“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.” –Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (1972)
In our daily lives we enact the mythologies of the past, just as Joseph Campbell taught us.
Despite how technological we think ourselves to be, the past of humanity holds a kind of gravity over our thoughts and actions. There’s little doubt that we are all creatures of myth and that the ancient legends and tales of the human race still hold in many ways the master keys to the human psyche.
We also enact the mythos of the future, as Fredric Jameson, Henry Jenkins, and others tell us (see the book in my Amazon Affiliates #ad links, or wait for me to explain them in upcoming posts, or, even better, go for broke and do both).
And, with the modern mythologies and communities that have taken over much of our storytelling, imagination, and tribal instincts, we live in mythological realms.
Brands like Ford, Louis Vuitton, and Coca Cola, destinations like Santorini and Fiji, and stories like Harry Potter and the narratives of House of the Dragon, The Avengers, and the latest Star Wars series color our views of the world, of the past, present, and future. News stories, charismatic business leaders, politicians, and celebrity worship, all are amplified by our pulsating participation in their created storyworlds and the worlds of participatory culture that surround them.
Layered onto our identities, these relationships are new intimacies, complicating our connections with our selves, with each other, and with the world around us. They become ever more multitudinous and mired in the inertias of the social systems of a world, in many ways, gone out of control.
In this series of blog posts I’d like to explore some of the sacred consumer archetypes that institutionalize and interpellate our identity positions as consumers. Interpellation is one of those ten-dollar academic words that is actually quite useful. The idea of interpellation flows from the idea that cultures and groups have ideologies, which can be belief systems that range from the fairly basic to the fairly complex. Interpellation happens when someone takes on that belief system and makes it a part of their identity. They identify as a hardcore BTS fan, a Satanist, a CMO, a Harvard Professor, or a Liberal Democrat, for instance. Interpellating that ideology, and the beliefs that go with it, give them a sense of personal and social identity, and also a certain stature in the world of parts of it.
Some ideologies, for example, are quite widely held in our society. And one of those, a very important one if we’re going to understand the state the world is in and perhaps make some course corrections to it where it’s going, is the consumer. The Consumer. What does it mean to be a consumer? To partake in a consumer mindframe and lifestyle, to interpellate and idea that consumption—and certain kinds of consumption– is good and right and desirable, is something that much of the world wants to move towards. And there are small parts of it wanting to move away from this very attractive idea as well. But consumption is a fact of life, and the driving force of economies. It also happens to be something worth studying and developing.
Psychographics, demographics, geographics: we teach marketing students a range of ways to think about consumers that often skirt around the idea of archetypes and mythologies, without quite getting to the core of Universal Consumer aspects and formations.
But, let’s get mythical. If we designed a Tarot card of The Consumer what aspects might it include?
Here’s an image for you. We could think of it as devised partially by the techno-tarot of collective intelligence embodied in the AI of OpenAI’s Dalles’s machine learning algorithms. I asked Dalle2 to devise a Tarot card like abstract representation of “The Consumer” and this image is what it spat out. Certainly the technology of this tarot, the “Techno-Tarot”, provides some of the core elements of being a consumer: choice (those scales) and empowerment (a ladder), a type of liberation, but also work/ an obligation, we also see an individual existence in a world of desired goods that desire us to desire them, those bananas just waiting on the rack, and the packaged goods, while the sun of the economy beats down upon us, and we wait, wait, wait for something better. Not bad for a machine algorithm, is it?
So, Consumer, what do you think about being a consumer? What would YOUR Tarot card of YOUR personal consumption style look like? Think about it. Regardless of your stance on being a consumer, almost everyone reading this post is one and probably knows that they are one. But like most ideologies that are interpellated, this awareness isn’t often something we can clearly see or something that we can easily escape.
One of the purposes of this blog is to try to illuminate some of these consumer realities, these ideologies, these murky underpinnings that drive what we do in the world of markets, platforms, purchases, and shopping. So, in this series of blog posts I’m going to be exploring a few of what Tekno and I think are the Sacred Consumer Archetypes that link our mythological hunger for meaning and our ritual need to do things and be a certain type of person with various archetypal forms of market mediated behavior and identity. Stay tuned for the next TCA post as Tekno and I explore next the archetypal world of The Creative Shaman.