Is Everything a Consumable?
How our consumptive behaviors are masked as culture and why it should disturb you at least a little…
Five Nights At Freddy’s, Stranger Things, and Hillary Clinton — what do they have in common? Beyond their rabid fandoms (yes, Hillary has a fandom), we view all of them as consumables. In a world that pushes consumption-as-identity as hard as ours does, everything has to be one. This situation is the default to us — the only one we really see. But it takes a lot of work on the part of marketers to make this reality so.
One of my “absolutely nots” — my most intense “nopes,” to emphasize — is marketing that works to encourage consumption-as-identity, often minimizing friction for further marketing and cultivation. Out of the three entities I’ve mentioned, do you know which one pushes itself as a consumable most? Do you know which one attempts to tie itself to your identity hardest? Do you know which one views people the least like human individuals and most like resources? It’s the politician.
Think I’m exaggerating? Think I’m paranoid? Think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill?
To understand why we’re looking at everything as a consumable, we’re going to need to dip our toes in the oil puddle of classical/economic liberalism that governs most of how we do things in modern capitalism. “Neoliberalism” is the philosophy of applying The Free Market™️ to as many situations as possible, meaning both economically and socially, and I’d assert that it’s why we’re viewing everything in this ridiculous, toxic way.
The philosophy is rooted in 1800s economic liberalism, which emphasizes “economic freedom.” At its inception, Capitalism was looked at as liberation from the feudal system — as was continued by economic liberalism and neoliberalism, capitalism’s next steps in becoming a social system that acts like an economic one. Neoliberalism refers not to being left-leaning, though, but rather an evolution of “classical liberalism,” or freedom and equality “through economic means.” Purporters of the ideology furthered this and now we have things like “The Marketplace of Ideas” and “Marketplace Feminism.”
In short, neoliberalism is free market ideology applied liberally.
If you pay attention to me, you likely often see me criticize capitalism, the free market, or neoliberalism. When I do so, I’m more likely talking in social terms than I am economic. To criticize capitalism as an economic system is low-hanging fruit. It’s garbage. It’s also succeeded in becoming our social system, though no one seems to notice. When I get huffy about neoliberalism, I’m usually focusing on the application of the free market to concepts like “equality.”
“Of course all the gay people deserve those equal rights — the all-encompassing-but-totally-abstract thought market we essentially worship has proven that the gays are a significant, economically-and-socially-viable demographic!” It’s gay folks social “market viability” that caused them to be “given” the right to marry in 2015 — and not at a significantly earlier time. “The Marketplace of Ideas” at work.
If you can apply the free market to something as abstract as thought, of course you can apply it to art and individuals. If something that can’t be tangibly defined and likely means something slightly different regarding every single individual’s brain can be treated as a resource to be bought and sold (via social currency), then of course tangible, finished works of art are consumables. Of course individuals are consumables. Of course art is simply a collectible. Of course people are things.
If everything can generate wealth, then everything is a business. If wealth can be measured socially (social capital, social currency) as well as economically (meaning “if social wealth is a thing,” and it most certainly is), then we don’t have to look at physical “products” as our way of generating wealth, nor do we have to provide a service. Something merely has to exist and do whatever it normally does to be consumed in this situation.
The line between our “social business” and our “economic business” blurs significantly and we start talking about things like “our personal brand.” We start looking at how to “sell ourselves.” We start looking at friends as consumers as well as something to be consumed. The same goes for writing, music, film, TV, comic books, speakers, words, politicians, flags, and insert any noun here.
To bring up the Democrats’ and their previously-mentioned view of Hispanic people as a commodity, what they are cultivating is identity. What amounts to a goal of “we must acquire Hispanics” requires “Democrat” to be part of Hispanic peoples’ identities. To accomplish this, the Democrats push their words and positions as things to be consumed (and, frankly, hyperconsumed). As a consequence, this defines words and positions as consumables elsewhere. Consumption-as-identity often satisfies a very real need to belong somewhere.
Since we live in an environment where consumption-as-identity is so quickly adopted, this cultivation works to normalize consumptive behaviors with things that shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a consumer/product metric.
This is another reason I take issue Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Her” messaging: it doesn’t really just mean “I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.” It means “I consume Hillary. I look at Hillary as a brand, and I am brand loyal.” I find that really gross to do with a person.
On the other side of the political spectrum, people like Donald Trump do not find it gross to do with a person — he’s done it to himself. Trump is the literal definition of turning a person into a consumable. I criticize Hillary Clinton more because she is the less obvious example, but Donald Trump is easily the more egregious.
To put it plainly: Donald Trump is easily worse about viewing ideas and individuals as consumables.
What bothers me so much is every entity looking to profit (socially or monetarily) are happy to do it, too. It works, and that’s all that matters. The Marketplace of Ideas Has Spoken! Sincerely, I think that we look at everything as a “marketplace of ideas” is most of why we excuse total lack of principle.
Viewing everything as consumption, everyone as consumers and consumables, and everything said or made as consumables is deemed necessary. “My competitor/opponent does it, so if I don’t, I will lose.” Obviously, a video game with an overbearing fandom or an incredibly good show (at least in my opinion) like Stranger Things are consumables on some level — if not quite the one we place them on.
But the problem is, we automatically lose if we don’t view people as people.