Protect me from what I want

UnknownI saw this for the first time at the V&A post modernism exhibition I mentioned in the blog below. I think its a brilliant statement projected in the most illuminating way. The image is the brainchild of Jenny Holzer who projected a range of such ‘truisims' from the late 1970s.

The statement gets to the heart of life in a consumer society. We are seduced on an industrial scale into wanting thing we never knew existed until we saw the advert. We know we don't need much of it. But there are no alternatives. Alternatives are ruled out. We can't stop this alone. We are exposed all day every day in a psychological onslaught. Someone needs to protect us. But who and how?

Confession: I bought a print copy of the statement for £9.50 and now need to find the right frame. Can someone protect me from what I want?

8 Responses to “Protect me from what I want”

  1. Alan McKinnon says:

    Are we really so incapable of weaning ourselves off this addiction? If we consider the problem to be like drug/alcohol addiction, then surely some answers can be found in the methods used to treat those conditions? Admitting that we have a problem is the first step and we are not even there yet. “It’s just a bit of shopping” and “retail therapy” are the typical denial responses, but through wider awareness and media coverage, maybe that can change. So keep up the good work Neal!

    We certainly can’t expect much help from the politicians. With consumer spending representing two-thirds of GDP, there is little chance of any policy which might curb our spending habit, ever seeing the light of day. Witness the rapid rewrite of David Cameron’s conference speech upon realising the likely impact on GDP if consumers were to follow his austerity advice and pay off their debts, instead of continuing to spend. I can’t see Ed Milliband having the Balls for it either (pun intended), at least not in the short-term.

    No, change needs to come from within ourselves, and why not? Who would have predicted the level of support received for the Occupy Wall Street protests, railing against inequality in the country where the excesses of free-market capitalism should have the easiest ride? So, with sufficient public awareness of the problems that this addiction causes (per your book), why can’t we start to turn the corner? Who’s old enough to remember the Grange Hill “Just say no!” campaign?

  2. charlie t says:

    my dad’s a picture framer. nothing wrong with people buying picture frames.

  3. Ben says:

    Neal, apologies for the following rant, but while some of your vacillations might indicate something more promising the general tone of your crusade against consumerism is just too simplistic and only takes a disappointing moral stance, which is insufficient, largely against McWorld consumerism, without recognising that challenging McWorld consumerism is frequently the basis of the whole ethical Bourgeois Bohemian stance -which in itself is in dialectical relation to McWorld -the two form an economic engine whose transformative and value-adding processes (frequently self-exploitative, interior-colonising and gentrifying) run through the conduits of cultural capital, plundering the shadow-realms of alterity to mine their raw materials. The centre-left is so frequently caught out by all this, because these dynamics straddle too easily their fetishised and nostalgic categories, insufficiently recognising thickets of other dynamics -the opposition of the mobile against the stuck, the talented against the dull, the virtuously oppressed to the aesthetic residuum chav, that confuse and disperse opposition.

    The supermarket is not the enemy for its style, but for its economics. What we want to see really is not hippy localist organicist ameliorations of the global free market, we want to see the supermarkets publicly owned by a government whose style is formed out of an image of what people can become that doesn’t just leave for dead the entrepreneurial wannabe, but steps beyond the same old anti-authoritarian cliches, the same romantic sentimentality, the poetics of dwelling, but that instead embraces the most empty abstraction –because it’s OURS.

    Whether a politics that could create such a government is possible when we are each our own utopian self-creations continues to be hard to say. In the meantime, shopping is not just about brands, it is about self-creation, searching for what will heal lost wounds, fulfilling the impossible desire, riding a wave of collective joy mediated by plastic. In a knowledge economy where our own self-creation is fundamental to our ability to take part in it, all of these adventures in shopping are not consumption, they are production -the production of us. This is the regime of accumulation our current economy depends on. It is a journey bounded only by the imaginations and daring of those who have managed to realise themselves sufficiently to take part, and take us with them. The rest of us are grateful, lick our wounds, stare into the empty space of the symbolic realm of money, of the supermarket isle, and lick our wounds. If we manage to pluck up the courage to cross the void, we may, childlike, find that a thing we can hold in our hand -a phone, a laptop, a brandname -may give us the confidence and coherence to do so.

    Being towards death is the ethic that will save us? No. Our eyes are fixed on planes of abstract glory, and our children gathered around us on our deathbeds will go forward to them as we sink, or if we have truly embraced our stuckness, will provoke inner-glories of regret, framed for us by Hollywood, or perhaps some EU funded arthouse, the choice is yours.

    Social Democracy cannot take root until it recognises that the greatest redistributive justice is the redistribution of desire (not the objects of our desire, and certainly not the objects of our need), and of panache. Its key moment is to ensure crises are sufficently contained within the circuits of desire that their moment of shock can be recuperated into something BETTER than the multivalent folk-stories of everyday-resistance and activist creativity, which in their turn become the golden shores waiting for the conquistadors of rebel capitalism. It is this terrible line that the Occupy movements waver on -to which Power network will they be recuperated? Until the idiom of the politicians is profoundly reformed, it will be business as usual. There is every possibility that Social Democracy is nothing more than a Lollardish cult.

  4. editor says:

    Alan, the problem is that we don’t live in an alcohol society or a drug one – but a consumer society. Its society we need to fix not ourselves.
    Charlie – nothing indeed.
    Ben – not sure I get all your post. Maybe over coffee – independent cafe natch. But i like the redistribution of desire.

  5. Alan McKinnon says:

    “Its society we need to fix not ourselves.”
    - OK, so let’s just sit back and wait for Ed Milliband to sort it all out for us, shall we?
    Good luck with that Neal.

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