Matthew Reddin

Hello America, From Australia: Late-Stage Capitalism with a Soupçon of Post-Modernist Irony

In his latest column, Matthew Reddin examines late-stage capitalism and how Americans willingly pay good money to wear and/or display company logos.

 

I’ve noted a trend that has emerged in your part of the world and will – like most things that capture the zeitgeist – find its way to mine. (Sadly, the reverse is seldom true, as we are hard-pressed, to this day, to get you folks to take up the metric system – water boils at 100° and freezes at 0°; honestly, everything’s easier when you can divide it by 10 – despite its obvious benefits. C’mon, wouldn’t you rather your units of distance be like ours, 1000 meters in a kilometer, rather than yours, 1760 yards, or 5280 feet, in a mile?) That noted phenomenon is paying a brand to advertise their product for them.

It’s a curiosity to me that people will pay to advertise someone else’s product. Like, the fact that they will be virtual walking billboards for it. And it’s not just that they’re doing this gratis, but that it’s being done on purpose, and they’re paying the owner for the privilege of doing so. I worked with someone once who paid a staggering amount of money for a T-shirt that had “Vogue Australia” across the chest: apparently because she was a fan of the magazine, and she was keen for everyone to know it.

Years ago, I worked in a video store and would occasionally sport a T-shirt that had the name of a new-to-VHS film on it. Being someone who worked in a video store, I was not flush with cash and so anything (literally anything) that put clothes on my back was welcomed. Today, it would not surprise me to find people not only willing to walk around in a shirt with Field of Dreams emblazoned on it, but they’d pay a substantial amount of money to do so.

This is … fashion, I guess? This is also, perhaps late-stage capitalism with a soupçon of post-modernist irony attached to it? When I was a kid, the soft drink companies would put their logos on yoyos and hand them out for free. These days, the kids are paying money to have “Fanta” on [whatever it is that kids are into now].

The website Core77 has posted a piece about how you can go to Etsy (which is a thing, apparently) and purchase handmade replicas of the neon signs featured in the then-futuristic sci-fi movie Blade Runner. These things, as aesthetically curious a choice as they may be, will set the lucky buyer back a cool $650 to $2000 so that a garish neon light can festoon their living room with a Japanese kanji character that means “origin,” just like it did in the movie.

To each his/her own, I guess.

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to make some more money by selling people things they can’t honestly think they need, Netflix has opened their own merch shop, where now you too can be the proud owner of a $30 “The Witcher First Encounter Crewneck,” or for as little as $249.99, your bookshelf (presuming you have one) can sport a “The Witcher First Encounter Statue” commemorating the “… brutally memorable opening sequence of The Witcher’s first episode …”!

Grotesque thing it is, but if that’s your aesthetic, knock yourselves out.

 

The “exit through the gift shop” notion is – to me at least – a uniquely American phenomenon.

 

The “exit through the gift shop” notion is – to me at least – a uniquely American phenomenon. I once wandered into the NBC Store after enjoying the view from the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and aside from the products not being to my personal taste, it seemed disproportionately expensive, and curious as to why (and how) there is enough of a market out there to justify their stocking large quantities of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and caps with the “NBC Sports” logo on it.

“Hello, I’m a person who likes sports, but not a specific one, or a specific code, or league, or a team, or the notion of sports in general; specifically, this broadcaster who brings ‘sports’ to my house via my TV.”

I can’t imagine anyone outside of Kenny Albert wearing this thing while he was painting his kitchen. (I had to look up the name of someone who works at NBC Sports; now I can say this with authority.)

It makes as much sense as parading around with the logos of whichever electricity provider powers your house. But, again, you (whoever you are) do you. It’s not a new phenomenon, as kids have been wearing Mickey Mouse T-shirts for 70 years, and what is that if not an advertisement for a product?

A larger market and sociological shift happened in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where the clothing itself wasn’t enough, nor was the notoriety or fame and renown of the specific design. The brand and logo became the fashion. We went from being a culture that noted a specific cut or pattern as being of a specific design house, to people wearing actual logos across their chests. I’ve got *this* much worth because I can afford *this* label: my top says “GUESS,” I must therefore have some measure of worth, to someone, somewhere.

With it, we have found a shift in home aesthetics. Adorning the walls of houses across the world is no longer simply “art,” but advertisements for art: movie posters, stills, and miscellaneous advertisements framed as artworks. This basically goes back to Andy Warhol’s soup cans and the subjectivity of art. Or, how Generation X now own mortgaged homes and our general anti-corporate/capitalist cynicism begat an overall aesthetic which even we don’t know if it’s sarcastic anymore.

What a time to be alive. Now, excuse me, I must go dust my 12-inch Stay Puft Marshmallow Man figurine.

 

Matthew Reddin

Matt Reddin has been writing nonsense about film, TV, books, music, and live theatre for a touch over 20 years. He’s gone from the halcyon days of street press in Perth, to regional dailies, national magazines, and major metropolitan newspapers. Now, in between bouts of sporadically yelling at clouds, he vents his creative spleen at www.lessercolumn.com.au

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