I read a thing recently about how Airbnb (has the potential to) turn your living space, once the end goal and Elysium of consumerism, into a commodity. That article kind of buries the lede on a discussion of how, since you pay to advertise yourself to your peers on social media by letting oligarchs force poison into your eyes, consumerism just went and commodified your entire personality and the dynamic between you and your peers (unless you don’t use social media you rugged lone wolf you).
Meanwhile, Wealthy Europe and White America are panicking because the same oligarchs made it so you can’t afford all the products you want if you work a 9to5 skilled labour job and then gave that job you now don’t fancy to someone from a country that is used to having less products. And in another meanwhile, educated people are talking about whether the emerging social media trend of “blackfishing” (basically Japanese gyaru for white people) is damaging cultural appropriation or hurray-for-mainstreaming-non-white-voices (I suspect it might be neither, no matter how interesting the discussions around it are). Essentially, the arguement comes down to whether those kids are using social media like good consumers or subverting it like bad ones.
Here’s a thing. In the beforetimes, young people would buy guitars or get their teeth whitened and learn to sing harmonies, then get in vans to play in pubs and divebars or try to get men in suits with dubious morals to listen to their demo tape, all in the cause of not having to have a semi-skilled labour job to provide all those products they needed. Doing this was considered a little edgey, a lot risky, and one would probably prefer that one’s son or daughter just got a real job. And said son or daughter would say “shut it Mum and or Dad I’m gonna follow my dream!” and then they were the Beatles or end up working in retail since some dreams come true and some dreams fall through.
Guitars, hip-hop, affordable sequencing software and YouTube are all iterative steps forward in democratising music creation, and thus putting the guitar/van/demo/riches narrative into the hands of people who didn’t have a piano forte in the drawing room of their stately home. Those things are disruptive technology for the music world, if you like.
Where I’m (finally!) going with this is that the search for social media fame, that dark fire fuelling our collective rolleyes emoji when we see someone wearing a t-shirt from Primark that says “influencer” on it and our annoyance that there will never be an actual end to older relatives asking you why Joe Sugg is a celebrity after they watched Strictly, is a disrupting technology for consumerism. What’s weird is that it is also of consumerism too.
Now, if you simply commodify your personal brand of consumerism hard enough, people will pay you to commodify it even harder, and gift you the objects you aspire to consume so that others will in turn aspire to consume as beautifully as you do. Performing consumption is to 20XX as getting a guitar or dropping dope rhymes or learning pro-tools was to 19XX. Is that the ultimate democratisation? Is it, but one has to accept that it is the ultimate democratisation of consumerism within consumerism – not, as it has been in the past – from outside it? One can be tempted to say that a culture that places value in being aspirational to others is one that is, if nothing else, forging a feedback loop of aspiring. We might also suggest that we’ve rendered the self itself into a billboard for whatever product young people find desirable.
With all this in mind, when we get upset that young white women are dressing like Niki Minaj and tanning and making themselves up to the point where other people, of many different ethnicities, aren’t able to tell that they are in fact young white women, we are maybe upset that they, like many we are happy to canonise as culture nowadays did before them, are taking the risky means available to them to grab an economically and emotionally viable life from the deathtrap dungeon of modern capitalism, whilst we are collectively napping in our cubicles, working 16 hour days to get the risk-averse means to buy all those products?