Consumerism and Identity: Some Psychoanalytic Considerations
Consumption, the buying of consumer products, has become central to the meaningful practice of our everyday life. People make their consumption choices based not only on a product’s utility value, but from the personal symbolic meanings they invest in objects.
Randomly remembered an article that I read when I was in school and how consumerism shapes people’s identities and how we use goods (they can be objects, places, people, etc) like symbols. The one I’m quoting from is not the article I am thinking about, but it discusses similar topics.
“I’m a BMW kind of guy.” It’s crazy how that simple sentence can evoke so much imagery, identity, and assumptions (this was an example given in the article I was thinking about). If you tell me you’re a BMW kind of guy, I’m going to assume that you’re at least in your mid-30s, was in a fraternity or had affluent parents, wear pants that are a little too short, lived in the suburbs, wear designer cologne, and never change positions during sex (this is purely my opinion). If you own a BMW or you like BMWs, that is completely different. Statements like that make me think that you like brands, the quality associated with established brands, the finer things in life, and you’re either rich or pretending to be. Using the object to describe your identity is what is interesting here.
The products that we buy, the daily routine activities that we do and the philosophies or beliefs that we pursue, tell the world stories about who we are and with whom we identify. (Elliott, 1997: Gabriel & Lang, 1995) This means that we not only consume products to satisfy your own biological instinctual needs, but
to carry out an ‘ego project’ of identity formation.
Of course, this stirs up my rebellious side in wanting to be different and not like the others. Up until my early 20s (so not too long ago, haha), I used to shit on popular music and thought that people that liked popular music was brainless people who lacked the capacity to appreciate real, good music. I took things too seriously as well as people’s choices and opinions. Now I freaking love top 40 (bc they’re catchy as fuck, especially when you’re drunk as fuck) and have acquired a lot of patience in getting to know people. Although, I still judge people who don’t like pop music as well as “real” music.
In other words, that elusive trait we find in our ideal objects of choice is something more than the characteristics of that object. The ‘real’ object of consumption that the consumer is attempting to attain, is not only their own ideal identity, but the endless pursuit of the ‘objet petit a’ projected into and perceived in advertisement’s and commercial’s ideal scenes and narratives.
I’ve heard marketing people talking about how companies are not trying to sell products anymore but experiences. Selling a can of soda isn’t about shooting the can up-close with attractive condensation and saying some nice things about it anymore. It’s about showing you a cute family who loses their cute dog or some shit, queue heartwarming montage of them putting up some handwritten lost posters in the rain, and then having the dog return with a can of soda in its fucking mouth and living happily ever after. It’s how a consumer can use the product in the consumer’s ideal context. On that note, I honestly feel embarrassed when I drink Starbucks. I’m feeding the machine, and I don’t want my identity to be associated with such a superficial and shitty coffee…but their green tea lemonade is the shit, y’all.