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The International Writers Magazine
: Modern Lifestyles

Counter Couture
Clare Sager

It's what you wear, where you buy it, what you smoke, where you drink. It's what you listen to and it's where you live. From the shoes on your feet to the products in your hair, this is the materialism our society hinges on. But why are material possessions so important to us?

My Prada - My Life

To get an idea we can look toward a country where this has gone to an extreme, where school girls sell their underwear in vending machines so they can buy a new pair of Pradas.
This is Japan.
When a society is so repressed through social conventions and complicated rules of etiquette the pleasures in life become more important. The ephemeral nature of the things we buy reflect the fleeting nature of happiness for Haruki Murakami. His novels feature this battle between equally wanting happiness and unhappiness (therešs more certainty in the latter). His women are as unobtainable to his men as happiness itself. For so many, personal happiness is hinged upon an impossible dream based on money: if only I was rich, I'd be happy!

Of course, those with money have a lot of power ­ just look at Madonna. This is a woman who constantly changes her mind, but carries a multitude of followers with her. For her, it is not just what she buys that is ephemeral, but also her morals and religion. Her fads all fade with the latest hair colour. But it's not just her: you only have to look at fashion and celebrity magazines to see how quickly our society moves on. Our idea of celebrity is one that pivots upon lust and aspiration (men want her, women want to be her), but it is fickle. We brand ourselves with what we buy and our choices show more of who we want to be (Beyonce/Jlo/Brad) than who we actually are.

Does this mean that who we want to be always changes? Perhaps it's more that we want to be successful ­ our idea of success equates with money and thus we want what they have, which always changes. The latest car, the shoes of the moment and the hottest best seller. It's always got to be now and new (except for when it's vintage or retro, but that's deliberately old ­ so now). We're all chameleons, changing colour to suit the rest of our tribe. This tribal aspect of life ­ from the Chavs to the Sloanes ­ goes back to playgrounds and fairy tales. It's the stigma and fear of not being accepted by society. A tribe gives a sense of belonging with its own top ten, a reading list and even a uniform. It's how we ensure that we donšt become the wicked old witch in her gingerbread house. When we were at school, we had bullying as a way to sacrifice another so we wouldn't be shunned. Now we have tribal name-calling, hence the rise of Chav-spotting.

Is life just about conformity? (And should it be?) This is another theme important to Murakami. His characters are fascinating, but not for any kind of conventional beauty or conformity. These are individuals who are unique. They are so alluring for their minds and mannerisms; an off the wall idea and a flicker of a smile are more beautiful than a perfect nose and cheekbones to die for. And so Murakami asks us to have the courage to be ourselves.

Key Influence Films: Mean Girls- About A Boy- Waynešs World - Clueless
Essential TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Influential Books: Child X - Lee Weatherly - Sputnik Sweetheart - Murakami Haruki
Topical Magazines/Newspapers: The Face Cosmopolitan The Observer The Independent The Guardian
Games: The Sims Music: Over the Counter Culture The Ordinary Boys

© Clare Sager December 2004
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