When Do People Become Products?


We all sell out. It’s the only way we can survive. In order to gain money we sell out our intellect or our strength or our looks. However, ideally, what we sell out is supposed to assist a greater whole, be it our intellect helping to manage a business, our strength to build a house, or our looks to model the newest fashion.

There is one last, all-consuming, way to gain money: selling out your entire self. Your brains, your strengths, your looks, your feelings, and your life events all go towards making a better product. The catch? That product is you.

Imagine that you’re famous despite the fact that you didn’t write a book, star in a movie, or do anything noteworthy to make you famous. To continue receiving money you have to still be famous but how do you remain famous if you have nothing to add? Well, you use the only option available- you make yourself the product. You market your personal life, your emotions, your past, and even your everyday existence. People know your name? Throw it on a product. People know your appearance? Show up in any commercial you can.

These people exist and you have probably heard of many of them. Paris Hilton, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad, “Tila Tequila,” Heidi Montag, and Audrina Patridge. None of the people in this list became famous because of their acting abilities, their writing abilities, their intellect, or their physical abilities. They became famous because they granted us total access to their lives and did so repeatedly. They used various avenues to become a product and stay that way: reality television, a willing and gullible media, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Expect to see them, or those that follow in their wake, jumping on the next interactive medium to come along so that they stay as relevant and accessible as possible.

Why people are so interested in these people’s lives is irrelevant. It is enough that there is an audience willing to swallow every bit of information about these “socialites” as they can. The media has often wrongly referred to these people as “famous for being famous.” That’s not true at all. These people have done something extremely noteworthy and also extremely capitalist: they made themselves into products. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton are examples of capitalism taken to its logical end.

However, there is not only a capitalist problem here; there is also a feminist one. Take a look back at that list. How many of those names on there are women? While there are some men who are famous for making themselves into products, they are few and far between and rarely remain in the spotlight for long. Society prefers to reward women who become products, especially women who have sex appeal. After all, on the list we have two women who have readily available sex tapes. Interestingly enough, Kardashian’s sex tape downloads ebb and flow based on how much media coverage she is receiving. How scary it must be for your sex life to no longer be private.

Kardashian also put up her engagement, marriage, and, perhaps inevitable, divorce for the public to see. All three of those life changing events happened with not just the knowledge of the public, but also with the interest, and some may go so far as to say approval, of the public. Had the public interest not been there then in all likelihood that marriage would not have happened. Her now former publicist said just that which prompted a furious Kardashian to sue him. But it would be too easy to blame Kardashian for making a mockery of marriage. She is merely acting as the product people expect her to be and she has to do so in order to maintain her lifestyle.

As famous women, all of these women appear to be in a prime position to be vocal about issues facing women today. Unfortunately, that’s impossible because of the situation they are in. None of them can say anything particularly revelatory for fear of losing sponsors and followers. Don’t expect Paris Hilton to tell an audience that she’s a feminist and wishes Congress would do more to improve women’s rights. Don’t expect Kim Kardashian to state that Obama’s drone policy might be going just a tad too far. Don’t expect Lauren Conrad to talk about how young people need better sex education. These women won’t talk about these issues not because they’re uneducated, it would be hard to be in the position they are without any smarts, but because they’re afraid of rocking the boat. While they all feed on controversy, the controversy has to be controllable and any sort of political or socioeconomic comments are much more dangerous than the obligatory dating scandal of the month. Products are not supposed to give out opinions; they are only supposed to do what the consumer expects. Isn’t it disturbing how attractive women are usually the ones who become predictable products?

An economy that rewards people for marketing their entire life is a sad one. Even sadder is a society that not only allows this, but also rewards attractive women for doing it and encourages those who are coming up in the ranks to follow in their lead. What we have here is both an economic and gender issue that is often waved away by saying, “Paris Hilton is a joke.” No, she’s not. She’s the current face of capitalism in America and a dark example of the way we like to celebrate women who have become products.

Donald McCarthy is a freelance writer. Email dmccarthy618@ yahoo.com.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2013



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