There’s a scene in the film Fight Club where Brad Pitt sums up one of the horrors of modern civilisation; Consumerism. You can watch the whole scene here and as it’s only a minute long I urge you to do it. I mean it might stop you buying shit you don’t need with money you don’t have as summed up so eloquently in Pitt’s monologue.
Most people reading this website will already be open minded and sensible fellows who are aware of the problems with consumerism. If, however, you’re stumbling across this piece after a busy day buying crap from town then let me elaborate with this simple story.
I have a friend that bought a cheap knock off smart bracelet in order to help with their exercise routine. I instantly assumed that said bracelet would end up, first off their arm within a month, then in a drawer, and eventually in a charity shop. The wristband lasted approximately a week before disappearing into the ether. What a chuffing waste and, to add insult to injury, they’ve also gained weight.
To me, consumerism is a mental illness. People are so compelled to treat themselves to something ‘new’ and ‘special’ all the time that they end up practically bankrupting themselves (at least in some cases). I too suffer from a level of consumeritis (coining that if it’s not been taken already). Personally I try and temper my urge to buy by compromising on what it is; maybe it’s buying a cheaper lunch out rather than something more extravagant. But I’ll often feel that I’ve earned the right to treat myself and then have to remind myself that I still have games, books, DVDs and suchlike just laying around at home. In my moment of resistance I stand there in town surrounded by shoppers, shops, adverts and colour; all threatening to drag my monochrome existence into their glistening Technicolor grasp. Look how happy you’ll be! Be a better you! Make yourself amazing!
I often leave town feeling a little deflated because of my moment of defiance. I feel like I’m missing out and I feel that I should simply treat myself. But when I get home I look at my shelves full of books, my two games consoles, my TV, my PC, my garden, my dog, my mobile phone able to access the entire internet at the touch of a few buttons. I remind myself of the fact I am happily married, I have great friends and family. I have a car, clean running water, the freedom of speech, a passport that allows me to travel most of the world. I feel genuinely cleansed when I think about all that I already have. And then I actually invest my time in one project, or a blog, or daydreaming and I find the fulfilment that consumerism can never satiate.
People should buy things because they need it. If it genuinely improves your life then you should buy it. Not giving into consumerism is not giving up on fun or not treating yourself. Instead it’s about finding the wealth and value in the things you already have and then deciding if you need something new.
I’m a massive gamer and I have recently resisted picking up a brand new console as well as the latest games. For example Fallout 4 was released in November last year and I avoided buying it despite utterly adoring the digital worlds that Bethesda have created. And here I am in February finding the same game for a third less than its release price. You’ve probably had a similar scenario if you’ve seen that same dress on sale or that same book cheaper online just a few months after release. Thankfully the internet is helping people become savvier consumers. People do shop around to get a good bargain and do not simply buy things at full price anymore, often waiting for an inevitable sale. Hurrah! Some progress.
Or not. As Black Friday, Boxing Day sales and just sales in general show, people just buy more cheaper things. The consumer itch is still scratched and the level of unfulfillment is multiplied. People find themselves surrounded by even more products they never really needed. Maybe that new phone might improve my life? Or a new wardrobe will make me feel better about myself? Dissatisfaction grows and grows and you end up on Channel 4 as some caricature to be mocked.
And then you get the people who can’t afford the latest gadgets and tech. They spank their money over at Bright House and pick up their X-Box or TV. They sit at home paying twice the price for something that they could have waited a year for to save up and buy at a cheaper price. Instead they are the envy of their friends! Everyone wants to see your new TV! Until new tech is announced and no one gives a shit about you anymore. Oh except to hear that you can’t come out as your paying 70% interest on some shit TV nobody wants anymore. Great job.
The internet may surround us with bargains, perfect lives and wonderment but it’s okay to not keep up with the illusion. More importantly there are usually cheaper ways of enjoying the digital things you love. I know many people who save money by downloading or streaming things illegally but I am totally against this because, as overpriced as some things are, I think there are still cheap ways to get all you want without essentially stealing. Spotify, Youtube, Netflix cost me nothing to use except my ISP’s monthly fee. My friend lets me use their Netflix login free of charge, I get the occasional advert on Spotify and Youtube and that’s it. Pretty much all of my music and TV needs with no additional costs.
Consumers are becoming savvier and there are certainly more options to get what you want for free but ultimately the addiction will continue. For many I guess it’s down to a lack of fulfilment. Living in a rented house, with a crappy job and surrounded by a world of possibilities we all desire to fulfil our potential. We see friends go on travels around the world, others going back to study or enjoying a fulfilling career. We are failing, they are winning. The only thing you think you’ve got is money to spend on something to cheer you up. A pittance to be spent like pocket money from a parent. You’re a child. Go buy a toy and add it to you toybox.
Or, grow up. Grow up and realise your potential is not dictated by the things you have, but on how you use your skills. Spend your money on genuinely improving your life and then, when you are in an enviable position, help others escape their bondage to capitalism. Maybe you could write a blog or something? That might help a few people realise their real dreams cannot be bought.
(Originally posted on Art Saves Lives International. I urge you to check out their work)