I’ve subscribed to the feed for The Smart Set for a while now, and the essays have generally been thought-provoking (a Pakistani man describes his experiences trying to become a US citizen) or entertaining (the trials of teaching English to a Japanese woman obsessed with The Goonies). Yesterday’s entry was a bit of both: the cultural significance of the shopping bag.
“People have coveted luxury goods since Louis XIV invented couture. But it was a particular innovation of the postmodern era to turn this desire inside out — to emblazon the most expensive goods with the names of their manufacturers and thus demean the high-end consumer by turning him (or more often, her) into walking placards on behalf of the merchandise.”
And what better way than to get people to further advertise and associate their inner selves with products than to make the bag itself an object of desire? What a devious marketing ploy — make the logo/company name desirable in and of itself, then give people bags with that logo/name so that they can carry them about even when they’re not shopping, thereby extending the free advertising opportunities even farther!
This is something I haven’t bought into since I was about 20 — walking around with logos on your clothes, shoes, car, and so on. Why do people need to connect themselves with products and corporations? Why does what you buy make you “cool”? It’s not like wearing the latest Gucci shoes or carrying a Prada bag makes you special, because anyone else with the cash to spare can do the same.
I guess I can understand that wearing a particular brand could identify you as identifying yourself with a certain marketing image — a sporty brand, a slutty brand, a classic brand. I guess it’s no longer enough to choose clothing of a certain style, but one must be literally emblazoned with the company’s logo (enormous DGs on Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, the ubiquitous Nike swoosh).
With children this seems to be more focused on character branding. The other day I tried to buy some new underwear for Napoleona at Target. Only the house brand came without characters. No plain white underwear, oh no. Even two-year-olds have to have someone’s face or name on their butt, evidently. (Don’t get me started on trying to find stuff that’s not pink. Just don’t!)
So we go to the other extreme. Most of the kids’ clothes (and ours) are ultra-plain. They can have patterns (plaid, flowers, etc.) but that’s it. We even put the kibosh on any words on the clothes, because it’s just too slippery a slope. One day it’s “Grandma’s Little Sweetie” or “Surf Paradise” and the next thing you know they’re swathed head to foot in Dora and Bob the Builder.
I feel like it’s dehumanizing to wear logos and characters. When I look at someone, I want to see the human being, not some cartoon or corporate symbol. If I wanted to look at ads, I’d watch TV.