Sunday, September 26, 2010

E Shoppingus Unum

From Matt Taibbi's blog:

A few weeks before that I tried on a friend’s recommendation to get into Entourage and gave up after it struck me that it was the same show as Sex and the City – a drama about a foursome of impulsive yuppies with lots of disposable income who spend half of each show buying brand-name consumer products to make them feel better about having no brains/soul. And the plot of pretty much every reality show is the same: ordinary middle American Joes with poor taste meet silver-tongued, fake-boobed Hollywood/New York shopping expert, who tells them what a shitty house they’ve been living in and what ugly shoes they’re wearing, and hands them a bunch of cash so that they can shop themselves back to superficial respectability. The public seems to have a limitless appetite for this awful stuff, which makes me wonder if it’s possible to clinically diagnose an entire country with depression.


Well, I don't know if it's as much "a limitless appetite" as it is a case of nothing else to watch. I mean, when you get right down to it, television's sole reason for existence is to attract millions of people to view advertisements: it is no surprise, then, that the content television executives program would ideologically mirror the thirty second pro-consumerist propaganda pieces that are the medium's raison d'être. That is, television shows themselves are little more than advertisements for consumerism more generally. Consequently, there's really no way around watching all these pathetic bourgeois shit-shows if you want to watch TV.

Nonetheless, such programming does have an effect, whether we're really all that into it or not.

I hated TLC's What Not to Wear almost immediately. I mean, you know, I've got a couple of arts degrees, took a class in costume history for the theater, and studied theatrical design more generally in a couple more classes. This stuff is kind of interesting to me. Trading Spaces was kind of cool, so why not check out a version of the show dealing with clothes? And I have to admit that what the asshole clothing experts steer their hapless victims into is always aesthetically pleasing, know...they're asshole clothing "experts." With the keyword being "asshole." And I say "asshole" because these people spare no words in letting their subject each episode know that they are the "experts." And you're just some stupid piece of shit from the South or the Midwest who doesn't know how to dress.

The sense of corporate elitism grossed me out, and I was unable to watch more than a couple episodes before I started trashing the show to anybody who mentioned it to me.

But I'm weird. I do watch television, but with an extraordinarily critical point of view--I'm on the lookout for class issues and cultural hegemony propaganda. Most Americans aren't as lucky as I am in terms of academic background. Consequently, the notion that the assholes on What Not to Wear are "experts" goes unquestioned. Indeed, a television show that presents the idea that there is such a thing at all as "experts" in what you ought to wear very strongly reinforces the concept of fashion, which exists for no other reason than to get us to throw out last year's still functioning clothing and buy this year's new line, which is essentially the same as last year's.

In other words, consumerism is all about buying things you don't really want or need, but really feel like you've just got to have right now. And we're drowning in consumerist messages. Indeed, if you were to compare the amount of time religious people spend reading the Bible to the amount of time they are exposed to consumerist propaganda, the Good Book loses by a huge margin: consumerism is our national religion. Sure, it's taking a beating right now with the down economy and credit freeze, but the evangelists of consumerism, advertisers and marketers, are working 24/7 to figure out how to get you to buy stupid bullshit that you can't really afford and don't desire.

So...the vacant, meaningless, and narcissistic materialism that's helped put this country on the edge of oblivion isn't really the fault of the American people. But it is our problem. And short of kicking all commercial interests out of television, I don't really see much of a solution.

Just another way that we're fucked.