One City

One City


You are not your khakis

posted by Kirsten Firminger

I’m on vacation this week – here is one of my favorites previously published on our old blog site:

“I’m
breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions because only
through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit”
~Tyler Durden – Fight Club

While I chastise myself not being more imaginative
than quoting Fight Club, when I am feeling very anti-materialistic or
anti-consumer culture, it is quotes from the book/movie that always pop
into my mind. But I do love the irony that Fight Club rails against
consumerism, material goods, and promotes the destruction of the self
and yet manages to inspire the opposite in the legions of fans who buy
things in order to express that Fight Club somehow represents who they
are. And it is this push away and pull towards objects that I want to
address.

While we may rail against consumerism,
sometimes we are just pulled to certain material things. They bring us
joy and excitement.  Aaron C. Ahuvia argues in his article, Beyond the Extended Self: Loved Objects and Consumers’ Identity Narratives,
that some “loved” objects that we own help us create a coherent story
of ourselves. Loved objects and activities help to structure our social
relationships and support our well-being. Objects can tell stories. They can hold family
histories. They can represent friendships and symbolize marriages. They
recreate our culture. We pass them down from generation to generation.

I can find beauty and love embedded in objects
- from amazing works of art to my father’s neckties. However I have a
hard time putting my finger on the point when this craving for objects
goes from meaningful storytelling, family heirlooms, or culture
regeneration to excessive disposable waste. When do objects become
disposable? When do they go from loved items to just the latest fashion
trend?

I know people who love shoes. I mean really love
shoes. To them, they are loved objects of intense personal meaning.
They tell a story (“I bought those shoes for a party in the Spring of
1986 at a wonderful store in Paris”). They can’t be replaced. They are
seen as works of art and beauty. But how long will they last? How many
pairs of shoes can you love? How many resources did they use up? Are
you really your shoes?

Do we truly work towards giving up all material
objects in our lives? Do we learn to no longer express our “selves”
through material objects? Do we give up the history and meanings that
arise from objects as well as the meanings are embedded onto them by
our minds and collective culture? What would that look like?

“The liberator who destroys my property, is
fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all possessions from
my path will set me free.”
~Tyler Durden, Fight Club



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KC

posted June 17, 2009 at 11:08 am


Since the summer reruns have started, I’ve been watching old movies on TCM and other cable stations. I happened to catch the Fight Club a couple nights ago on FUSE (a predominantly male-oriented channel). So it’s interesting you brought this movie up. I had seen it years ago and thought it was intriguing, mostly because of the main character’s dissociative disorder. I find the movie to be very disturbing.
I couldn’t remember if Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) was one of his personalities-she isn’t. Tyler is the only alter ego. When I re-watched it, I paid close attention to the main character (Edward Norton) and his gradual disintegration into madness. His own admitted consumerism and obsession with IKEA reveals a common Post-Modern cultural malaise.
When people feel disconnected, isolated, overly-civilized, removed from their instinctual natures, objects can provide a sense of comfort. They become a distraction, something to strive for, something to save up to buy (well nowadays you put it on your credit card-even better!). Personally, I appreciate objects that give me a sense of continuity, some sort of history.
I still have my grandfather’s mahogany stereo console. It followed me to two apartments and now functions as my TV stand in my house for the last 11 years. The previous 19″ Samsung was only recently replaced by a modest 26″ Sony HD. My mother gave me the Samsung when I moved out to my first apt at age 21. The tv was 23 years old! I only replaced it because it died. And what’s more I had never purchased a television in my life until last November. I’m 44 years old.
My brother razzed me for getting such a small screen. “But anything bigger would cover up the mirror on the wall behind the set,” I explained. “Besides, I never want the people on my TV to be bigger than the image I see reflected back at me in that mirror.”
Note: If you watch Fight Club, check out the final scene when Ed Norton and Brad Pitt are about to blow up some N.Y. skyscrapers. At the very end all of them blow up and two are left standing in the middle—eerily similar to the twin towers and 911. All through the movie, Norton’s and Pitt’s character (they’re the same person) fall deeper and deeper into a terroristic lifestyle. Keep in mind the movie was released in 1999, only two years before 911. A perfect instance of art reflecting and commenting on reality.



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Lawrence Wang

posted June 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm


I don’t think we can escape “involvement” (attachment) with material objects any more than we can escape the material realm itself. What we can do though is what we already attempt to do with our experience in Buddhist practice: understand them to their depths. Where do they come from and what do they really cost?
And “how many resources did they use up” is a critical question these days. The emotional association i have with my cell phone is mostly positive, because of all that it allows me to do, but it’s also a product of a complex manufacturing and resource extraction system that may be contributing to strip mining, displacement of indigenous peoples, and so on. And this “dark edge” that the product acquires because of these trains of thought will make me more careful about what I choose to consume.
You ask, “When do objects become disposable? When do they go from loved items to just the latest fashion trend?” But those questions have real answers! You know when. You can tell, when something is in your hands, whether it’s going to last you for years or whether it’s been designed with “planned obsolescence” in mind. You can tell, if you’re keeping your awareness polished, when you’re buying something because you really need it or whether you’re trying to fill a void.



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Lynn Somerstein

posted June 17, 2009 at 7:25 pm


You’re right– I’m not my khakis–its’ in my genes; in fact, it’s jeanetic.;)



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