Wednesday, May 05, 2010


"Marketers have convinced these kids that they need a specific set of physical attributes, and that their own qualities must be obviated. For the large subcultures of teens who self-brand into look-alikes with tiny waistlines, bulging biceps, deracinated noses, and copious breasts, the supposed freedom of self-creation is not a freedom at all. What they have is consumer choice, no substitute for free will. Imagine the dark day for marketers when kids look for things that are neither bought nor sold." -Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers

Some may read this quote and lament: "Oh, isn't it horrible how hard teens have it these days?" or "Life was much simpler way back when I was young...," and so on. But in reality, this isn't productive thinking or helpful, in my opinion. Perhaps Alissa Quart oversimplifies (and over-blames) marketers' control over teen's free will, but I think the general observation is accurate. Teens aren't left with the freedom to self-create who they desire to be, but rather, they're left with consumer-controlled choices that are carefully constructed to encourage a greater appetite for consumer culture bent self-creation. But what if teens longed for things neither 'bought nor sold?' What if a world such as this, was possible? Will we reach this world in 20 years time, 50 years, 100?

The experiential, the spiritual, the ecstasy of emotions, are all attributes/descriptions that, in and of themselves, are 'not for sale' things in our world. The only problem is they're almost always tied to contexts (and services) that cost something (e.g., concerts, gaming, and plastic surgery, to name just three). But what, in today's branded society, isn't up for sale? I would challenge Alissa Quart's thesis and say that once teens go that route, marketers (and many others) will find away to charge what cannot be 'bought or sold.' This is the underlying problem. French philosopher Jacques Derrida once wrote, "I think, therefore I am." In today's cultural marketplace, it's shifted to "I shop, therefore I am," where are actual identity is so intertwined with an identity of consumption, it's nearly impossible to separate/sever one from the other. Until we recognize the power of living within a culture of consumption (and its affect on our shaped/evolving identities), we'll never move beyond the branded and buying and selling of teenagers (and ourselves).

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