‘Wings’ by Macklemore narrates growing up in a society surrounded by consumerism. The rapper uses such thought provoking lyrics to express how as a culture, we spend unnecessary amounts of money buying expensive things that we think define our individuality, “Look at me, I’m a cool kid, I’m an individual”.

Relating back to my blogs on part one and two of ‘The Social Influencer’ and the discussion of Erving Goffman’s theory on identity, we have the ability to shape and portray ourselves as whoever or whatever we desire to be.  Humans naturally want to feel a sense of belonging therefore dress accordingly and conform to the set cultural ideologies to fit and feel accepted.  President Jimmy Carter quoted in 1979 “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns”.  This behaviour continues as Macklemore quotes thirty something years later “We are what we wear, we wear what we are”…“I’m part of a movement”.

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Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis express consumerism using Nike as an example throughout the song, however initially does not outright quote the brand yet references the unique and identifiable qualities associated such as the strap line “they told me to just do it” and the notorious logo “I listened to what that swoosh said look at what that swoosh did”.

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When objects are brought into the market place, people consider them to be sources of satisfaction with mystical characteristics. Consumers only see the surface of the goods and exploit the labouring process, Karl Marx conceptualises this as ‘Commodity Fetishism’ (Marx, 1954).

Nike is well-established and one of the world’s most iconic brands and market leaders for sports footwear, despite claims that link the brand to manufacturing in poor working conditions in third world sweatshops. We as consumers plead ignorance and choose to alienate ourselves from the production process and have no reservations towards paying a lot of money for products that probably cost very little to produce…hands up, I’m guilty of it!  

Through the use of celebrity endorsements such as world famous athlete Michael Jordan, Nike has managed to position themselves as athletic wear, tapping into the emotions of consumers with beliefs that everyone in this world can be an athlete wearing Nike. Macklemore expresses his vulnerability as a young boy and the influence of celebrity endorsement “I wanted to be like Mike, right wanted to be him, I wanted to be that guy”.

As the song draws to an end, Macklemore quotes “Nike tricked us all”, “it’s just another pair of shoes”…fundamentally all shoes serve the same purpose however our ideological perceptions and commodity fetishism will convince us that Nike is superior and gives us that status symbol that no other shoe could.

 

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Even tattoos are becoming a growing commodity that were once perceived as negative aspects in culture however are now considered to be trendy and cool. Somewhat like clothing, however deeper and more symbolic, ink is used to represent important values, beliefs and ideologies and many tattoo enthusiasts are willing to spend huge amounts of money on their body as an investment in art and identity representation. They are used to differentiate and individuate people, while at the same time enabling people to conform with masses of others, take for example the ‘emo’ movement and the star tattoo…

 

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‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ by Sophie Kinsella demonstrates how commodity fetishism can drive a lot of consumers into debt, with the desire to satisfy their obsessions over material things. The novel is based on a young woman called Becky who gets herself in to debt trying to fulfil her emotional and psychological need to amass clothes, shoes, and other material objects in order to present a certain type of image to the world.

The consumerist dilemma is the consistent belief that people can live beyond their means, indulging short-term profits without consideration for the future effects of overspending. Kayne West’s song ‘Blood on the Leaves’ demonstrates how society is so backwards that we would rather have material objects than intangible things such as spiritual, emotional, mental and intellectual fulfilment and we are willing to deprive ourselves in order to obtain those material objects, as Mr West quotes “Two thousand dollar bag with no cash in your purse”.

 

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I find the theory of capitalism and commodity fetishism fascinating… so much that I have based my dissertation on the topic. Through my findings, it seems we are buying into it evermore due to the rise of digital and social media, and with the ability to target consumers based on behaviour and search activity, the fetishes for commodities are becoming harder to resist

Marx, K (1954). Capital Volume 1. 3rd ed.

Cara Cowan is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/caracowan/