Perhaps the greatest con that consumerism ever dealt to humanity was the idea that labels were fashion items. The trend started in the eighties, a symptom of the ‘greed is good’ culture, when people wanted to show off their relative wealth through the ostentatious display of designer branding tags such as Gucci, Armani, Benetton, Levi’s and so forth. Once the marketing bods had seen how easily people were duped into the idea of becoming walking advertisements – whilst, before, someone had actually needed to be paid to wear a sandwich-board – it was but a miniscule mental leap to convince football fans (perhaps the most easily manipulated of all the herd mentalities) to walk around with the names of electronics giants and lager refineries emblazoned upon their shirts, supposedly proclaiming their allegiance to some almost completely unassociated group of millionaires who occasionally show up on a Saturday to kick a ball about.
Of course, the eighties (when Levi 501s were marketed as shrink-to-fit) gave way to the nineties and the noughties (the era of Lycra and stretch-to-fat) but, as this just meant an increase in the available advertising space on people’s clothing, it couldn’t be all bad. More labels sprang into the public eye and now one cannot move without being assailed by brand names displayed on the shapeless, bloated bodies which waddle in one’s vicinity. Marketing got even lazier, such that, rather than trying to make products into household names, names of everyday things became products: Apple, Blackberry, Orange, Mango, Bench, Diesel, Dockers, Oxygen and O2 (surely some conflict there) are just a few examples of how what used to be our language is now being pilfered by corporate identities.
Precisely what impression of the wearer is intended to be bestowed upon the observer of these placards of manufacturer’s data isn’t quite clear, unless it’s to let us know that their clothing was made in a slightly superior sweat-shop to that of others. In fact, looking at some of the people on the streets of a Saturday, it strikes me that display of the washing instructions might have been more usefully informative. Whatever, if it is intended as a display of wealth or class then it’s actually only one step up from displaying receipts from hookers to let us know exactly who you’ve been screwed by and how much you paid for the privilege.
Meanwhile, people will tell you now not of the film that they’ve watched, the music that they’ve listened to, the book that they’ve read or the conversation that they’ve had. Not anymore, oh no. It may get a passing mention but the main information you will receive is the format through which the exchange was conducted: DVD, Blu-Ray, HD, CD, PS3, X-Box, IMAX, Kindle, mePad, mePhone – it seems that substance has been supplanted by what now passes for style and that ownership of a piece of electronics somehow equates in people’s minds to sitting on the deck of a yacht sipping a Martini. It doesn’t. You’re sitting on a sofa watching Britain’s Got Talent while your life drains away around you.
The fact that brand names have slipped so effortlessly into the language, with no sense of pretension or embarrassment at the constant bragging which it implies, is either a testimony to the subtle brilliance of the marketing gurus behind it or a damning indictment of the abject stupidity of the consumers who have surrendered their individuality and identity to corporate logos in an attempt to mask the gaping holes in their empty, malnourished souls. I’ll keep my opinion to myself on this one, though I suspect it may be somewhat apparent.
Just as an after-thought, nobody likes the well-documented human rights abuses which go on systematically in China (these are far more widespread and draconian than you might think, incidentally – shamefully so, as even the most perfunctory research reveals) but big business likes to get cheap child-labour from poverty-ridden populations and we, as shoppers, just seem to lap it up – even though the savings evidently aren’t passed on to us. That the capitalist free-market in the allegedly democratic west has all but destroyed its own economy whilst making a communist state ruled by an iron-fisted dictatorship into the second strongest economy in the world strikes me as a peculiar irony. Still, it has some classical precedent, I suppose: it might be seen as tax-fiddling while Rome burns.