Purchasing Identity

December 16, 2008

I read an article in Details 2 years ago (Dec 2006) and I thought it was interesting at the time; a thought provoking reflection of an influential though often overlooked generation. But rather than simply reposting it (since I can’t find it on Details which is usually really good about posting their articles) I’ve taken the idea, the main points and a few of the really well worded sentences and finessed them, rearranged them, added my own object lessons in order to craft something that is half repost and half my reflections on the subject matter. Anything taken directly from the article is in quotes, the rest is a little bit mine and a little bit theirs.

Yuppie isn’t a word we hear very often any more, unless we’re trying to make some sort of 80s joke. It’s so awkward and foreign to our vocabulary I don’t even like writing it. Normally I’d pull up my thesaurus and try to find something more palatable, but yuppies are the point today. Because Details thinks we should re-brand “Generation X” as “Yuppie 2.0.”

Yuppies, by definition, are marked by their affluence, conspicuous consumption and environmentalism. They are often disliked because they can be pretentious. And they are mocked because this affluence and conspicuous consumption is used to define themselves, to create the illusion of identity.

Environmentalism may no longer be relegated to the yuppie in our global warming-go green revolution. And conspicuous consumption seems to have worked it’s way into every part of American life (or so all the ads tell us). It reminds me of the object lesson Mel Gibson presents in Apocalypto: conspicuous consumption precedes a civilization’s demise. We saw the Mayan’s conspicuous consumption of human beings in their blood sacrifice. Its extreme and visceral and raw and it made me sad. But none of this is new. What’s interesting to me is how a generation nearly defined by the backlash against the driven, workaholic consumerism; and a quest for authentic, original, meaningful living could become that which we rebelled against.

I guess we grew up. “…as the Gen X slackers and hipsters age and mature they find themselves in positions of power and influence and prosperity.” Which is true. Our parents and grandparents retired (or are retiring) and we are left at the forefront of America’s workforce.

Still, how can we be yuppies? We’re the proselytes of Kurt Cobain and Troy Dyer for goodness sake. When did we begin purchasing our identity? Was it when the Gap found out we had money and started using rock stars to sell t-shirts? Daniel Fierman says, “The creation of identity via consumption is all an elaborate and utterly effective form of self-hypnosis.” In other words, it’s an easy way to convince ourselves of who we are, or at the very least, who we want to be.

REALITY BITES Ethan Hawke as Troy Dyer Winona Ryder as Lelaina Pierce Universal
REALITY BITES | Ethan Hawke as Troy Dyer, Winona Ryder as Lelaina Pierce (Universal)

And they know it. One ad exec admits, “We definitely take advantage of Gen X’s desire to seem indie… our whole strategy is geared toward people who want luxury but still want to hold on to the self-image they had in the grunge years.” If you doubt this, just watch a Mac commercial. They’re not even pretending to be subtle.

We may say money doesn’t matter. But damn, is that MacBook Pro expensive! As is our Blackberry and iPod and HD TV to properly enjoy the latest blu-ray releases. And by the way, so are All Stars and messenger bags. These are predominately the tools we use to develop “a series of self-delusional identities, all of which [share] the distinction of being young and upwardly mobile.”  We’ve mastered the art of inconspicuous consumption in the digital era.

Details assures us, “You’re a yuppie you’ve just gotten very good at hiding it.” Damn.

So we compromise. We’ll work hard and accept your paycheck and buy shiny toys but we’re also going to donate to Not on Our Watch. “Never mind that there’s nothing wrong with making an anti-establishment statement with an establishment paycheck. In fact, it’s pretty damn noble; cool, even.”

Because regardless of who we are, once we reached an age where the national spotlight was cast upon us, we’ve been acutely aware of how we are perceived. “This is a generation that is more socially conscious and far more in tune with whether they’re perceived as status seekers or not.”

The despicable brilliance of the whole thing is that “Indie cred has been repackaged, marked up and sold back to its original owner.”

And we’ve totally bought it.

Pin it up:
Purchasing Identity pinterest

Posted in: Life ~

Browse Books