Against the spectacle of material, in defence of the value of material

Thoughts on Christmas, and the Battle Between Materialism and Anti Materialism within Consumption Culture.

The circus has once again come to town, hundreds upon hundreds upon thousands upon millions of feet are marching up and down streets all over the country (indeed all of the world) on a multitude of separate quests- chasing something, a dream, an image, an impossible reality sold to each and every one of us on our t.v’s, on billboards and in magazines. Like the children of Hamelin running blissfully towards their unhappy [1]ending all of us march glazed eyed and dozy footed through rows of lights and tinsel, eyes shining towards that unattainable moment, that glorious realization that can never quite be reached; because each time we get close to reaching material satisfaction, the advertiser, the store owner, the profiteer, our peers, and even ourselves snatch it away and raise the bar a little higher.

Yet doggedly we keep on, believing somewhere somehow perhaps that in material we will find salvation, that among the cess pit of new toys, lingerie, and Christmas fucking pudding we might find something that will bring daylight streaming into the underside of the hill[2]- but we won’t. Shopping, the quest for material enlightenment is like masturbation without the orgasm[3]. Yet, when Christmas is done and put away and we go back to working overtime at our nine to fives to pay back the money we owe to loan sharks and credit card companies; we will if nothing else have once again achieved one giant cum stain of waste, broken toys, and half eaten food in the landfill of post consumer commodities.

So here is the paradox. We live in a society that practically made I phone a religion, (there are probably more I phone users than Sikhs in the world right now with approximately 400 million ipods sold since 2008 compared to around 30million Sikhs worldwide) we spend half our lives chasing NEWER, BIGGER, BETTER, we have whole industries that exist solely to give us wet dreams about things we don’t own yet but will soon; and despite all of this we are fundamentally anti materialist in our interactions with commodities.

We hold them (commodities) aloft and afar as spectacle but in attaining them, in demystifying them, we devalue, degrade, and eventually destroy them. A perfect example of this interaction is the rate at which the monetary “value” of any item depletes from the moment it leaves the store; it’s so called value, it’s worth evaporates as soon as it is in the hands of the consumer.  Now part of this of course is down to the power relationship between chain stores and individual consumers meaning that a shop has much more power to dictate “value” than you or I; however if we explore concepts like “mint in the box” and the obsession with “new” we see a trend which indicates a desire not for an item as a useful or valued thing, but as a concept a symbol of a lifestyle that is part of achieving some kind of perfection. We have reached a point where we no longer care for material possession; we care only for the thrill of the chase.

For me this new anti materialism is characterized by two key factors in our consumption; the first is the upgrade culture of add-ons and new versions of things (take for example Windows 1997,1998, XP et al) every five minutes, and the second is the throwaway culture attached to many commodities- many products including children’s bikes are not made too last more than a year, whilst even among individuals the destruction of material possessions is a common consumer act (you only need to look in the refuse bins of most housing estates to find all of the furniture, cooking equipment, and electrical goods needed to keep a household running).

So what does this conflict between spectacle and value mean, and where should we position ourselves around it? For me the root of the problem is tied intrinsically to the nature of our society and of our wider systemic structures. The capitalist and corporatist abattoir to which (like good little lambs to the slaughter) we have all merrily wandered into demands constant growth, constant expansion, and constant profit; despite being pitted against a world that cannot sustain this strategy and us such must continue to produce to “change” and to sell. When we run out of new markets and new products, we run out of capitalism and into a new freedom of reuse; the coming apocalypse of no more oil and the eventual ceasing of the ability to mass produce consumer commodities will see us all running to scrap yard to salvage our Iphone 2’s, Mini Disk Players, and gramophones; when this happens we will truly be free of the spectacle of material and perhaps once more understand the value of material.

Enough though of my nihilist predictions for the future, what can we do now? How do we eliminate the spectacle of material? An option in this war against spectacle is to simply destroy commodities “People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities[4]”, to tear them from the shelves and burn them, to destroy the adverts that perpetuate them, to smash the shops that sell them, and bomb the factories that produce them; this at least would end their reign of terror over our lives, negate them as anything meaningful, and eradicate at least for some short time their grip on our reality. However, in the modern capitalist setting, the impending doom of total environmental collapse leads this writer at least to question the effectiveness of such a tactic, and this for me is where our relationship to the value of goods because important.

Each and every product on the frickin shelf has a story, a life, a journey, it has almost certainly been made of one or many natural resources that the planet will sooner or later be entirely void of; if we destroy the product then we only perpetuate the wasting of thousands of natural resources. So what can we do? For me we must begin to reuse, to reinvent and to modify those commodities that we do have, to keep and to treasure them as valuable things, to look after them, and adapt them to make a new world from the tattered scraps of welded metal and processed oil of commodity culture.

Alongside this though, we must advocate a strategy of spectacle destruction; we must tear down the billboards and the cumming soon (though never actually cumming) culture, we must kill the voice inside our head that tells us we need the next car, t-shirt, or DVD, we must slay the advertising monster and make soup from its cold dead heart, we must smash the lie that the next product will bring us that step closer to material enlightenment or we will be crushed to death under the sheer weight of our own consumption.

Time is ticking.


[2] Reference to the Pied Piper “And when all were in to the very last, The door in the mountain-side shut fast.”

[3] You work yourself up and up until in a frenzy, but never reach satisfaction.

[4] Guy Debord The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/decline.html

One thought on “Against the spectacle of material, in defence of the value of material

  1. An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to my essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

    John Steinsvold

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
    ~ Albert Einstein

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