Materialism — a deadly global virus

By Alexandria Slater

The global pandemic has exposed the corruption and greed of the capitalist system that dictates our lives like puppets. But the constant repetition of the term ‘essential’ used by the UK government and media emasculates the materialistic world we live in.

Sam Mendes’ American Beauty and David Fincher’s Fight Club, both released twenty one years ago, critique consumerism and the way it feeds on empty and desperate individuals seeking fulfilment in life.

Like wickedly dangling food in front of a dog who you have no intention to feed, governments entice the public with the zealous ‘American Dream’ in barter for your freedom. Sam Mendes dismantles the false ideology in American Beauty, and behind the blooming roses in the pristine garden, and well kept and ornate interior, is a husband and wife disassociated from happiness, despite having the ‘perfect’ suburban life.

During the beginning of lockdown in the UK, the government (understandably) restricted our freedom, and only allowed us out of the house for ‘essential’ purposes, like exercise and food — supporting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs stating that ‘physiological needs,’ like food and shelter, are the utmost important.

If the government acknowledges that food, shelter, and mental wellbeing is essential in life, then it begs the question — why do they neglect the 320,000 homeless people, and 14.3 million people living below the poverty line, in one of the world’s richest countries?

Of course, that was a rhetorical question. The government’s main priority is to line the gaping pockets of the top one percent, and this is where commercialism plays the antagonist in this realist horror. Manipulating the public with glossy advertisements, for products that we’re convinced we need, the vicious cycle of consumerism continues.

Like the protagonist in American Beauty, Tyler Durden in Fight Club has a successful job, but seeks to fill the empty void within him by purchasing excessive amounts of IKEA furniture. A ridiculous solution for achieving fulfilment you may think, but how many times have you found yourself endlessly scrolling through shopping websites, in hopes to cure sadness or boredom in the form of a brand new parcel?

The film follows Tyler once he frees himself from the chains of commercialism and seeks purpose by forming a violent cult. Whilst I don’t condone the extreme action taken to fight the system, it conveys an important societal revelation.

Egoistic hedonism has been instilled in us and it’s the reason advertisers are able to take advantage of our innate pleasure seeking chemicals.

Take Apple for example, they annually lure in consumers with a shiny, new and improved (debatable) iPhone. Therefore, binding you into a contract, confidently knowing they have the amoral power to impair their products to generate more profit.

Apple recently removed the inarguably necessary headphone jack. By intentionally creating a problem, they were able to sell us the ‘revolutionary’ wireless AirPods as a solution. It’s almost commendable how easily these avaricious companies are able to take our money in exchange for a temporary state of artificial happiness.

Apple isn’t the only company to use unethical tactics like this. Insurance companies at their core commodify our health and safety, involuntarily making us part with our money, conditionally guaranteeing the illusionary notion of safety and security.

During the pre pandemic world, I think many of us — including myself — took health, happiness, and family for granted, and only when they became compromised were we able to understand that materialistic pleasure is meaningless if our innate needs aren’t fulfilled.

Throughout history pandemics have reconstructed society, so perhaps post Coronavirus will bring radical changes and like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, break the shackles between society and consumerism.

Journalist studying at Manchester Metropolitan University. Arts, culture and current affairs.