Consumption and citizenship
Raiding trainer stores, stealing mobile phones, smashing into money stores and pawn shops. As many of the ‘string them up’ lobby has been pointing out online, these people are not stealing to survive. But this is not an audacious raid on Gucci. They have not been forming up in Knightsbridge to try and gain the baubles of the very elite. Nor are they stealing bread to feed their families. What is being stolen are the very middle-class comfortable, quietly aspirational things that we are told now to accept as norms. All the images of life we are bombarded with are of lower middle class to middle class comfort. It is what we should all expect- we are all stakeholders and we are all middle class now, or so we are told. But of course that isn’t the case, and these middle class paradigms of consumption that we are all meant to hold ourselves up to are unfair when actually, we don’t see the Shadow Britain for whom these aspirations aren’t only just out of reach, but a long way.
As marketers, we trade in dissatisfaction- we show people how things can help you self actualise. We actively encourage what Eric Fromm refers to as a ‘having’ mode of existence, rather than a ‘being’ mode. More and more sophisticated marketing encourages individuals to buy, under the assumption that the normative values that, if you want this, you will then have to save, or borrow or work more in order to have. We are in that respect, a pumping circulatory organ of capitalism.
The nature of what these looters have stolen the banal ‘dream small’ nature of stealing phones or non-generic branded tracksuits shows the sucess of our industry. It shows us that advertising has touched these people when society hasn’t. They have the normative values of consumption, without the normative values of what we term civil society. The Pax Accumsan relies on having both these sets of norms- I want those trainers and I will get them through socially and judicially legitimate means. If we all had simply the want impulse, we would be as beasts. Which is the sad thing because ultimately, however much self actualisation we sell, underneath it all is an appeal to the worse side of all our human nature, the selfishness rather than the compassion. But that makes the world go round.
The problem is, that without the societal norms as well as the capitalist/accumulative norms we essentially have South Park’s underpants gnomes, but with bricks and crowbars, and if society can’t reach them, then maybe as responsible marketers we need to be teaching both. A friend of mine commented that ‘The London rioters are teenagers rebelling against the only parent they’ve ever really had: the State.’ Actually I would argue that they are listening to the only guardian or parent they have had, consumption. And unless they engage with society as well as shopping, they only have step one and step three…