Shortly after writing my previous entry on consumerism, I began reading Jedediah Purdy’s “For Common Things” and was reminded of an aspect of ‘our logo’ thinking that I had neglected to cover.
Purdy discusses the idea of the “Free Agent” (the wealthy individual able to entirely construct their own identity) extolled by Fast Company and Tom Peters’ corollary idea of “Brand You.” The concept of personal branding in the self-promotional sense has been around throughout history but, as Purdy highlights, its contemporary articulation involves building the fiction of the ‘autonomous’ individual, one whose pursuit of success trumps any concern for the public sphere.
Such a concept is a curious outworking of a form of consumerism that, in providing definition through consumption, loses track of the necessity of production. Jean Baudrillard made much of the fact that referring symbols have become detached from that to which they refer, and similarly in this “Free Agent” consumerism those things that we buy are neither results of a production process, or referent of anything outside of the individual purchaser’s intended message. When a Free Agent buys a pair of shoes, the question of whether they are mass-made in a sweatshop or a custom made in a fashion house has little relevance. What becomes important is the perceived symbolic value of those shoes within a particular self-contained network.
That is not the sense that I got from the original blog posts on Our Logo, nor that which I sought to convey. In order to be a successful surpasser of consumerism, the “our logo” concept needs to collapse some of the chasm between producer and consumer. In Jyri’s original post there was a sense of this being achieved through an extension of the production process. An acknowledgement that the items we buy aren’t finished items — the ways we customize or employ them will be part of their “production,” and when we buy it is with the intention of further building on that item.
We may hope that collapsing that chasm will begin to increase awareness of the parts of the production process before a product reaches us. If we’re involved in the production process, we are likely to scrutinise the products in more detail, and that may cast light on their existence before they reached us. There’s the potential for more solidarity (a somewhat outmoded word, but a concept we need to cling to) if we can escape the self-absorption that is an ever-present trouble.