From the crowds of people that are weighed down by shopping bags to the floors that shine like the opalescent veneers of a Hollywood celebrity, there’s something fearsome about the mall. Whether it’s an awareness of all of the things that don’t really need to be bought or the fury with which it’s often executed, the prospect of so much surface – so many bright and colourful things for the eyes to bounce off of – is somewhat unsettling.
The surreal quality of the mall is even more obvious in the throes of December when the days before Christmas have slid down to single digits, and consumption has become more conspicuous. The endless throngs of people zing around like unstoppable pinballs while the cars outside sit idling in clouds of their own exhaust, trying to escape the desperate rush of the final purchasing hours. On paper, the idea has some charm, but observing the long lines of exhausted people and the slow procession of cars seems a bit too desperate, and revelatory about what our culture values.
Ironically, even in a time when physical goods are appearing less and less – from retail store outlets to books and CDs – the purchase and alignment of consumer goods with lifestyle is more prevalent than ever. The release of the most recent James Bond film, “Spectre”, in November resulted in a marketing strategy that struck me as more aggressive than anything I’ve noticed before, with the notorious Bond shilling for Omega, Sony and Bollinger, as if buying a watch, using a phone and drinking champagne would turn one into – or align them with – the most well-known of fictional Secret Service agents.
The strategy of selling off the lifestyle of a character like James Bond is hardly a new approach, but given the line that has blurred between personal and private – the reach of advertising and image – it has become more subconscious. It is not so much that the initial goal of making us desire a certain lifestyle has changed, it’s that there is a less definable difference between what we buy and who we feel we are as a result of a purchase. With advertising ever-present, it is harder to distinguish the reality of what our life is from what we are told it should be at every turn.
In The Violence of Organized Forgetting, the scholar and cultural critic Henry A. Giroux discusses this type of consumerism, stating that:
“Nothing has prepared this generation for the inhospitable and savage new world of commodification…Advertising provides the primary imagery for their dreams, relations to other, identities, and sense of agency. There appears to be no space outside the panopticon of commercial debasement and casino capitalism.”
Following Giroux’s line of reasoning, the image of James Bond as a character that we can find ourselves through and access our dreams with begins to make sense. It is the goal of advertising to see ourselves in a certain way, but the insidiousness of the James Bond image as it has been recently utilized is that it doesn’t appear utterly ridiculous for us to buy into his perfectly tailored character. It has become clear that there is no longer any shame in selling the image of a man that is entirely manufactured to those who will struggle to find realness – and their own dream of self – through it.
Like the cars that line up and the people that rush around in the final days before Christmas, there is a discomforting obviousness in the “Spectre” ads that have appeared in the last few months. While the endless cars and crowds of people will dissipate until Christmas rolls around again, the conspicuousness of such an aggressive ad campaign will – in all likelihood – become more commonplace.