Are You A Zombie? Consumerism and how it controls us.
The short answer to the question in the title is most probably yes. That surprised you, didn’t it? And now you’re wondering why, well I’ll tell you. You’re a consumerist zombie, but don’t despair, nearly everyone else is too. Don’t believe me? Go to a shopping centre on the fourth Friday of November, and you’ll see hoards of the enraged creatures grasping at the doors of Sports Direct eager to hoard more low quality stuff they don’t need, at even lower prices than usual. Then the following Monday the same zombies will be sat in their homes, surrounded by that stuff they don’t really need, engaged in a furious online battle for even more low priced goods.
I am of course referring to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two great festivals of our new consumerist religion. Which in fairness have been fairly harmless compared to those of other religions, only 98 people have been injured and only 9 have died, oh, and there’s probably been a few issues in the near slave like conditions required to produce goods at such a low price, but we mustn’t worry about that. It’s just how capitalism works. I’m sure trickle down economics will see them get their share of the profits…
So now that we’ve established that you are most likely a slave to consumerism, I’m sure you’re dying to know how you’ve become infected by what Chuck Palahniuk called “the Ikea nesting instinct”. Well, no one really knows, some people say it doesn’t exist (if that’s you, you might want to stop reading, things are about to get terribly left wing all of a sudden…). But, for those of us who recognise this phenomenon, I’m fairly sure it has something to do with how we’ve been socialised. From very early on in life we’re taught to want things by events of mass consumerism, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, the list goes on. This is the first step in the Zombification process. The next step is the mass media which bombards you with advertising telling you what you ‘need’ to buy. These adverts however, do more than just convince you to buy things, they tell you that these things will shape your identity, eventually you are left subconsciously attempting to construct you’re own identity, based almost entirely upon what you buy (shown quite well by the plague of hipsters). I find myself again quoting the film of Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ when the narrator finds himself wondering “What kind of dining set defines me as a person” for me at least, this sums up the post-modern condition of consumerism very well, we all go out and buy the things we’re told will make us part of a certain social group and shape our identity. However consumerism is no longer restricted to things we buy, now nearly every aspect of out lives has become a consumerist product, from your religion to your education, we are now free to pick and choose the things we want to define us as a person.
You’re probably now sitting there thinking ‘that all actually seems like quite a good idea’. Well, you would be right, but unfortunately you’re new found need to consume is used to control you. So here’s how it all ties into the Marxist meta-narrative of class conflict (so if you’re not a Marx fan, you should probably sod off before I make you want to claw your eyes out). First of all, we establish that the means of production are owned and controlled by the ruling class. ‘No they’re controlled by public demand’, shouts Friedman from his box in the corner of my brain, and he’s mostly right. Yes an anarchist is saying that Friedman is, in a way, correct. Except for one thing, the mass media, this is controlled by ruling class (who also own all the other means of production). This media is then used to make you demand certain products, creating a very clever illusion, in which it appears public demand dictates the market, however this demand is in fact the result of the socialisation by the mass media. So in reality the ruling class still controls the demand in the market. Sorry kids, you’re not free after all.
So how does this need to acquire stuff lead to you’re exploitation? Well it’s quite simple really, in order to fulfil this never ending need for stuff, you need to acquire currency. Generally speaking this is done through working a crappy job for even crappier pay. Now, this need for stuff means that you’re tied to your job as it’s the only way to feed your addiction. Making you scared of protesting about your disproportionately low wage, as you fear losing your only means of acquiring that nice Ikea dining set that really speaks for who you are as a person. Achieving these consumerist goals also acts to subdue you, it keeps you content for a while. Marx said the ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ that religion is now consumerism, you are left not caring about the huge global disparity of wealth required to make these goods. You become more focused on increasing the contents of your wallet than increasing global equality of distribution. This contentedness helps to perpetuate class inequality as it leaves you thinking ‘this isn’t so bad, these trainers really suit my personality’ when it could be so much better, but you no longer care about anything other than fulfilling your need for a new pair of Air-Max.
Consumerism is also used to encourage selfishness and the illusion of individuality. These illusions are used to prevent you from caring too much about other people and focusing solely on your own success, this is self obsession is the heart of capitalism, it prevents us from coming together to form our own collectives, which are independent of the current exploitative soci-economic reality and which would therefore threaten the bourgeoisie who benefit greatly from the current reality. This individuality benefits the ruling class as by forcing us to concentrate on competing amongst ourselves for the scraps they throw us, keeps us too busy to realise those scraps are coming from a whole cake being hoarded by the increasingly international bourgeoisie.
To summarise our little adventure into consumerism, here’s effectively how it screws us over. You’re socialised into wanting stuff, to get that stuff you have to do a job, this job benefits the ruling class more than it benefits you. And to rub salt into the wound, whilst you’re working hard to get money to get stuff, you don’t notice the exploitation of the worker by the ruling class. So i’ll leave you with this short passage from Fight Club “ You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world”. Now Tyler then goes on to say, we are all in fact part of the same compost heap, the message being, we are not that different from each other, realise this and the unity we can achieve could work to change the world.
“Workers of the world, unite.”