Am I A Victim Of Materialism, Or A Perpetrator?

Here’s a nice, disturbing topic to delve into: materialism. I’ve spent my entire life taking great pride in the fact that I am not materialistic. It’s been the one thing that I remind myself of when I start to question whether or not I’m doing an A+ job at life.

“I forgot to floss my teeth, have been ignoring my bank statements for three months straight, didn’t signal on the on ramp this morning, ripped a contact lens and lost my glasses, but at least I’m not materialistic!”

I mean, maybe I suck at some things, but at least I’ve got enough depth of character to not be materialistic, right? If I was materialistic, then there would be no redeeming qualities about being me. So at least I’m not materialistic… but I’ve been beginning to question that lately. This September, I’ll be a freshman in college. That means I’m buying a lot of college prep stuff that advertisers have convinced me I need. I can’t just take my sheets from home to my dorm room. No, I need XL twin microfiber bedsheets in light teal so that they can match the new, overpriced comforter I’m ordering on Amazon. And there’s a lot of slippery red brick on campus. It’s rainy here in the PNW, so I need a solid pair of waterproof boots. Could I have just settled for a practical, reasonably priced, favorably reviewed pair from one of the lesser known brands? Oh no. I scrolled past two pages of perfectly suitable, inexpensive, five star street boots and clicked on a pair of four star, goddamn Doc Martens. To be fair, they were fifty percent off, but for fuck’s sake, why did they have to be Docs? They had to be Docs because Docs are cool. Docs are recognizable. Docs will go well with those new dresses I bought, and the leather jacket and the wool sweater.

Back to school shopping is entirely acceptable, especially when you’re a college freshman and you’re scared about living on your own, but also excited, eager to find new friends yet desperate to make a glowing first impression. But it doesn’t have to be this marathon of materialistic desires and impulse spending. There is a fine, but clear line between wants and needs, and usually, I can make that distinction quite well, but lately, I feel as though I’ve been trying to medicate my college-freshman-apprehension with new clothes and unnecessary dorm supplies. Part of it is because of the marketing ploys. Walk into a Target sometime. There will be a full section of the store devoted solely to college supplies. You can have your pick of ten different kinds of shower caddies and get half-off on dorm decorations that will seem cute and clever until you realize that half the people on your floor have the exact same ones. Advertisers are fully aware that this time of year, the stores are crawling with fussy mother-hens, willing to shell out the entirety of their retirement funds on superfluous dorm accessories just to make sure their baby chicks will be comfy when they leave the nest. And they prey on that. Relentlessly. They also know the baby chicks will pay any price to be cool at school, so they make sure to set plenty of expensive bait for them. As a result of this, I have relinquished my integrity and authenticity and allowed myself to get sucked in to the materialism trap.

But maybe it’s irresponsible of me to blame the marketing ploys. I mean, at the end of the day, it just comes down to a poor, innocent, starving CEO who just needs a wee more million to install a mini bar on his family’s private jet. We all need money, don’t we? What really bothers me is that this entire time, I’ve known about the marketing ploys. I was fully aware of how excessive the college shopping was getting, and for this reason, I cannot call myself a victim while still maintaining an ounce of personal fidelity. I know that I encouraged and supported these marketing techniques. I know that when the college shopping season comes to a close, some middle aged man in a suit and tie is going to stand in front of his advertising crew in a meeting room and congratulate them on a job well done, clicking through PowerPoint slides of graphs and diagrams illustrating the success of their marketing ploys. I will be one of the millions of people who made those ploys successful, and it makes me wonder if it’s more because the advertisers took advantage of me, or because I am weak on a moral level and allowed those marketing ploys to ensnare me.

This raises a question that I’ve never really thought about: Is materialism an external quality that befalls the unwary or is it something from within, that comes out when given the right circumstances? Or is it a bit of both? Maybe that’s an obnoxiously pseudo-philosophical question, and maybe there’s no answer, but either way, it’s one that has been crossing my mind a lot lately when I get those intermittent moments of clarity in this frenzy of college-prepping, where I find myself disappointed with my actions and confused about why I’m behaving so out of character lately.

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