You keep buying that thing. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Boston University is known for a lot of things, but what it should really be proud of is its accelerated program into advanced consumerism. When you arrive, you are issued a pre-loaded debit card that you can use to buy food, toilet paper, and merchandise at designated establishments throughout the mile and a half of campus. More than half of the campus bookstore is taken up by BU merchandise—Rhett the Boston Terrier encouraging you to “Be You” by buying some sweatpants.
BU is by no means alone in using its influential position to get people to give them money—our entire world is flooded with advertising. We’re all experts in the Commercial. We’re part of the ad machine that has us retweeting, forwarding, sharing and wearing our favorite corporations’ logos—
we actually pay them for the chance to use our own bodies as billboards.
One of the hallmarks of good advertising is being able to feel good about what you are buying either because it’s good for you, your family, or society. People like buying “All Natural” foods because they care about their bodies and the environment; meanwhile, the “All Natural” label is meaningless and unregulated. Companies have picked up on a higher environmental consciousness in their customers, and they’ll be damned if they’re not going to use it to make a buck. Anyone who has been to Pride in the last several years would hardly be able to believe that Pride started as the Stonewall Riots—now, Pride parades are littered with corporate sponsors who realize that being pro-Pride is good for their sales.
We’ve all heard that we can vote with our dollars, that we can change the world by the way we consume. That’s true, but not in the way companies want you to think. If you’re a good little environmentalist, then you’ll give Clorox money for their green products. If you’re not, you give Clorox money for the regular stuff.
And do you really want to smash the patriarchy or do you just think Pussy Riot’s balaclavas are super cute? And did you know that buying yogurt can cure cancer?
We should be concerned with what we are buying because we should be concerned about what we’re bringing into our homes and our communities, but we should be more concerned with what we are buying into. The way you live your life is not about what you buy—or at least, it doesn’t have to be.
It can be easy—and it can feel good—to buy greenwashed cleaning products or wear a pink ribbon, but what are you really doing to improve your life and the lives of the people around you?
We are surrounded by possibilities that we don’t have to buy. There is an entire DIY community out there who are making things happen for themselves and the people around them. People forming cooperatives in their houses, people going dumpster diving to reduce waste, people making music and art, and giving it away or trading it because we can all help each other.
We can all teach each other. We can all be good to each other, and we don’t have to get there with our wallets.