“My Movement told me be a consumer and I consumer it!”

“My Movement told me be a                          consumer and I consumer it!”

 

‘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/

 

 

Part Two: The Social Influencer: Back Stage

Part Two: The Social Influencer: Back Stage

Part One: The Social Influencer: Front Stage discusses Erving Goffman’s notion of dramaturgy and the construction of identity from a front stage perspective… join me for Part Two as I analyse the back stages of identity portrayal. 

In 2013 social influencer Tammy Hembrow uploaded a bathroom selfie to Instagram, unaware that it would receive any likes let alone thousands.

From that moment on she continued to share likeable content and photographs of her incredibly fit and flawless figure and insane body transformations throughout pregnancies.

Little did she know that this would accrue a social following of 7.5 million and lead her to becoming an ambassador for fitness clothing brand Gym Shark as well as a Good Squad model for Khloe Kardashian’s ‘Good American’ clothing line.

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It may appear to be the dream job…I mean how hard could it be getting paid to take selfies?

The model addresses the back stage pressures however of trying to maintain and live up to the idealised digital version of the self: “I think a big misconception is that my Instagram is a direct reflection of who I am. I don’t always look my best, I have nights where I’m up all night with the kids, and I’m working, or just having downtime. People can be quick to label me based on my looks, but that is just one part of me”.

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Social media platforms enable us to stage an online identity that shape how others perceive us and although behind the scenes, receiving positive feedback, likes and shares can be extremely satisfying, the two way flow of engagement that these platforms facilitate also open the gateway for trolls and internet bullies.

Last year Hembrow posted transformation pictures of her body before and after giving birth…and what a transformation in just two months.

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In fact such a transformation that her followers or for want of a better word…trolls, accused the social star of using Photoshop to exaggerate her progress, with people claiming that it’s not possible to lose baby weight that quickly.

“God does no one understand that the body doesn’t do that in two months, she’s clearly Photoshopped this pic” and “I’m crying – look at her arm” were just some of the negative comments left under the post.


Humans are either born with XY or XX chromosomes which make them either male or female…

gender roles however are also considered a construction of identity.

Society has set ideologies and social expectations of how women should be feminine and men should be masculine.

Jordan Stephens, from hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks spoke out recently about the incredibly flawed idea of what a man is and the traditional norms of behaviour. The ideologies that society associate with men such as dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions is referred to as Toxic Masculinity.

See this video:

The artist expresses how society perceive men as weak when they appear vulnerable and how men are reluctant to disclose how they may be feeling behind the scenes.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, the pressure for men to uphold the traditional idea of masculinity has also been linked with mental health issues such as depression. 

TV personality and influencer RuPaul doesn’t conform to social norms or ideologies, as one of the top drag queens in the industry of drag.

Ru is known for challenging preconceptions about gender and believes gender identity should be fluid and changing therefore mixes his own identities between her in drag and him in traditional men’s suits.

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With such a huge social media following Ru regularly remediates his beliefs and rebellion to the societal preconceived idea of how men should look or behave with expressive quotes such as “reject the ideology that has enslaved you”.

He also expresses the shame in the gay game and the difficulty homosexual artists face with support from other gay men. Even men who are open about their sexuality are made to feel shammed for supporting other gay artists. George Michael once quoted, “I used to have a lot of gay fans until I came out of the closet”.

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“Whatever you proclaim as your identity here in the material realm is also your drag. You are not your religion. You are not your skin colour. You are not your gender, your politics, your career, or your marital status. You are none of the superficial things that this world deems important. The real you is the energy force that created the entire universe!” RuPaul

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

Part One: The Social Influencer: Front Stage

Part One: The Social Influencer: Front Stage

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Identity’ as “The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is”

But is it something that we are born with or is it something that we create?

Sociologist Erving Goffman describes identity as an interactive construction rather than something ‘given’ and suggests that all social interaction is like a dramatic performance.

Likewise, I believe that we can be whoever the hell we want to be … understandably, we cannot control how we are born, our sex or the genes we inherit; however I feel we have the power to manipulate our identity and portray ourselves as whoever or whatever we desire to be.

People behave differently in different settings. Take a working environment in which you would perform professionally against a social setting were you would behave in a more relaxed manor. In both settings we would conduct ourselves differently however both still require performance.  This theory applies across the communication board, whether that be in person, over the phone, email and varies depending on the receiver / audience.

Goffman’s theory was, pardon the pun… identified in the late 50’s, a long time before the internet and the rise of social media but I feel it largely applies to this day and age.

The internet and social media platforms enable us to go to extremes and be absolutely anyone we want and to the point where we can hide behind the identity of an existing or fictitious person…commonly known as ‘catfishing’.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these social media Influencers have fake profiles but I do think they can paint their identity to appear absolutely perfect and flawless. That combined with consistent activity of interesting content, generates followers and subscribers and enables them to position themselves on a social pedestal for us “real people” to view them as superior.

It’s obviously not as simple as that, if it were we all would be doing it but you do have to have that something extra and special to stand out; whether that be a beautiful face, body or character…it’s knowing how to utilise it and essentially brand / market yourself.

International social influencer and all-rounder 23 year old fitness guru, entrepreneur and mother of 3, Tammy Hembrow is a prime example and she is very much in demand.

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Her social identity has become a 24/7 job, inspiring thousands of people and consumers worldwide. The success has even landed her brand sponsorships and endorsements such as fitness clothing line ‘Gym Shark’, which generate revenue and a lot of revenue at that… since 2017 her net worth is approximately $1.6 million!

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But is it possible to be absolutely flawless 100% of the time? Of course not but this platform is one of Tammy’s ‘front stages’ and when she’s not working, she probably behaves like a normal full-time mother and fiancé and in a more relaxed environment, as her ‘back stage’ self.

Technology is so advanced these days that you don’t need to be a professional photo editor to edit images. We can instantaneously alter and enhance a basic photograph with the use of filters and editing tools…we can even access editing apps for free or pay next to nothing to smooth out blemishes, whiten teeth and even bring in our waistlines.

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But how far is too far? Are these embellished photographs not showing an unrealistic representation that you couldn’t possibly compete with in person…

Vicky Pattison was initially and famously known for being on MTV TV series Geordie Shore which let’s be honest… probably didn’t paint her in the best light.

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However with the help of the social media, she has managed to change public opinion and landed respected roles such as presenting on ITV’s Loose Women as well as starting her own online clothing boutique ‘Honeyz’.

Vicky is also no stranger to editing apps and isn’t shy about it either!

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She admitted during a discussion on Loose Women that she enhances pictures of herself; airbrushing and smoothing out wrinkles etc. something that various social media fans have slated her for.

Vicky might regularly share airbrushed selfies and edited snaps but occasionally she will post a natural and unedited picture, say at the gym for example.

When it comes to male social influencers, their natural snaps are more than likely untouched but enhanced with a basic filter however the same measures apply; the content is attractive to consumers, brands and is consistent.

Take Instagram success Nick Bateman for example…

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Aside from the obvious…he’s a very handsome guy but his social content is appealing to a wide audience and probably a large majority of that being Yorkshire terrier fans and followers.

I’m a big fan of Nick and how he portrays himself online. In the words of Derek Zoolander, it’s not all about being really, really, ridiculously good looking… Nick doesn’t take himself too seriously and offers an element of humour on his social feed.

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Haters are also not likely to hate with content like this…

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I mean how could you???

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Social Influencer: Back Stage

 

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/