How con­sumerism be­came spir­i­tual

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Sunday Special -

Just a few years ago, Amer­i­can cul­ture was em­brac­ing its surface de­lights with a ni­hilis­tic zeal. Its re­al­ity queens were the Kar­dashi­ans, a fam­ily that be­came rich and fa­mous through brand­ing its own wealth and fame. Don­ald Trump, the king of 1980s extravagan­ce, was elected pres­i­dent.

But lately Amer­i­can ma­te­ri­al­ism

is de­but­ing a new look. Shop­ping, dec­o­rat­ing, grooming and sculpt­ing are now jumping with mean­ing. And a purchase need not have any ex­plicit social by-prod­uct — the ma­te­ri­als eco-friendly, or the pro­ceeds do­nated to char­ity — to be weighted with sig­nif­i­cance. Pam­per­ing it­self has taken on a spir­i­tual ur­gency.

Now the ethos of ‘self-care’ has in­fil­trated ev­ery con­sumer cat­e­gory. The logic of GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lux­ury brand that sells skin serums in­fused with the brand­ing of in­tu­ition, karma and heal­ing, is be­ing re­pro­duced on an enor­mous scale.

Even Kim Kar­dashian West is piv­ot­ing to the soul: Her latest project is launch­ing a celebrity church with her hus­band, Kanye West.

And through the clean­ing guru Marie Kondo, who also be­came a Net­flix personalit­y this year, even tidy­ing ob­jects can be con­sid­ered a spir­i­tual call­ing. Her work sug­gests that ob­jects don’t just make us feel good — ob­jects feel things, too.

Even in the Net­flix show Queer Eye in which five queer ex­perts in var­i­ous aes­thetic prac­tices con­spire to make over some help­less in­di­vid­ual, the trans­for­ma­tion isn’t just physical. As its gu­rus lead the men (and oc­ca­sion­ally, women) in dab­bing on eye cream, se­lect­ing West Elm fur­ni­ture, pre­par­ing squid-ink risotto and ac­quir­ing gym mem­ber­ships, they are build­ing t he me­taphor­i­cal frame­work for an internal trans­for­ma­tion. Their salves pen­e­trate the skin bar­rier to soothe lone­li­ness, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, grief, low self-es­teem, ab­sent ee par­ent­ing and hoard­ing ten­den­cies. The makeover is styled as an al­most spir­i­tual con­ver­sion. It’s the mean­ing of life as di­vined through up­graded con­sumer choices.

The trou­ble is that when ‘Queer Eye’ offers these comforts, the show im­plies that its sub­jects have pre­vi­ously lacked them be­cause of some per­sonal fail­ure. They have been in­suf­fi­ciently con­fi­dent, skilled, self-aware, ded­i­cated or emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble. The spir­i­tual con­ver­sion of the show oc­curs when the sub­ject pledges a per­sonal com­mit­ment to main­tain­ing a new life­style go­ing for­ward. But what these peo­ple need is not a new per­spec­tive. They need money, and they need time, which is money.

In the fourth sea­son, the team makes over a sin­gle dad from Kansas City who is known as “the cat suit guy” be­cause he wears fe­line print one­sies. By the end, he gets a new cor­po­rate ca­sual wardrobe, and a pop-up sup­port net­work for his de­pres­sion — he strug­gled to dis­cuss it with any­one un­til the cast of “Queer Eye” broke through his shell. As they pre­pare to leave, he tells them that he re­ally needs them to stay in touch. “You’ve got to check on me,” he says. Ab­so­lutely, one of them says: “On In­sta­gram.”

MA­TE­RIAL COM­FORT: Even Kim Kar­dashian is getting in­volved in the spir­i­tual — she and rap­per hus­band Kanye West have launched a celebrity church

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