You’ve Got Personality
On most Sundays, as I cringe in front of the television, watching the last glint of greatness fade from the once-mighty 49ers dynasty, I find exactly thirty seconds of pure entertainment in this television advertisement:
Not only does it have two always-delightful things at once — a regional recording of a shitty song and a dog in clothes — but it also puts me at ease with myself. Sometimes a man might wonder: should I really be working a soul sucking job that I believe, by and large, is immoral? Just to earn enough dough to engage in this crass parade of consumer capitalism? I mean, what does that say about my personality? About my capacity for independent thought and action? Shouldn’t I just get off the grid? Dedicate my life to service? Something besides engaging in a system I find inherently flawed? No, no, no, the NFL reassures me. Calm down. You can buy the same shit as everyone else, root for the same team, worship the same hero, and just by coming up with your own cute pun to put on the back of your jersey, you have all the personality you need. There is no one else like you.
This path to individuality shows up everywhere in advertising. Scion tells me that in buying one of their cars, I join a subversive army of Scion owners, brought together by “that which makes us different”: our choices of rims and paint color.
The final image calls into my mind the famous Trabant P-601, the ubiquitous automobile of Communist East Germany. It was an emblem of homogeneous centralized planning and the stifling conformity of Soviet totalitarianism. For decades, almost everyone in East Germany either owned one or had been waiting for years to own one, and they came off the line with about as much diversity as the Model T. What was great about Trabant culture, though, was the subversion of the homogeneity, the wild modification owners made to them after the fact: people suped up their engines to make them run like race-cars, keeping the chassis of a Trabant over a high-performance home-made vehicle.
Faced with a lack of diversity in their consumer choices, Trabant owners who wanted to carve out a niche for themselves took matters into their own hands and tinkered around in the garage.
Here in the free world, Scion has solved this problem for us. All the customization options, the things that make us different, are readily available on the Scion website. After choosing one of three models, you can choose your color, throw on some alloy rims, and attach a spoiler to the back; a completely unique car emerges, and all you had to do was tinker around on your laptop. Through many sets of limited options, a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of realities is laid before you. Across the spectrum of consumer products, in fact, I’m given such a plethora of prefabricated options that I am guaranteed to find one perfectly suited for my absolute uniqueness (there are 283,115,520 ways to custom-design your Chucks). This doesn’t seem oppressive or totalitarian because I’m given choices.
We buy into this readily and willingly. We love the trivial, safe differences that allow us to feel unique, but still we crave that feeling of homogeneity, of belonging to something greater than ourselves. This version of choice delivers on both fronts. I can carve out a niche for myself by making minute personal customizations to a product, all without leaving the warm comfort of the herd: the stirring unity of the rally-mob of Scions; the genial community of Breesville.
So at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that I couldn’t think of a good Alex Smith pun for the back of my Niners jersey (SMITHSONIAN was one character too long for Smithville). What matters is that, across the country, there are thousands of other fans just like me, screaming at their TVs in their crimson-and-gold Snuggies, and they all have personality too.