An Indictment of The 21st Century
One of the greatest problems with society today is the art of conformity. Our youth are the most materialistic generation in contemporary history, yet no action has been taken to combat this. What is the problem with enjoying luxury? The overindulgence that is fueled by higher prices for the vain quest of comparative status. “I know you are different in your Air Force One’s” is a memorable lyric from “The Chainsmokers” song entitled “High”. For those who are unaware, Air Force Ones are (likely) the most popular shoe in America for teenagers. It is a simple all-white shoe that is mass-produced by Nike. If you go to any event filled with modern suburban youth you are bound to see someone wearing them. It is a damning line that highlights the core of youth culture and the hollowness of what it has produced. The shoe has become a symbol of the popular culture that is hyper-consumeristic and all-conforming. 500-dollar hoodies made by Gucci are seen as the height of material success, but only if you are matching it with a thousand-dollar pair of Balenciaga sneakers that you can’t wear when it is raining. When the youth are forced to do community service hours, they are wearing $150 air pods and $400 Yeezy shoes. What sort of an impression does this give to those who are not as fortunate and who do not live in extreme material comfort? The popular music of the day further drives it with the constant mention of Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and so forth. The brands have become gods and are treated with the utmost respect. Those who wear, and thus embody them, are seen as in communion with the culture and therefore the people. Hence if you are cultured and are branded with the logo of hypermaterialism, you are accepted by modern society.
This culture penetrates even rural areas, as those who often do not have as much money to spend on such luxurious goods will purchase imitations or lesser brands in hopes of appearing like they fit in. Why can they not be distinct and develop their own culture? What is the allure of the affluent suburban lifestyle to so many people? The warmth of the campfire has turned into a 10 thousand square foot home with a six-car garage that holds a custom-wrapped Lamborghini. A homemade steak has transformed into gold flake dusted Japanese wagyu served by someone wearing a silk suit, which is provided to him by the company. The man serving the steak to the customer would have to work an estimated 10 hours that day to afford the steak! What is the alternative to this gourmet lifestyle? Fast food and gradual health decline. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy a nice meal at a high-end restaurant. I enjoy a designer hoodie as much as you, in fact, you will probably find me wearing North Face or Lululemon. Do not mistake quality for hypocrisy in yourself. If you wear designer brands, fashionable sneakers, or dine in high-end restaurants, ask yourself why. Why do you spend high prices on these items and for what benefit? Do not beat yourself up for wishing to keep up with the culture, rather examine your motivations. Through all of this, you will likely sense a distaste for corporate fashion, mass production, and the standardized pop culture of our age. The solution that others have proposed, and which I have further developed in this essay is what I will term “artistic quality”. Artistic quality may be as broad as a quality leather belt from a well-known designer that will last you a decade. It may also be as narrow as supporting local farmers at an independent market instead of a corporate grocery store. For apparel, there are many new brands rising up which provide exclusive, high-quality aesthetics to their customers for a fraction of what even a plain white t-shirt will sell for at Gucci or any other major designer brand under the primary conglomerates. Supporting this underground and emerging artistic scene by purchasing their work and wearing it instead of fast fashion is a counter-cultural action. It is a personal choice that any of us can make to stand against the mass-produced society that is expected, and to some extent, coerced. How will this materialistic culture end? I am unsure if it will, in an age of comfort and TikTok. In the meantime, you can become part of the active counter-cultural movement by supporting independent artists and writers. Seek refined quality in all things that you do.