On Freedom as a Buyable Commodity

The other day, as I was waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy to start (fun, but a bit too pow pow! sci-fi action adventure! for me) an ad came on playing Cream’s “I Feel Free.” It took me a minute to figure out what it was selling. Freedom, certainly. And connection–it had dads videocalling in to tuck their kids in at night, a young couple recording the night sky, young surfers somehow involving their phones in what they were doing.

Turns out it was an ad for Bell Mobility, a Canadian cell phone company known for the same draconian multi-year deals as the rest, known for lobbying against regulation of the cell industry, and known, among friends, for its shit service.

If there’s one thing I think of when I think of my phone it’s sure as hell not “freedom”. It’s a multi-year contract that is disgustingly expensive, a fear of roaming and overage charges, and a count-down to when my contract ends (January 2015, for the record).

We see this appeal to freedom in the beauty industry as well:

lupita-lancome-ad2

lupita-lancome-ad2

I should note that Lupita is absolutely beautiful and the inclusion of a darker-skinned black woman in a mainstream beauty campaign is its own victory. However, the use of “freedom” by one of the largest beauty conglomerates in the world makes me feel queasy. Lancome (and its parent company, L’Oreal) only survive in the face of women’s lack of freedom to do and wear and look how they please. Without the social pressure to colour our hair, hide our greys, sculpt our brows, hide our “imperfections”, highlight our eyes, bring a “natural flush” to our cheeks, stain our lips, paint our nails, sheer off all body hair below the eyelashes, bodywash and coif ourselves into nigh unrecognizability, these companies don’t exist. This entire, multi-billion dollar industry doesn’t exist.

In the neoliberal condition rights are given up for choices. But these choices aren’t the big important choices (like what we get to do with our own bodies) they’re the choice between 75 different types of cereal, 30 different bars of soap which are essentially the same, 40 types of toothpaste. We assert our individuality through consumption. We get to make all the choices we could ever want, so long as they are about which to buy and not whether we buy.

So I am suspicious when advertisers use that which we have given up (freedom) to sell that which constrains us.

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One thought on “On Freedom as a Buyable Commodity

  1. Teaching agency, structure, and false consciousness in my Gender and Comm class this week, and this stuff all ties in perfectly. Another very well-articulated critique!

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