Tag Archives: consumerism

Comme ci, comme ca

 I don’t know whether it’s technically possible to be “naïve” at my age. I think the dictionary definition goes along the lines of ‘young and foolish’.

So I guess I’ll have to settle for another word, like “stupid”.

What’s raising the question of my stupidity right now is the issue of materialism.

Something which I keep thinking is losing its drug-like grip on advanced western societies – and then I get evidence which seems to go exactly the other way.

And materialism is interesting right now …. because you (yes, YOU) have just spent far too much money at Xmas and the evidence is in the credit card statement on the kitchen table that you can’t quite face opening yet.

But the health of mindless, rampant consumerism is supposed to make us more successful as a country. We’re supposed to keep buying tons of tops at Top Shop, as well as the occasional blazer from House of Fraser (not to mention a bunch of jerkins from Dorothy Perkins). Even though I’m not exactly sure how that helps Britain when all the cash gets put into a large suitcase and flown by private jet to Monte Carlo.

I’m not an economist, so I don’t understand these things.

However, it’s also of huge interest to the ad industry. Because if nobody’s really that interested in the latest bit of bling, that somewhat f*cks up the sales pitch.

And advertising has been referred to in the past as “the hand-maiden of capitalism”.

Although it’s worth bearing in mind that “hand-maiden” is really one of those Biblical euphemisms for “prostitute”.

So I was interested to read about the launch of a new book that’s just been smashing publishing records in France, called Indignez-Vous, and which is about the evils of capitalism.

But was it just one of those perverse French blips that bore no relation to the rest of the world (like smoking lessons at school or liking Johnny Hallyday) ? I decided to ask a young person.  I was having lunch with my eldest daughter the other day in the renovated bling of the Savoy grill, and I asked her if materialism was on its way out.

Maybe she was swayed by the lobster bisque, but she said “No, Dad, if anything the opposite”.

Now my first-born is at Edinburgh university, surviving on a very stingy allowance – and I’d have thought the combination of student-hood, Hibernian pragmatism and my own tightarsedness, would help her see the foolishness of Mammon with a matching belt and money-clip.

And my instinct that consumerism might be fading came because a thought struck me the other day that the sort of people who most buy into it – Russians living in Knightsbridge, anybody who lives in Dubai, Cityboys – are the least cool people on the planet.

And normally, cool drives trends.

Also, once you realise that Jimmy Savile invented bling, it loses some of its sparkle.

But of course it’s worth remembering that there are always two sides to every story.

For instance I hate advertising – but I also love it. A realisation which worried me, until I recognised that anybody who just loved advertising was probably talking to complete strangers and feeding the ducks with a pair of knickers on their head.

And I found reinforcement for this ambivalence about advertising while reading Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles One.

At one stage, he slips in exactly the sort of put-down for advertising I’d expect him to use.

As a young folk singer in New York, he shows an interest in reading Sigmund Freud, until a friend tells him – “The top guys in that field work for ad agencies. They deal in air”. Dylan continues – “I put the book back and never picked it up again”.

But a few pages later, he’s reminiscing about the hold radio had over him when he was a nipper – including the commercials. “Before I had even gone into any department store, I was already an imaginary consumer. I used Lava Soap, I shaved with Gillette Blue Blades, was on Boliva Time, putting Vitalis in my hair, used laxatives and pills for acid indigestion – Freenamint and Dr Lyon’s tooth powder”.

So advertising had the power to enchant even someone as cool as the young Dylan.

Until, of course, he knew better.

And I can’t help thinking that a teenager who felt the need for laxatives and pills for acid indigestion might be accused of being a bit naïve themselves.

Read more on Comme ci, comme ca…

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