Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Value Where No Value Exists: Links to a “Brands Diary” and Nostalgia for a World Without Brands

Posted by Stephen Lewis on May 30, 2008

Just as much of our economy is based on the sale and resale of dubious financial paper ala the recent US mortgage fiasco, another part is based on the sale and marketing of redundant products that have little or no meaningful or useful differences other than “brand” identities. Brands obscure not only what products are but also what they are used for. In Jane’s Brand Time-Line Portrait the absurdity of elevating contrived brand identities to objective reality is conveyed by listing the tasks and pleasures of a full day as practitioners of marketing would have us see them, i.e. as a progression of brands. The day ends with the most absurd extreme in a life as mirrored in brands, with sex becoming Durex.

Several minutes into Big Wide World, a recent broadcast of Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, Valentina, a new immigrant to the US from the Ukraine, describes her first trip to a mammoth American drugstore just two weeks after her arrival in the country. Searching for tampons, Valentina encounters shelves upon shelves of tampons, in every conceivable (and inconceivable) shape, size, and touted level of absorbency. The redundancy and irrelevant distinctions between tampon brands first caused Valentina to laugh and then to become sad and homesick … for a world without brands. Choice is ballyhooed as a core value of so-called market economies — but choice between what, and determined by whom? And why waste a moment of one’s time or a drop of one’s concentration chosing amongst products the distinctions between which fit the schemes of hucksters rather than the shapes, interests, and needs of our individual lives let alone the wise allocation of natural and economic resources?

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