Okay you’re right about you not being able to get into America. Ain’t nobody going to let you into America talking like this.
But you’re right, American consumerism is a sickening, religious obsession — that I never could fully buy into, because I simply wasn’t inclined to ridiculous status-driven material wealth accumulation, it just seemed stupid to me. (Why buy a purse for $4000, when you can get one for $40 or even $4 that will do the exact same thing? What idiot does that?)
And, my father, much like you, always pointed out the game and the idiocy of it, all the damn time. Money can’t buy you happiness, he would say, and happiness is what is truly wanted but most people are too stupid to recognize that. Money can’t get you anything you want, he’d always say, just what you need. Most people are thinking, maybe not (about money and happiness) but let me at least try.
We all just thought he was being cheap and just didn’t want to give us any — and there was some of that going on too, but no, he’d also break down the game.
“Nike has brainwashed you into believing their $100 shoes, are different from these $10 shoes, but the only difference is your stupid ass runs around in those $100 shoes, advertising for Nike for free, so they can make a $95 profit, on a $5 shoe, that they paid some Vietnamese kids 5 cents a day, to make, during their 12 hour work day. Don’t be an idiot.”
And so, who would want to wear Nike after that rant? Not me. But, I was teased for wearing “buddies.” In urban Black America, there was no greater crime to be committed against peers. To wear “buddies” was to greatly insult the social order, and to basically announce in that particular social system, the way it operated, that your were essentially a peasant, unworthy of any social interaction with anyone.
Therefore, a lot of urban Black Americans would do anything to get them Nike shoes. Especially, the ones endorsed by Michael Jordan. People would literally kill for them. But, if you couldn’t get the Nikes…at least wear some other name brand. Any name was better than buddies, that literally had no name on them. Brand names that were known to be cheap, were almost just as bad as buddies.
Therefore, I was teased relentlessly for wearing buddies, cause my dad wasn’t buying no name real name brand shoes. I would complain to him about all the teasing. He could not care less. My father advised me, to tell my peers what idiots they were, to make Nike, that doesn’t give a damn about them, rich.
I tried. But none of that mattered. I quickly realized that it was as if I was speaking a language they could not hear. They simply seemed to be unable to process these concepts of corporate, capitalist exploitation.
Do you know how I got black kids to leave me the hell alone about the buddies? This is wild.
Of course everyone in my entire neighborhood knew I went to “a rich white girl school.” And, therefore, I had to wear the rich white girl uniform. The tennis shoes that the rich white girls wore, were not Nikes, they were called Tretorns. A name brand, but one that no urban black kids had ever been exposed to.
To a black urban kid, Tretorns would be totally indistinguishable from buddies. They were canvas white shoes, with a white stripe on them — almost the total antithesis of what any urban black kid would be drawn to, and that would be lots and lots of color and leather, always leather.
Anyway, these black kids, see me in my Tretorns, and of course they start in on me about the buddies. My response this time?
“They’re not buddies! They’re Tretorns. And Tretorns are the tennis shoes rich White’s girls wear. Think about it, they could wear any shoes from anywhere in the entire world! But they don’t wear Nikes! They wear Tretorns. So I’m going to wear what they wear!”
And, unlike my dad’s argument where they refused to hear me, and laugh at me, and relentlessly tease me still, this time there was silence. No one said anything to me about my Tretorns after that.
But…what happened next, even crazier, some of the black kids, not a whole lot mind you, but I’d say a good 5 to 10 % started wearing Tretorns. It became a thing. I could not believe it. And all because of me. It spread through the entire black urban youth culture, by word of mouth. Because we didn’t have internet. When I was a teen, we barely had phones. And, if you had a phone in your bedroom, (which I did) that was a super teen luxury.
What does this tell you though about American consumerism? I mean it’s so freaking crazy. I disrupted an entire social order by saying, hey this Tretorn brand is even more high status than Nike, and because of the school I attended, I was believed. People started imitating me.
But okay the story gets even crazier. I told you about the Tretorns and how they look. Plain canvas white shoe, white stripe…these are what black kids called buddies and buddies were despised.
Therefore, I didn’t particularly like wearing the Tretorns, because they reminded me of buddies. So when I came across some Tretorns with a plaid stripe, in the clearance section of TJ Max, I had to have them. They made the shoe look less like buddies in my mind. Plus, I have always loved plaid. I have no idea why, but I think I may have been Scottish in a past life, I really do.
Anyway I buy the $10 Tretorns. Now the Tretorns were typically $30, but this one with the plaid stripe, apparently didn’t do well with the preppy crowd, so I’m getting essentially the same $30 shoe for $10. I was thrilled, because in my mind, only an idiot pays $30 for buddies that typically cost $5.
I wear the $10 Tretorns with the plaid stripe, and the preppy white girls lose their ever loving minds. Where did I get those Tretorns? They had never seen any Tretorns like that.
Of course I refused to tell them, cause it wouldn’t have been cool to say, “I got them in the clearance section at TJ Maxx for $10.” Instead, I said, “I don’t remember.”
Because I refused to tell anyone where I got the shoes, and because I was “rebellious” enough to dare to wear a plaid stripe instead of a white one, me and my shoes became the talk of the school.
The creative preppys started coloring in their white stripes…and me all the while, got not one BUT two extraordinarily different, but both easily influenced obviously, sets of teens to totally change their styles.
And then I was like “Eureka I have found it!” With the whole teen fashion thing. Whatever, I wore would be cool, because with all my black urban peers, if they didn’t like it, I’d just say, “it comes from the rich white girls.” And they have to accept it. Anything that the white girls didn’t recognize, I would just say to them, “it comes from cool kids in my hood.” And then of course, they were deeply intrigued.
So there was this shirt with a black Mickey Mouse on it. This shirt was the scourge of the hood. It only cost a dollar. Only crack heads wore this shirt, it was not cool. I bought one, to wear to my prep school -as a joke.
It was my very own social experiment. Could I get the same reaction over this shirt, as I did the plaid Tretorns? I bet my friends back in the hood that I could. They didn’t think it would work. How could a shirt, that screams welfare bum in the hood, possibly be intriguing to anyone in anywhere? There is no way, my black friends reasoned, that I would get any response, other than a contemptuous one for daring to flaunt what was a symbol of poverty and lowlifeness at my prep school.
What do you think the white girls thought of my black Mickey Mouse shirt? They were completely intrigued. “Cool shirt! Where did you get that shirt? From Disney? I’ve never seen a black Mickey Mouse!”
Yeah, and they never would at Disney! Little known fact about Walt Disney, he was totally down with the whole white nationalist thing — totally.
“What does it mean?” They further asked.
Who in the hell knew? It was a shirt with a Black Mickey Mouse saying, “yo baby, yo baby, you! Good to Go!” This shirt was literally the chosen fashion, of crack heads because it was so cheap…and I guess so stupid. A dime a dozen in the hood. But in a prep school, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, no one had ever seen anything like it, although, not even 10 miles away, inner city Cleveland they were everywhere being worn by only the lowest of the low.
Now, no one could get away with anything like that today. Not with the internet knowing everything. But I did.
True story. I wore a shirt that was a symbol of extreme poverty, and had a bunch of rich white girls telling me how cool it was. Can you imagine the amusement of all the other blacks in that environment who know what that shirt represented? We were all quite amused. One of them said to me, “only you would pull some shit like this, Amber, only you could get away with it.”
She was probably right. And I was getting away with it, until one bougie black (not urban) outed me to a teacher for violating dress code.
That teacher made me go home and change because I was violating dress code by wearing a t-shirt at all. Then, I wasn’t laughing, anymore. Getting a dress code violation noted, was a major pain in my ass, but I guess I deserved it, looking back in retrospect. What do you think?
This is just one example of how crazy Americans can get over material driven status symbols. And anything that a lot of other people don’t have, can become a status symbol, or at least an object of intrigue. A $1 tee shirt, with a Black Mickey Mouse on it, became an object of intrigue at a prep school for half a day, because none of the preppies had ever seen anything like it.
I think chasing status symbols is just one of the most idiotic past times ever…but watching Game of Thrones (I’m telling you this show teaches a great deal about western culture and Western history) I have a better understanding of why people do it.
It used to be certain material things were directly connected to power. Metal, leather, weapons, certain symbols, were directly connected to power.
Not anymore though. To wear Nikes now, doesn’t really connect you to any real power, it just makes Nike rich of the backs of factory laborers making ten cents a day. It is stupid. It is truly meaningless.
I have never been a particularly good pawn, with regard to American consumerism, but now, more than ever I am finding all of it particularly pointless, vapid and unsatisfying. Walking into a typical American Mall, now disgusts me because I can clearly see how empty and corrupt these systems are in the way they try to get us to consume needlessly and manipulate our feelings and thoughts about all these things.
And…I’m not the only one. There are so many people saying, “I don’t want to go to the mall anymore. I want to get rid of junk that I have.”
People are not wanting any more corporate junk, but good, edible, unprocessed, uncontaminated food. And that’s really getting hard to find! And very expensive!
This new way of thinking is a huge threat to these first American and now global corporations, that can only thrive when people buy into that status symbol bullshit. I never fully bought into it, but now I really reject it. Scores of people are waking up to the idiocy of it. And…if we can wake up to the idiocy of chasing a freaking Nike symbol, what else will we awaken to? and how will this shift the materialistic paradigm of America? And if America truly shifts, then will the entire world too shift? I think it’s already happening.