I have trouble going to the mall — or really partaking in any shopping related activity — without thinking about Brave New World, Fight Club or both. Since reading/viewing these works, I’ve been acutely aware of our consumerist culture and what a bad thing it is for our humanity and our individuality. This, in itself, isn’t so awful. But, I’ll be brutally honest with you, I’m very materialistic. Which creates quite the internal conflict when paired with my immensely introspective nature and my awareness that my materialism completely goes against all my morals and beliefs.
When I say I’m materialistic, I don’t mean in a I-like-a-good-pair-of-shoes kind of way — that is completely acceptable and normal behaviour. I mean I’m materialistic and consumeristic the way consumerism is portrayed in Fight Club. You know how the narrator reflects that he would wonder about which Ikea dining set defined him as a person? Well, yesterday I was at the Apple store, on the verge of a panic attack. Why, you ask, was I on the verge of a panic attack? Because I needed to buy a protective skin or case or something for my new MacBook and I couldn’t decide which colour best defined me as a person. Not which case — I had already decided to get the same one everyone else has — but which colour. Because that’s the kind of thing that concerns me. What colour best defines me as a human being. What colour best conveys my personality, my strengths and my vulnerabilities.
Of course, then we could have a whole other conversation about how Apple plays into the whole advertising-consumerism-identity debate. Whenever we have one such discussion in class, iPhones and iPads and Macs (oh my!) always find their way into the conversation. One of my favourite points to rehash is that Apple’s ads and products (sometimes subtly, other times overtly) claim to sell you individuality. Buy an iPhone, there’s an App for whatever you need, so you can customize your phone and make it unique to you. But then, half the reason people are switching to iPhone now is because everyone else has one. Buy our product, so that you can be an individual — just like everybody else!
I may be making some valid points, but while I was making them I paused to check my iPhone. And, if that weren’t enough, I’m typing up these points on my shiny new MacBook. The real irony of it is how I came to my decision to switch to a Mac. Earlier this year, I had to give a presentation for my English class about how Brave New World is relevant to today’s society, including quotations from the book and examples from modern-day society. I chose to focus on consumerism, identity, individuality and conformity (which I put together into a brilliant thesis that outlined how interconnected they all are).
For my current examples, I obviously picked out an Apple ad — I wanted to find just the right one from their “I’m a Mac — I’m a PC” campaign. So I spent an evening watching them all on YouTube. While I did this, I was taking notes and making connections to the novel and figuring out what to say to my class about basing one’s identity on material possessions. In the end, I went with an iPhone commercial, because it fit my purposes better and related more clearly to my argument. And those ads, that I though so deeply about and “completely saw through” were what pushed me over the edge and made me realize that I really needed to make the switch to a Mac. Of course, when I finally got one, I had a panic attack because I didn’t know how to use it and I wanted to get it all personalized (and individualized) but that was just too overwhelming. I was also concerned that it was stealing my individuality one click at a time.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that a laptop isn’t anything on its own. It’s a vessel, it’s a vehicle. It’s what you do with your laptop that counts, that makes you an individual. I use my laptop to blog. I use my laptop to write. I use my laptop to watch movies like You’ve Got Mail, Emma (the one with Gwyneth Paltrow) and Romeo and Juliet. And maybe that’s what makes me an individual, not the fact that I’m doing these things on a MacBook Pro and not that my fancy new Mac is covered in a hot pink case.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself… To reconcile with the fact that maybe I shouldn’t have gone with hot pink — because really, that’s just not the type of person I want to portray myself as.
Do you define yourself based on arbitrary material things? What colour would you say defines you as a person (this is different than just your favourite colour. Obviously. There’s, like, an exact science to it — I’ll let you know when I figure out what that exact science is.) Are you a Mac or a PC? Do you think that reflects or affects your personality? Maybe that’s just me. It could be that I’m just crazy… And a little to susceptible to manipulative advertising campaigns (despite my ability to notice how manipulative they’re being).