Expressing very human emotions – love, hate for example – for an inanimate object has always baffled me somewhat. As people, we tend to fetishise things to the point where they are no longer simply ‘things’, but objects of near human character with personalities, temperaments and the capacity to evoke emotional responses in others. It can be anything from a pair of shoes to an entire house, a rug, a sports car or a Dyson vacuum cleaner. It’s not just how we feel about the object though, but how the object makes us feel about ourselves. More critically, these objects which we imbue with so much power over us often pertain to some sort of social value; they provide social ‘currency’ as it were, for the holder of the object. It may infer a particular social status or general inclusion within a particular social tier – or perhaps merely provide the illusion. Conversely, as Don Draper points out in an episode of Man Men (Season 6), love isn’t something that belongs in the kitchen, so “why are we contributing to the trivialisation of the word?” Such are the compunctions of modern consumer culture.
Not that I am exempt from this behaviour myself. I frequently express inordinate hatred toward mundane items that are in no way commensurate with the level of emotion I’m directing at them. Love however, is seldom a word I utter in relation to an object. I’m never sure if this is because a) my expectations of what a given object can achieve are irrationally high or b) I manage to get the lemon of every object and am consequently dissatisfied with its performance. My Bugaboo for instance. It’s okay, it certainly handles far more easily than my Maclaren, it looks cosy, it’s compact, it’s a helluva lot easier to push uphill, etc, etc. But I would never profess to loving it as I hear other mothers gush. ‘Oh I absolutely LOVE my Bugaboo…’ Really? Is it really that amazing? Mine always looks slightly crooked, can’t be adjusted as seamlessly as it ought and generally feels quite flimsy, rattly and rickety. Do people love them because they feel they should, given the financial outlay necessary to obtain one? Having only paid a fraction of the cost for mine (second-hand) I still feel as if I’ve been taken for a massive chump. But, as I alluded earlier, perhaps my expectations of what it can achieve are too high or perhaps I have in fact got myself a lemon and everyone elses’ Bugaboos are truly amazing.
Perhaps I’m digressing too far down the buggy path (I can’t help it; everyone time I take it out I want to LOVE it but its flaws are just too apparent). But the Bugaboo is an interesting example of the more general theme I suppose I’m trying to get at. There’s no doubt it’s a quality contraption, but it’s more than the technology which people are drawn to. Pushing one around allows the owner to feel as if they’ve tacitly subscribed to a particular club (however unconscious this may be). With my first child, I didn’t have one and I spent a lot of time outwardly dismissing them but inwardly wishing I had one. It was like being back in my first year of high school at the inter-school sports day, where all the cool girls were wearing Nike Air Max and I was wearing a pair of white, pink and aqua Linx high tops from my primary school years. It was embarrassing. It affected my performance because I kept trying to hide my feet and consequently became the most passive woodcrick player of all time.
It is in this way that objects provide extensions of our personality, allowing us to express who we are. I have heard people say in the past that they cannot dress for example, in the way they feel most appropriately reflects their personality because they cannot afford to – i.e. Yves Saint Laurent c.1970 best reflects how I see myself, but I’m lucky if I can afford Gap. Or their flat/house doesn’t adequately convey their personality because they can only afford IKEA and not Eames. By this rationale, money becomes the great enabler and consumption the vehicle for expression, but is this really the end goal or have we simply fetishised the idea that somehow, once a certain number of objects are obtained, our personality will eventually be complete?
Possibly. Although given my track record with disappointment vis-a-vis nearly every object I’ve ever obtained, it’s going to be a long, expensive and empty road to ultimate personal expression. Perhaps a less materialistic route may be in order. Or perhaps that simply is my personality. On one occasion at my old job, my boss was trying on a pair of shoes and asked my opinion. I responded with a shrug and ‘Meh…’ or something to that effect. ‘Really?’ She replied, ‘I LOVE them.’ (If you feel so strongly about them then presumably you don’t need my endorsement, but I suppose that’s beside the point). Dissatisfied with my response she went to my colleagues and asked for their opinion. Love all round I believe was the result. Then my boss said ‘Willow doesn’t like them.’ My colleague dismissed this and said ‘Yes, but Willow never likes anything.’ Indeed.
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Ten Things I Hate About You gif source