When selling is everywhere, how do you escape it?
I knew consumerism was not good for (my) mental health, it took a trip to the US to remind me of just how bad it is.
I was in the USA earlier this year and for the first time I finally understood why there is a movement against capitalism… to be fair it’s more specifically against consumerism. After all the USA is the kind of place where even God puts adverts on the highway (I now have his number in case you need it).
Perhaps it is because I now live in a country where EVERYTHING is shut on a Sunday that I felt so overwhelmingly bombarded with advertising everywhere I turned.
They were on TV, radio, panoramic billboards along the highway, mini billboards pinned up along perfectly mowed lawns along suburban streets… all telling me to either buy something and making me constantly question whether I had just had an accident that was someone else’s fault or if I needed to talk to a lawyer regarding “marital issues” or potentially immigration.
I found myself exhausted at the end of each day and even though before I would usually watch a bit of TV to “unwind”, this time, I kept the TV off.
I just couldn’t bear to listen to another ad for a medication that promised to solve “mild stomach problems”, but nevertheless risked some sort of violent death… it is no wonder that services like Netflix are continuously on the rise.
After a few days it finally dawned on me.
The main reason why I was not only uncomfortable but almost anxious on a daily basis.
Subconsciously, I had been taking a daily dose of self-doubt with a dollop of unfulfillment.
This constant bombardment of advertisement was making me doubt and question whether or not I needed what was on offer.
Similar to when you leave the house and your partner asks if you locked the back door. You “were” sure you did… but now you are not so sure.
You start to question if indeed you locked it and wonder whether if you risk it, you will arrive to a ransacked burglarized home just because you didn´t check.
You get so consumed with doubt that even though the kids are crying, the dog is barking and you are already late, finally you say dang it I´ll go back and check! Only to find that of course the door was locked.
However, it was not only the creation of doubt (where there was none before) that was bothering me. It was more than that.
It was like a catwalk of all the things I didn’t have (or need or wanted) waltzing in front of me and constantly asking are you sure you don’t need this? Well I was sure before, but now I don’t know anymore.
This approach means that consumerism not only puts you in a state of doubt, it also puts you in a constant state of lack.
And before you provide me with a list of how this can be avoided, believe me I understand how “free will” works.
I am aware I didn’t have to watch TV and the advertisements that came with it, which is why I stopped watching TV during my trip. Ditto for the radio (suffice to say I shall not be listening to the playlists on my phone for a while).
However, it would have been extremely difficult (and actually illegal) to close my eyes while driving.
And I get it, this isn’t Bird Box and I am not going to die from watching the advertisements that constantly pepper the highway (although maybe there is a fan theory here that we can propagate).
However, in terms of mental health, constant doubt triggers anxiety and constant lack contributes to feelings of unfulfillment.
This goes further and deeper than for example, the fight on body positivity and diversity. And it’s more than striving for basic feelings of contentment.
It’s about achieving inner peace, which should be a “normal”, run of the mill aim.
And I don’t mean a “monk-like” or “holy-like” type of peace. I mean the feelings of calmness and security that come from not being constantly riddled with doubt or thinking that if you just had “that thing” everything would be ok.
If you happened to have seen the series Selfridges (I know it was a while ago), you might remember at the beginning of the series, Harry Selfridge walking into a shop asking for a pair of gloves.
The sales assistant asks him what colour he wants, to which he replies he doesn’t know. Long story short he talks the sales assistant into taking out ALL the gloves after which she promptly gets sacked, because that’s just not the way sales were done.
The point of that story is that Selfridges was one of the pioneers in revolutionising the shopping sales process by showing people what they could have (creating in their minds a state of lack and desire) instead of only giving them what they were asking for (a.k.a. needed).
I’m not advocating that we go back to a pre-Selfridges sales method. However, I do think that people have every right to be able to turn advertising “off”. In the same way we can turn off our phones, our computers, our TV’s and radios.
Except it is difficult to turn off the outside world, when a walk for some fresh air still bombards you with advertising on the streets and benches.
This is of course not an issue solely in the USA. However, it seems that in the USA, physical advertising, (much like A/Cs) are constantly turned up to the max.
There is so much attention devoted to online advertising and its impact on mental health. Perhaps it is time that some of that attention is also placed on how the real world still provides no respite for people who want or NEED to “turn it off”.