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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beyond What?

I want to believe I am beyond the nefarious manipulation of advertising executives and sell out psychologists paying off second vacation homes by running research studies on what shiny object will open my wallet, what direction I will turn in a store in response to a blue 50% off sign, or how my heart rate changes when I see the word SALE! in all caps followed by a crisp, clear explanation mark in Helvetica font.

I really do. Want to believe. But I am not. Impervious.  Neither are you.  The “Pacific Winter Blue” of your striped scarf, the “Midnight Summer’s Black” of your sweatshirt, or the “Rose-hip Red” of your leg warmers—they all have been scrutinized, categorized, manipulated, planned and selectively, carefully named in order to be sold to you. And me.  Well, not the red leg warmers for me, but you get what I’m saying.

I want to believe.  Need to believe I am not so easily emotionally manipulated by a movie soundtrack.  But when I sneak a peek at the inner tick-tock of my heart, pulse, and other miscellaneous bibs, beeps clunks and clicks going on inside me I have to admit my pulse does change.  It changes with the tick-tick-tick drumbeat and my breath becomes more shallow as a haunting base thunders quietly in the background while a young blonde actor who I have absolutely no affinity for opens a basement door and even though you know that means he’ll die first, your pulse seems to be desperately whispering ‘watch out!” Don’t open the door!” “Don’t do it!”  

When I get angry at a vapid love scene and am not careful, the underbelly of my anger appears pink and vulnerable.  I want to be loved.  And I’m grateful that I am loved and fucking angry that the shallow sanctimonious heteronormative sanitary exchange of saliva between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet even touches that part of me.  It feels invasive, icky, sticky like the old man on the bus who sticks his tongue out at you as he slips his hand down his pants with a sloppy smile.

Because they do reach out and touch you without your consent.  Sure, I rented the movie but I can’t compete with a 50 million dollar research budget focused on what 25 to 45 year-old white women like me will buy.   That’s a lot of funding to figure out what will make women like me, women who own chickens, write anti-fascist poetry, hate gin, love whisky, feel a little socially awkward a lot of the time but have lots of good friends, grow misty-eyed and feel inadequate.  Not so inadequate that women like me turn the movie off—just inadequate enough to subconsciously register the H&M product placement and have a subsequent urge the following week to buy large pieces of clunky costume jewelry and new skinny jeans.

We cling to the crazy notion that we are a nation of free thinkers, radical, no bullshit taking, independent-minded personas non-grata.  But my friend, we are not.  Most of our moves are choreographed by a million manipulated moments.  There are a number of possibilities and a wide range of choices of course, but really where is the free thought in whether you drink Pepsi or Coke, shop at Whole Foods or Red Apple, buy Neumann’s Oatmeal or Kellogg’s Oaties?

That fact that we cling to the belief that consumer choice is a radical way to enact social change is a little sad. I mean, well, it was radical for a moment in like the 60’s and 70’s.  Now it’s probably a branding campaign by Nike or part of a Go Green by Nature’s Choice Organics who, by the time I read this, may in fact be owned by Nike—making a circumlocutory but very calculated link between cereal choice and footwear.

How do we resist?  Get off the well-worn footpath?  How the hell do we not throw our hands in the air and say fuck it let’s just watch television.  What’s a “conscious” consumer to do? It’s not like we can stop consuming unless we want to be like the hippy girl in Portland who got interviewed by NPR. She was interviewed because in addition to eating only what she could grow in her garden, she found a sheep farm in the requisite 30 mile radius of what she defined as “local” and talked them into giving her the wool from the the sheep they slaughtered.  She used this wool to sew her own clothes and stuff her homemade pillow cushions for her handcrafted bed.  Or maybe it was a hemp-woven hammock—I don’t know, I don’t remember all details of that one particular story.  Anyway…

Personally, I don’t want to weave my own clothes and even though I have a garden, I can’t for the life of me find the inner peace in it.  It’s just a pain in the ass.  Don’t get me wrong, I love eating my own beans and strawberries and tomatoes, but I never have that bounty that people talk about and weeding is never restorative.  My hands hurt, and I just think, “well that’s the fuck over,” when I’m done.  I want to like it and if I think deeply about it, I have to admit I’ve been manipulated to want to like it.  Granted, I totally support gardening and value any disruption of food monopolization by giant, greedy corporations.  But I did not come up with these values willy-nilly.  I have aligned myself, turned left instead of right at the blue 50% off sign and I have no doubt my every choice is being observed, studied, and documented in some research study somewhere.  How else can you explain the abundance of $30 hemp tote bags?

Knowledge is power.  But knowledge alone is not enough.  I’m beginning to think that humility can be even more powerful of a weapon.  When I admit I can be manipulated (not that easy for a someone with long and deep punk rock roots and “fuck you authority” pulsing in my veins), I can widen my peripheral vision to see where their million dollar research funding touches me.  My vision expands outward and inward allowing me to register the subtle echo of manufactured desires which feel so much like my own, but are not.  I can tune in to the shiver, the slight caress of a sophisticated marketing strategy moving up my spine.  The caress triggering a (highly anticipated and profit making) knee jerk f”uck you corporate America, fuck you!”  A knee jerk is easily telegraphed and predicted—think urban counter culture branding campaigns like Woodstock 99, Camel Street teams, or American Apparel “Real People Ads.”

Part of me thinks it’s grown up to strive for a home repair or gardening metaphor, but you know how I feel about gardening, (and perhaps subconsciously you’ll feel my conflicted state about this thing called growing up) so, a combat metaphor it is.  

How do you fight an invisible, highly adaptable, and cut throat multi-million dollar monstrosity with no sense of compassion and for all the products it’s myriad heads spews forth, very little fashion sense if you ask me straight up? Well, you have to train. Not purify or detoxify--both very fine things but too much detox or purity and our body forgets how to digest poison and this, to be sure, is a poison our bodies need to be able to handle.

Our bodies need to recognize the particular fever-flu the blue 50% off sign subtly ignites in us and have the power to use that fire as an oppositional gale force.  We need to learn to feel the longing, the desire, the lust, greed, wanting, wishing and funnel it into bad ass social networking campaigns designed to think beyond a “branded lifestyle.”  We can train ourselves to absorb the left hook of physiological manipulation while keeping our eyes open so we can see the unguarded corporate chin or industrial solar plexus and make a sharp unpredicted uppercut and rapid “bam-bam-bam” jab to the soft spots just inside campaign goals and marketing strategies. Think beyond the elliptical freedom of consumer choice and reach for radical participation in making the people in your world feel, think and be better to each other.  

Where is freedom in walking home from a local farmers market if I can’t look the homeless mother in the eye? Or, if I can meet her gaze, she registers a satiated consumer’s pity rather than a reverent regard and bad ass action plan for her and her family’s well being?  Where is freedom located in the ever expanding outlet malls?  Malls, hidden neatly between highways, a stone’s throw from the multitude of ever expanding prisons, also neatly tucked away to render invisible the people erased by the branding campaign of criminality? Choice is powerful when it’s authentic not a corporate branding bi-product. It matters not whether I buy Green Goddess or Sunset Granola when people languish in clandestine obscurity.  There is no liberating force in which organic snack crackers I buy when only a handful of us can afford soy dogs and locally made garlic nan.  It’s not liberation if only a select few get to join in. It’s a VIP party gussied up to resemble a fake revolution.  I know the Hors d'Oeuvre are looking scrumptious, but the price of the ticket isn’t worth the hand whipped truffle sauce or local cherry compote because it will start off smooth, but finish with a sour burn you will have to teach yourself to ignore over and over and over.   Wouldn’t you rather put your fist in the air, grab a crab cake off the polished brass serving tray and take the house down with a good old fashion party crashing?  Some drunk girl will spill her mango martini and cry.  Her date will get angry because he is scared and feels helpless so he will turn beet red and huff about how this is reprehensible.  Older dudes will cut out, join in,  or make mental notes in case someone wants to sue somebody in the morning.  The wait staff will hope you have figured out how to make sure they don’t lose their jobs and the catering company will try to make sure you don’t break their shit.  Come on, it will be fun.  Way better than standing in front of the snack aisle wondering which kind of organic cracker to buy.