I was in the post office the other day, when a man came up and asked me in a quiet voice, "Excuse me, do you go to Sunset Cove Beach?" In response to my quizzical half-glare, the man explained he had seen an advertisement for Sunset Cove Private Beach on the back of the shirt I was wearing. I didn't have the heart to tell him the shirt was mass-produced for Abercrombie and Fitch stores, and that thousands of people who have never even heard of Sunset Cove Private Beach own the shirt. I didn't have the heart to tell him I myself had not bothered to read what was printed on the back and simply bought it because, well, I wanted a green shirt.
This incident made me reflect on other times I fell into purchasing mass-produced items, like those "parachute rip-cord bungee jump standard issue pants," or whatever it is they're called now. I didn't buy those pants solely because of their long, adventurous name – but I must admit my inclination to think the pants were "cool" was slightly motivated by the description of them. It is capitalistic mass hypnosis at its finest. This tendency to sell a sense of lifestyle along with merchandise is found everywhere. Indeed, the promise of a better life in something as innocent as a can of soda lies at the heart of advertising.
Flipping through a Pottery Barn catalog or walking into a Crate & Barrel store, one finds a myriad of simply charming furniture and home accessories, all with the air of serene country-modern themes.
The plush sofas seem to beckon for someone to curl up on them some Sunday afternoon with a favorite old novel, and the simple armoires and coffee tables look aged from their many generations of use. This is notwithstanding the fact that these items cost well into the thousands – and they're not even real antiques. The furniture, though weathered and aged to look antique, is churned out from a factory and shipped via Federal Express; they have no history because they were just recently put together off an assembly line, the paint scraped here and there to give the appearance of previous use. I don't mean to say we should all be rummaging through flea markets to find that special coffee table. But there is such an obsession with believing our living rooms should look a certain way (or what kind of coffee should be in one hand and what brand of cell phone in the other) that we have become nothing more than buyers of a mass consumerism society. Individual taste? Discouraged.
Time plays a role in this – in that nobody has any. There just isn't the leisure to develop personal tastes – and even less time to think about life – because we're always hurrying to get to and from our jobs in our SUVs. And when we buy an SUV, don't we have visions of taking the vehicles to a remote snowy cliff and snowboard down treacherous precipices with the Lenny Kravitz song "Fly Away" blasting in the background? It is the lifestyle we think we are supposed to be living. And it can now be conveniently purchased, if you have the money. What's so great about pretending to live a lifestyle supposedly admired by others, the presumably sexy and wild life that we should at least aspire to fake and imitate? Who says there is a particular life you have to live?
Occasionally, people seem to realize this and temporarily snap out of the materialistic hypnotism; such has been the case since Sept. 11. Our daily routines have been disrupted and we have reevaluated our priorities. As a result, people are reportedly reflecting more on their real lives, instead of getting mindlessly caught up in work or a complete frenzy of money spending (for the sake of helping out the economy, of course). News stations say that Americans are making a different set of New Year's resolutions this year. Fewer have resolved to "lose weight" or "stay in shape." Instead, more people are concerned with spending time with their families and appreciating what they have, vowing to "just be happy." I'm sure all this is easier said than done. These resolutions, albeit of better substance, will probably be forgotten, like those of New Years past.
Oh, well. I think I'll go get myself a grande soy latte, wearing a shirt that claims I'm a longboard semi-finalist.