Mar 23 • 9M

LEAVING IT TO THE BEAVER CLEAVERS

UNSIGHTLY DENTS IN YOUR LINOLEUM FROM LIVING ON YOUR KNEES

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This article previously appeared in Aesthete magazine.

A few months ago, one of my best friends - a captain of industry type - was listening to me harp on one of my recurrent themes (since the myth of corporate personhood made corporations into people, people are now compulsively embracing personal corporatehood and becoming Enron-like sociopaths), and he asked me, “Do you know what you really want?”

No, what.

“You’re not going to like it,” he said, with the impish tang and half-smile he usually employs when he is about to unveil some gory insight into my character both spot-on and dickish. “You really wish that you were wearing high-heels and an apron and baking pies in tight foundation garments, and that some man was controlling every aspect of your life.”

So I shot him.  Well, I wanted to, but I didn’t.  Which sort of proves him right (in a fucked-up, existential way.)

The 1950’s bourgeois housewife archetype -- that girdle-caged, bullet-bra’ed,  deodorized hood ornament of the Detroit-powered suburban domestic idyll - has come to represent the ultimate Enemy to me lately, despite the fact that she has been the butt of merciless comic taunting ever since women in Connecticut first discovered tunics.  That pert Choosy Mom not only represents the antithesis of everything I believe in or think I am -- but having been a paranoid student of the black arts of consumer manipulation -- the big money rip-currents of cultural engineering that I’ve been involuntarily soaking in my entire life -- the really scary thing I was forced to consider was if my friend’s comment could not in some way be horribly true, in unconscious ways that nonetheless motivate me.

No matter how contrary, rebellious or bloody-minded you are, it is a virtual impossibility to escape the constant, dedicated, ubiquitous onslaught of marketing, and the collective mindwarp it wreaks upon society, in subtle and pervasively corrupting ways.

Culture industries tend to manipulate society into maintaining the status quo by building little apartheids. Differences between people are exaggerated in order to label, divide and differentiate Us from Them, Self from Other, Haves from Have Nots. This is part and parcel of the libido of imperial expansion -- an offshoot of the drive to divide, conquer, and control.  What happens, ultimately, is that we get divided and conquered within ourselves unto a schizophrenic existence in which we don’t allow ourselves enough liberty or agency to authorize value by our own metrics, within our own lives. 

The marketplace is now so devastatingly effective at turning our desires on and off that we virtually have no unpolluted pathways through which to experience love, sex, work, family, ambition, community, identity -- our entire fucking lives have been infected on every level.  We are all wearing yellow rubber gloves and matching kneepads and whacked to the tits on Lysol and Reddi-Whip and a lifelong barrage of endless social indoctrinations that have been skullfucking us ever since we were first wheeled into a public place in a stroller and taught to stand and cover our hearts for the National Anthem and obey the whims of absent authorities like God and stop signs. Like the status-enslaved fifties housewife, we have pathetically yielded real independence and control over our lives -- even our innermost personal feelings and choices -- to an invisible patriarchal ruling authority to such a damning extent that liberty is now meaningless; most of us find the idea so terrifying we steer ourselves away from it.  Most of us no longer have the energy or imagination to figure out how to engage freedom even if we had it -- we censor our transgressions before they even come out of our mouths, let alone see the light of day. We constantly police ourselves, mindful of the watchful eyes of a divine judgmental authority who doesn’t like or approve of us, much - who patrols the peripheries of our self-esteem and decision-making processes just beyond the grasp of conscious thought and makes sure we keep ourselves in check. The demon lurking behind the pattern of the yellow wallpaper plastered on the walls of our own minds is the same basic control mechanism that has been encoded in our natures since big apes first dominated smaller apes. We are so frightened of Unknown Punishments that we neutralize our bad selves unto paralysis long before we allow ourselves even to articulate what (if any) threats we might pose to authority or society or ourselves, if we were granted (God forbid) the authority to govern ourselves .

Fashion, like most media, is a handmaiden of imperialism.  Luxury items are one of the ways that the Haves distinguish and separate themselves from the Have Nots. The Louis Vuitton bag, in its banal way, is as class-divisive as the freeway built to separate a ghetto from a white shopping district.

A $3200 handbag is more than just an accessory - by buying one, you are essentially declaring your tax bracket, your values, your tribal colors.  With so many of the bags in circulation thanks to the recent “democratization of luxury” (not to mention Chinatown knock-offs so indistinguishable from the “real” thing as to be as existentially bewildering as Battlestar Galactica cyborgs) at this point, a Louis Vuitton bag is arguably more of a bank statement than a fashion-statement; it only defines who you are inasmuch as it draws an economic line in the sand to say who you are defining yourself against in contrast.

Fashion is a co-conspirator in social engineering, whether by accident or design.

This is certainly not a conscious act of symbolic violence. A girl who buys a Louis Vuitton bag isn't thinking, "This bag will really declare that I uphold the consumer myths of the imperialist status-quo by visually distancing myself from the moral quagmire of entrenched poverty and the gross dirty people who brought it on themselves." She’s merely accessorizing.   But this is how collective brain-damage happens.

Fashion is an incredibly powerful tool of identity construction -- but it can also corrupt.  Personal style is as precious as freedom of speech.  If you aren’t consciously using fashion to empower yourself, fashion is mostly likely using you to empower a brand. A robust fashion consciousness can transcend the pressures of commerce and demonstrate what autonomy and personal character actually looks like - but if you have been seduced by labels unto yielding your fashion consciousness to the authority of labels --  being a “label whore” and using brand signifiers to confer status to yourself instead of making distinct personal aesthetic choices -- you are essentially wearing nothing but a pricetag and/or paying to be a billboard advertisement for class apartheid. It’s not an outfit, it’s a submission -- high heels and an apron in the bourgeois kitchen in which you are a slave.  You may as well be wearing the brand, burned into your skin, of the luxury plantation that owns you. Fashion victims, are, indeed, actual victims.

If you consider how absurd a happy fifties housewife with a rolling pin looks, today -- the vast ironic distance from which we view that sheet-ironing, hubby-pleasing dingbat, and/or the idea that she is a remotely credible, not-perverted-or-ironic representation of any actual adult woman -- it will give you some sliver of an idea how deadly sophisticated and adept corporations have become at using psychology in branding and advertising.  They’re in on the joke, they’re making the joke, and you’re laughing -- you’re in a cozy, flirty little conspiracy together.  Hahaha, look at that dumb brainwashed 50‘s housewife -- she sure can shake a martini and her curves get all the attention at the Lutheran pot-roast...But wait...it gets better.  You haven’t heard the punchline yet.  Wait for it -- it’s so rich.

Baby, look in the mirror:  she’s YOU!

Contact me at CintraW@gmail.com for all of your editing needs.

Artwork: “Priscilla Presley,” oil on linen, Cintra Wilson 2021