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Modern Neurosis: Things


"Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money." ~Author Unknown


Today, the majority of the population do not have a rallying point, they do not identify with a struggle; for many, every waking hour is spent identifying themselves through the objects they consume or the objects that consume them. This is an insidious fact of contemporary life, the mobil phone marketing man speaks without a second thought about meeting consumers' 'appetites' for the 4G roll out. Since you can't actually consume a mobile phone, what sort of appetite is our marketing man talking about. They queued all night in the last day of October 2012 to get their hands on EE's 4G reception on the iPhone5. Questioned by a reporter, a young man was asked why? He said he was excited, why? His response, so that he could watch TV on the move. Staggering.

Fetishism and objects

We don't know whether the marketing man had ever read Marx but in Capital, he describes fetishism, calling it "the religion of sensuous appetites" , adding that

"the fantasy of the appetites tricks the fetish worshipper into believing that an 'inanimate object' will give up its natural character to gratify his desires. The crude appetite of the fetish worshipper therefore smashes the fetish when the latter ceases to be its most devoted servant"

This is Marx discussing the transition from ancient forms of fetish worship to the "fetishism of commodities" that replaces human and social relations under capitalism with unnatural attachments to things. Here Marx is anticipating modern day neuroses, the obsession with objects and so-called life-styles that lead to narcissism and further obsession, with celebrity, the celebrities live the life-styles that the followers aspire to - in the extreme, driving a young girl to have her face rearranged by a surgeon to resemble her pop idol?

What sort of social arrangements are these in which a highly trained doctor turns into a bastard sculptor for profit and brings about the estrangement from self-worth for a young girl. And perhaps worse, the bastard sculptor pays no regard to the social infrastructure that facilitated his expertise.

Perhaps once people created themselves through their work and others might clearly understand them in that context. As work has become de-skilled, devoid of pride, respect, people suffer a loss of identity and seek to regain it through the objects they possess.

Ah, but being poor makes the possession of objects difficult and many will have to settle for being less whole, somehow people become more perturbed over being a flawed consumer rather than out of work per se. For the young in particular, adornment is not about function, it has become a creative process, not creating some style but rather creating a new persona, some vane attempt to embellish the drabness of every waking moment with an injection of spending.

The possession of objects

Television commercials from the 1950s onwards, at first in the USA, didn't just introduce viewers to modern refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and cookers, they hyped the non-technical attributes of the products, like luxury, freedom, and time saving. These products would not only provide technical improvements to the home, they would improve the housewife's life by enabling her to become a better homemaker. In essence, consumers were being offered self-improvement through objects.

The advertisers and marketing men were really onto something here; the next step was to incorporate the notion of incompleteness into their messages, selling objects as a cure for that sense of emptiness, that lack of fulfillment, of dissatisfaction with life. However, their real trick was not that they were able to tap into the deep emotions and doubts of consumers but that were actually able to invent those doubts through their messages.

Then along came the finance man with his message to facilitate the confusing transition from need to I-want-it-now, nothing was beyond your pocket, no need any longer to postpone any purchase - live now, pay later.

The insanity of celebrity culture

Celebrity obsession is an extreme manifestation of our modern Utopia. Few symbolize the the insanity that grips the celebrity world than couple Jay-Z Carter and Beyonce Knowles, who failed in their attempt to trademark their child's name because it belonged to events organisers, Blue Ivy Events. Now, why would parents call their child Blue Ivy and then attempt to trademark the name. Simple, to stop anyone else cashing in with a baby clothing line called Blue Ivy, that is, before the adoring couple cashed in themselves and turned their daughter into a cash cow. That's celebrity for you, mum and dad are trademarked products, so it makes perfect sense for the child to be trademarked as well.

Becoming a celebrity

A young girl, 15 or so, is walking down the highstreet. A talent scout from an model agency stops her. He tells her, "you've got the look". Wow, he takes her photo, hands over his business card. For a small fee his agency can provide a professional portfolio to be shown throughout the world of beauty products, glossy magazines and even TV advertising. Wow! She takes the business card and the message, the excitement and the promise back home to mum and dad. How can they refuse their recently 'discovered' daughter.

Her commonsense suggests that someone has to have 'the look'. Today, it's her. Why should she reject the proposition. Her knowledge of the fashion business does not provide her with the ability to make a rational judgment.

She doesn't know that reputable agencies do not charge models for 'building a portfolio'. She doesn't know that a portfolio is something that gets built over time and represents a record of work done in the past. She or more likely her parents will hand over £150 and sometimes up to £600 to Portfolios Are Us and hear no more about 'the look'.

Intelligence, reason and judgment have no place here in the land of false hopes, illusive dreams, phony ambitions and narcissistic egos. This 'portfolio' con is happening every day on the high street. Trading Standards is dealing with thousands of complaints but is powerless to act meaningfully.

The question now is, are we too far down the line into the obsession with things and the cultural life that surrounds it, to do anything to reverse the trend, perhaps to live more authentically.

Worshipping at the altar of celebrity tat

According to the Office of National Statistics, some 45 million of the British population are non-believers in a God. Quite worrying for those who wear their shirts back to front and for those who spend their waking hours promoting diversity.

In the contrary world of diversity you can't have three quarters of the population being similar, i.e. not believing in the sure fire controlling influence of the ultimate deity. Therefore, you need to spend loads of money encouraging this non-element to acknowledge and celebrate their differences. They must believe in something, even if it's only vacuous celebrity, personal life coaches, fake tans, botox faces, silicone implants and cult religions, all worshipping at the altar of celebrity.

Madonna is in the forefront of this process, she started in a small way, by buying two Malawi babies. Then she decided to go further by educating the whole of Malawi into the wonders of Kabbalah. Her attempts to build a school there, however, was a miserable failure. This didn't put an end to her messianic delusions, as she announced "I feel responsible for all the children of the world". We think that was when Guy Richie decided he'd had enough.

Religion loves celebrity, half of Hollywood are in the Kabbalah camp and the other half are in the Scientology tent. You will always find that Tom Cruise has his 'helpers' camped on set with him when he's filming.

The cults love celebrity, Scientology founder Ron L Hubbard would compile celebrity lists for his followers and in order to progress in his cult, they would have to snare a few high profile celebs. Money, that's the name of the game, Ron used to joke, "if you want to make a million bucks, start a religion", the rest is history, Tom was snared and so was John Travolta.

The sellers of trinkets and tat, also love celebrity; the Berg family, Kabbalah founders, earn vast fortunes selling 'bits of red string' to protect devotees from 'unfriendly stares and unkind glances' ($25), they also sell the cults holy books of Hebrew gibberish, (a full set for $1200) and bottled water ($18). The celebrities love tat, every talentless bum, like Will-i-am, has their name associated with products, which somehow makes the tat more special.

Celebrities are invited to change the world

The notion of celebrity is not new, once you might have seen a TV personality opening a new store by cutting a ribbon before the crowds poured in, but that was as far as it went. Today celebrities are invited to change the world with their supersonic personalities.

Politics loves celebrity, look there's Angelina Jolie sitting down with Alan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger at the Council on Foreign Relations, and look there's Jude Law in Afghanistan taking tea and talking peace (he didn't actually get to talk to the Taliban but he was confident that his thoughts on the peace process had filtered through). And the UN uses celebrities without irony to work wonders and miracles for it as 'good will' ambassadors, as if their special powers will be projected into the hearts and minds of nasty dictators across the globe or perhaps the dispossessed of the world will be uplifted from their misery by the Good Vibrations of the celebrity touch.

Returning to the beginning

This section started out by considering the fetishism of objects, curious in itself but the fetishism of celebrities, artifacts themselves, is one stage beyond illness when it becomes normal.