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Thursday, 03 April 2014 09:32

The Fight Against Being Commodified Must Never Stop: We Are Not Brands, We Are Humans With Souls

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akleinNaomi Klein, author of "No Logo" (Photo: Truthout)For those of us who are mystified at the current penchant for self-destruction of the human species in an orgy of corporate and personal greed - aided and abetted by the ruling elite in DC who are part of the oligarchy - it is worth remembering that much of who we are as a species in the developed world is tied to brand names that reflect "aspirational identity."

Naomi Klein brilliantly described this modern global phenomenon in her book "No Logo." We are lured by brands that stimulate over-consumption through advertising and public relations campaigns that make us believe buying a brand will bestow upon us attributes that we desire.

At the time Klein wrote her book, about 15 years ago, the most brilliant company strategy in this area was Nike: "Just do it!" To wear the Nike swoosh - and buy its wildly over-priced products made using exploited labor overseas - was (and is) to assume a certain identity we desire, even if we are unathletic and indecisive.  The purchase and wearing (or use) of the product makes us feel as if we are what we want to be, not what we are.

This, of course, encourages increased consumption as we try to fill out our personalities with the acquisition of brands that can never provide us with anything more than superficial satisfaction.  In the process, we are not finding our souls; we are losing them.

I am reminded of the Jackson Browne song, "The Pretender," and particularly this lyric:

I'm going to be a happy idiot 
And struggle for the legal tender 
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim 
To the heart and the soul of the spender 
And believe in whatever may lie 
In those things that money can buy.

Of course, there is a lot of gray in all our lives between Browne's sweeping indictment of a consumer culture where our identities are intricately tied to what we buy and the true ideals that many of us try to maintain.

Yet, the overall trend of US culture - and its influence on the rest of the world - has been the corporatization of our lives.  You can look back much further than Nike.  In a way, Coca-Cola set the standard for creating the desire to buy a product by associating it with postivie feelings.  Coca-Cola has a museum in Atlanta that chronicles its marketing over the years. The "effervescent" beverage has refreshed us, made us cool, made us more peaceful as a world over the holidays, made us have more friends, etc.  Anyone who travels knows that you can go down a dirt road in a third world county and the only thing that you might come across is a dilapidated vending stand with a big Coca-Cola sign.  

No one can reasonably argue that Coca-Cola tastes so good that it should be as omnipresent globally as it is. However, the reason it is ubiquitous is because it has sold people on the idea - through ad campaigns - that drinking the beverage will provide one with certain pleasures and postively associated characteristics.

I just finished a brilliant book by Dave Zirin, "Brazil's Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy."  Zirin scathingly dissects how the upcoming Olympics and World Cup in Brazil are being used as a global corporate speahead to brand both events with corporate "sponsorship" for the purposes of marketing. Futhermore, the Olympics and World Cup are an excuse to clear out favelas (Rio's poorer neighborhoods) and let big construction and real estate firms make a fortune.  There is much more that Zirin reveals, but basically he concludes that events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are a neoliberal wet dream for privatization (and at taxpayer expense, since such events need massive government subsidies) and branding opportunities.  

Reclaiming the soul from this corporate onslaught is a struggle, but it is a cleansing worth pursuing.

To resign oneself to being a commodified marketing target - sacrificing the attributes that make us humans - is to, as Jackson Browne incisively wrote:

...struggle for the legal tender 
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim 
To the heart and the soul of the spender

It's our choice not to be branded by the seductive hollow advertising that appeals to our emotions, not to our souls.

We can succumb - or we can resist.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.