The capitalist propaganda that we need to deconstruct
From the morning’s news where Dominic Raab attempted to justify Boris Johnson strolling around hospitals, insulting hard-working NHS staff by breathing his hot air all over them without a mask on, while they stood graciously by, masked and probably pissed off, to almost being obliterated by a lorry emblazoned with ‘Prettylittlething’ and ‘Buy Happiness’ on its side, I had a very unwelcome capitalist start to my day.
I can only assume that Johnson refuses to wear a mask because he is all for personal freedoms in an Arthur Birling-esque ‘every man for himself’ kind of way. I find him excruciatingly annoying but I’m not against capitalism per se. It’s the way our economy works and, as I’ve never lived under any other regime, I’m used to it. I understand that businesses need to thrive if we are to thrive as a nation. Going completely communist would surely be worse. I would like the last surviving bastion of former socialist glory, our NHS, to survive, but I fear it’s too late for that, as thousands flock to private hospitals for lifesaving treatment because otherwise they’ll perish on the waiting list. I exaggerate, I know, but only slightly.
Within this ‘money makes the world go round’ paradigm, though, advertising slogans are true indicators of how much we are being brainwashed into supporting the economy, at the cost of our autonomy, the developing world and the actual planet. ‘Buying happiness’. Really? I know that particular slogan was deliberately cheesy and exaggerated, but when I see people on the news flocking to Primark and Next for the Boxing Day sales, it’s clear that there’s some belief in the possibility that buying exactly the right shoes, boots, hoody, phone, jumper, winter coat or shiny lipstick will make a positive difference to our lives. We are buying and driving massive cars that are polluting the environment, hundreds and thousands of toys that kids play with for a week or so, chairs, tables, TVs, laptops and, by the looks of IKEA on a Sunday, millions of household items. I know it’s all been said before, but why do we continue?
I’m not talking about essentials or even items that we love but don’t strictly ‘need’. I’m talking about wardrobes stuffed with clothes that wear out after six months or go out of fashion and sit on a hanger, only to end up in landfill. Or stupid things we buy thinking that we’ll use them – in my case a Shakti mat. For those not in the know, it’s a spiky mat that feels like hell for two minutes and then becomes strangely relaxing, but who is really going to lie on a spiky mat every day? Clearly not me. I sold it on Ebay and now wish I’d bought it there, too.
The reason we buy stuff is because we’ve been conditioned to do so by the propaganda that we see all around us every day. Smiling happy people, delighted that they are driving the car, or using the face cream, or wearing the fashion. Adverts use a ‘problem-solution’ structure – it’s a discourse that is taught on copywriting courses and studied in A Level language. In order to sell a product, a copywriter needs to present the audience with a perceived problem. Bad skin, problem areas, stained teeth, no time. Or more subtly, the problem is implied. We are made to feel that our cars are not modern enough, that our vacuum cleaner isn’t technologically advanced enough or, as happened to me recently, that my penis isn’t big enough. Some problems with the marketing there. Just a quick look through my Instagram reveals that my tights don’t fit, my bras are uncomfortable and my garden is plain and needs a metal bird. As it happens, the Snag tights do look great and I’ll probably try them when my current tights actually don’t fit. My bras are fine thanks – they’ve mistakenly assumed that I actually have boobs – and the metal bird is not as nice as the actual robin that I see every day at the allotment.
I would like to think that when I buy things it’s because I choose to, not because I feel compelled to. What do I really need? 3 jumpers, 4 tops, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of trousers, one winter coat, 50 running outfits and 3 pairs of shoes or boots. That’s it. Might vary from person to person but no I am not going to queue up outside Primark on Boxing Day because I probably already have all that I need and, if I need more, I’ll buy responsibly. It’s not even expensive. Ebay has amazing finds when it comes to good quality clothing and ‘White Rose’ in Newark is my favourite pre-loved clothes shop ever. I recently watched ‘The True Cost’ on Youtube and, after learning about the hundreds of Bangladeshi factory workers who have suffered as a result of awful working conditions and poor safety measures, I really feel that enough is enough.
If we are to survive as a species, which is a questionable goal given what we’ve done to the planet, we need to change willingly before we are forced to by circumstances beyond our control. Yes the economy matters but we have to slow down and buy less and buy more responsibly. The propaganda, once we see through it, becomes meaningless jumble, and if you can see an ad on my WordPress, that’s because I chose not to spend the money for the option to remove it!