well, which kind do you buy?

“The Seventh Generation one. You know, the eco-friendly one.”

Eco-friendly. You take the time to buy a product for laundry that fits into your personal convictions and you don’t think that purchase says something about you?

“Hmmm. You make it sound like I can’t escape it.”

That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Why do you want to escape it? Because you think you’re different and you’re not comfortable being manipulated by ads and marketing?

“Well, yeah. Don’t you?”

Not really. It’s not about running away from consumption. It’s about being more aware. Aren’t there some businesses that you want to support?

“Of course. I like local businesses in my community and there are even some large companies that pay good wages, offer programs for their employees, and heck, even some want to help with causes I care about.”

Then be an educated consumer, do your homework, and make your money count for something more than a T-shirt or soap. After all, it’s your money. Just because they market to you doesn’t mean you can’t come to an educated decision about your purchase.

Consumption as Conscience
I’ve come to accept my role in the world and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I buy things and I buy things that I feel represent me in some way. I don’t think that makes me sad or delusional. It makes me more aware of the game and if I understand the rules, I have a better chance of winning. What makes consumption and marketing terrifying is that a lot of people choose to be oblivious to the ads being fed to them and the companies they buy from. It’s just easier to block out some of the truths about sweatshops and other ills because we can’t be bothered to do some research when we have full time jobs and a family to care for. The ad men exploit the fact that everyone fits into a market and that too many people are lazy or apathetic about their buying habits. So it’s up to the individual who wants to run away from that to make wiser choices and start different buying trends that are healthier. It’s why some companies shifted to sweatshop-free models and manufacture clothing in the US. Or even how all types of companies are trying to create eco products and operate in a sustainable way. They didn’t wake up one day and want to do it out of the kindness of their own hearts. Consumers drive consumption and we don’t have to fall into the pitfalls that make consumption evil. We can change things and there is a growing trend of “conscientious consumers” emerging in the market. People who care about where and how a product was made. The market will have to shift to meet those demands.

“So consumption in itself is not evil.”

Not at all and we can control it no matter what they’re trying to advertise.

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