Words by Helena (she/her), 20 QLD
We are all currently living under a consumerist society in its final and most malignant form. The inexorable effects of this immersion are often not apparent without an intentional unveiling, as consumer culture is designed to colonise and manipulate the psyche.
Each cultural epoch is heavily defined by its mode of production. As such, our society and culture are mangled by the rapacious hands of the late capitalist logic from which they arise.
Late capitalism is characterised by a shift away from production towards consumption. This manifests in an overconsumption of media and advertising, fostering an image-based society and a culture of product consumption.
We are all constantly subjected to a proliferation of mass media, image, and simulation. This society of the spectacle is one of loss – loss of objective reality, of the distinction between real and unreal, of the difference between being and appearance.
As we are compelled to meet this pressure of a culture dominated by simulations, we must constantly feign to have what we don’t and be what we aren’t. Many of us pour endless energy into constructing an image of the self, even subconsciously, that we choose to project to others in response to the images we are constantly receiving. It is a self-perpetuating cycle, in which the consumption of image creates demand to produce image.
This primacy of consumerism and rise of image culture creates a society that favours the aestheticization of life above all else – the aesthetic life is equated with the ethically good life.
In striving for this aestheticization, we ultimately become malleable and without core, constantly manipulating signs of identity to create entirely new ones. Our desire to present an aesthetic image becomes obsessive, driving us to an excessive and serial form of consumption. We are unable to identify and present a true sense of self when on this treadmill of competitive consumption, our self-hoods constructed almost entirely through access to goods and services.
The things we want are mostly determined by the kind of person we think we are or wish to be, with which a consumption style is attached. The groups we compare ourselves to or identify with are key to this process, whose consumption behaviours we seek to emulate at great cost to our individual selfhood.
Additionally, consumers feel better about themselves when they purchase products or services that they subconsciously link to aspects of their self-identity about which they feel insecure. Feeling ‘uncool’ in comparison to peers may drive a desire to buy new clothes, feeling unintelligent or undereducated may drive the desire to buy and be seen with an intellectual magazine or classic novel.
Our bodies, our style, the books we read, the music we listen to, are all attended to in an instrumental manner to form a conception of the self that will be respected or revered by our peers. Many of us are then driven to craft a highly intentional online presence that reflects and projects this image to others – through Instagram, Pinterest, Spotify, Goodreads, Letterboxd… the list grows with each new social platform designed to showcase our consumption.
Our existence becomes a performance from which we have no reprieve, relentlessly crafting and projecting an image reacting to – whether adhering to or intentionally rejecting – those we are constantly seeing.
As a result, we as human subjects are under threat of disappearance, with the notion of a unique individual that is self-willed, self-made, and autonomous losing its possibility. People become more an idea or an abstraction, something illusory rather than a subject.
Our culture’s ocularcentrism and image saturation both enables and is a consequence of this consumerist society born of late capitalism. With no natural end point to this cycle in sight, recognition of these processes is vital if we wish to retain our subjectivity humanity.