Commodity self: you are what you buy… or something like that
I’m guilty of a bad habit: retail therapy. (Cue Kanye, “single black female addicted to retail).
I’m having a bad day (cue Sinatra “That’s Life”), so I go to the store and buy some stuff. It’s as if you’re saying, “Buying things that reflect me and who I am will make me feel better.” And that’s honestly what it does. For me, retail therapy has included a lot of boots, sweaters and watches. Luckily for me and my bank account, I don’t care about labels or top-class apparel. I do most of my shopping at second-hand stores, Ross, Target, etc.
Nonetheless, I am going into stores with the goal of finding things that I can wear to portray the “me” that I want to be and that I want the world to see. Big warm sweaters and cute boots almost epitomize who I am. I love the fall and the chilly weather. I like being comfortable. I like being outside. I used to be teased by my friends for wearing a sports watch every summer (and getting an impressive watch tan) because where I worked I couldn’t have my phone on me to check the time. And now I have a dozen watches in different colors and styles because it became a part of who I am.
Other than apparel, there are other materialistic things that I consider “mine”. The two biggest ones that come to mind are Apple products and my Jeep.
I have been an Apple girl my whole life — er, since my family got its first Macintosh when I was five. It must have been in middle school that I realized there was a divide: Macs. Vs. PCs. I’d get defensive and prideful about my computer brand. No viruses! Easy! Made for the costumer! Used for design! No right clicks! Horrah! I chuckled at my SMAD professors repeated side notes about the inferiority of PCs. When Steve Jobs died we (me and the rest of the Mac team, that is) felt it. Apple has built a devoted customer following with ingenious marketing (donating computers to elementary schools), advertising (nerdy PC guy vs. cool Mac guy), and continuously creating new devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad). There, my allegiance lies. iLove!
As for the Jeep, it was about February when I started looking for the type of car I would want. Maybe a sedan. Maybe a sport SUV. And then as if the clouds parted and the heavens sang, the Jeep came into my head. A Wrangler, of course. It was so me. It was cute, and the top could come off in the summer, and I could drive through the mud, and who’s not impressed by a girl who can drive stick? I entertained my mom with considerations of safer cars that got better gas mileage, but it was never a question.
The general feeling toward commodity self seems to be a negative one. One that harps, “How disgusting is our culture? Why must we identify ourselves with materialistic things!?” My opinion lays in opposition of the norm. How wonderful is it that we have such material things with which we can construct ourselves? How wonderful is this relatively new outlet we have to express ourselves through?
Is this naïve? Am I telling myself this because I don’t want to change? Because I like my shiny Jeep, my high-tech toys and my sweaters too much? Subconsciously, do I want to be ignorant of my faults and our faults as a population? Maybe. But bear with me, for argument’s sake.
It is not a new phenomenon: creating, finding oneself. We, as a race, have done it for some time, I imagine. In its infancy, however, it wasn’t material things that we identified with. It was ideas, thoughts, abstract things that we identified with.
“AHA!” you shout at me. “Where is our society headed if we see ‘me’ as material things rather than abstract things? What a shallow way of life we’ve created. We need to regress or we’re doomed.”
But when has regression ever been the answer? Or furthermore, when has regression ever been an option? The march of marketing, advertising and branding are inevitable. Even if you, as an individual, could somehow detach yourself from all material associations, you’d be one of a handful, while the rest of our society carries on.
I am in no way arguing that we should accept our damnation because it is inescapable. On the contrary, I’m challenging you to embrace our evolution.
Material things don’t replace abstract things. My love for my Jeep does not replace my love for nature, my love for learning, my love for the color orange. These are still things I very much identify myself with. Commodity self is not the only self. It is not a cancer that’s eating away at other selves. It is simply an addition — new colors to paint with on our individual, unique canvases.
That’s the way I see it, anyway.