How the elite wield individualism as a weapon

September 13, 2022

As I was taking a shower the other day, I was looking at the hideous tiles in our desperately needs to be renovated bathroom. The accent border tile that was endemic to all Australian bathrooms of the 90’s is a blue and white beach motif that has been screen printed onto cheap white porcelain tiles. I am sure it was the height of home décor fashion at the time, but it hasn’t aged well. My ghastly tiles got me thinking about all the ways we attempt to express our individualism. 

Apple hit marketing gold when they first brought out their new towerless desktop computers in a range of bright colours in the early 2000’s. It gave the masses a way of expressing themselves instead of being relegated to black, white, and silver computer boxes. When they launched the first iPod mini they followed the same marketing strategy. However, if you walk into an Apple store today every one of their computers are silver, black and white. An entire sub industry of laptop and phone cases has emerged to individualise our tech devices, but Apple themselves rarely offers a coloured version.

Off the Rack Fashion became mainstream in the 1890’s. Men and women could walk into a department store or open a mail order catalogue and buy clothes ready-made, and ready to wear. Soon the average wardrobe grew in size as people had multiple options of clothing that they didn’t have to make themselves, and the fashion cycle has been increasing in pace ever since. These days we have fast fashion that is so fast that it has been rumoured that huge cargo ships are loaded with seamstress and supplies so they can make the clothes onboard the ship as the clothing is being transported in order to cut down the fashion turn over cycle even further.

After World War II the western world had a baby boom, and with that baby boom the need for housing skyrocketed. Using Ford’s assembly line as inspiration, the housing estate was invented, and cookie cutter houses with cookie cutter lawns were lined up all over grid paved streets throughout the world. These days, building a singular house with an architect is for the wealthy alone, as are tailored made clothes.

With all this individualisation, we collectively opened ourselves up to the ploys of marketing. We make fun of old black and white commercials selling cigarettes to children in the 1950’s, but I wonder what our grandchildren’s generation will think of our modern-day social media algorithms. In some ways we have so many more options to express ourselves and our individuality and yet I wonder how heavily influenced our individual decisions really are.

Custom ordered and custom made have become the luxury goods of the elite, and I wonder if we have all been so busy drinking marketing Kool-aide that we have been duped into believing that we have as much individualism as we think we do. Is a closet bursting at the seems with fast fashion better than a few tailored-made pieces of clothing? It’s hard to feel self-loathing over a pair of jeans not fitting, when instead you just have clothing made to fit your body. Several multi-billion-dollar industries would crumble overnight if women stopped hating their bodies, and yet it is the promise of individual expression that keeps fast fashion and all the other industries that thrive off this paradoxical- individualism wrapped up in cultural belonging and consumerism.

As artist and creators, every time we create, we are standing in resistance to the creative elite. The individualism that our society is selling us is artificial cherry flavoured bubble gum. The individualism we create for ourselves in our own life is a bowl full of freshly picked cherries sitting on our kitchen table in our grandmother’s old mixing bowl. One is nourishing and soul filling, the other is a quick sugar rush that leaves us chewing with no satiety. 

Debunking the creative elite is as simple as knitting your own pair of socks or baking a batch of cookies with the people you love. It’s choosing to have less at a slower pace but in return having a home filled with meaningful trinkets perfectly tailored for you and your life. 

Most of us will not become homesteaders who sew our own clothes, grow and can our own food, and raise our own cattle and poultry. However, we can all plant herbs in our windowsill and make space to practice and participate in the creative acts that bring us joy, whatever that may look like. 

What are ways that you can join the resistance, debunk the creative elite, and find an individual expression that is nourishing to you and your people?

If you would like to hear more about this topic, my book The Origins of Creativity is available in my shop.

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