Sunday, May 1, 2011

Problems of Leisure

Last night I saw a commercial for X-Box  that used the Gang of Four song, "Natural's Not In It," from their 1979 debut album, Entertainment. The song is a fairly straightforward rant against consumerism, the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts, (Wikipedia)Even though the commercial only features the funky, grinding guitar break and no lyrics, which mock  society's attempt to find fulfillment by acquiring the newest pleasure toys.  By definition, this attempt to stay abreast is a never ending (or winnable) battle because the objective will always remain out of reach.

The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances

A commercial for a high tech consumable  gaming system, images of people huddled around their television sets at home, school and what might be work, playing Xbox, juxtaposed by music from an song decrying the pursuit of pleasure by purchase power, is an excellent example of irony: using images and words to convey opposing meanings or intent. 

The old relationship between income and purchasing luxury items such as game consoles was to earn the money, then use it to purchase the most needed things first.  Whatever was left over, could be used to purchase the wanted items.  Credit was for emergencies or special circumstances, not to pay for luxury items. 

Consumers are encouraged to spend more than they earn, sinking into debt.  Credit is used to purchase items against potential future earnings, not what is at hand.  With the substantial amounts of credit easily accessible, earning has become secondary to purchasing. Instead  of paying the bill off, it is easy to postpone it almost indefinitely by raising the consumer's credit limit or even by attaining a different credit card. 

The producers of the Xbox commercial count on its viewers, and potential buyers, on not being familiar with the intent of "Natural's not in it;" which is not allowing the desire for material items to overtake our priorities.   

This unintentional incongruity reminds me of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line television ads that took Iggy Pop's ode to life as a heroin addict (ironically titled "Lust for life") and turned it into a commercial jingle for luxury cruises.  A friend pointed out that this is "all but a parody of a caricature! It's an accidental confession that cruise lines are selling the same illusions as dope pushers."  

Encouraging people to live beyond their means in order to purchase their products in an unconscionable act.  The promise of a better, happier life through consumerism is a lie, one that affects not just the duped consumer, but society too.  

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