Manufacturing Desire: A Timely Meditation on Personal Identity in an Era Obsessed with "Brand"
Kingwell, Mark, ROM Magazine
It is a heavy irony that one of the dominant features of our cultural moment--the notion of a commercial brand--harks back to searing the rumps of cattle. Yes, the word "brand" comes to us from the Germanic root for burning, and the figurative leap from scorching proprietary designs into cowflesh to the trademarks and colophons of goods purveyors is, by linguistic standards, relatively short.
Thus the branded retail item--lululemon yoga pants, Cartier watch, iPhone 5--is displayed with the same intention of announcing one's membership in an elite or hipster herd. More deeply, we may observe the otherwise rational person who is moved to tattoo Nike's "swoosh" logo onto his torso, or the crowds who leave devotional messages to the recently deceased founder of Apple on the windows of a downtown retail outlet. Brands offer religion in its acceptable mercantile form. They demand obeisance beyond mere purchase of a bedecked item.
Indeed, the perfection of brand success would logically entail dispensing with the material good altogether, leaving only the logo, the narrative, and the devotees: faith elevated to pure formal observance, without tiresome links to the physical world. I had a vague memory of just this trans-consumerist endgame, maybe some kind of art project, but I couldn't recall the name. (Warning: bad branding there.) When I googled the phrase "brand without products," all I got were a bunch of hits concerning products without brands. (Warning: not a good idea.)
Actually, Rob Walker, the critic who writes about consumer culture for the New York Times Magazine, has developed a brand without products. It's a website called Unconsumption, which details ideas for creative reuse or repurposing of already held goods. "At some point we decided that, like any growth-minded enterprise, we needed a logo," Walker wrote of the idea. They came up with "Mr. Cart": an image of an upside-down shopping cart sporting a wide smile. You can copy and apply the Mr. Cart logo yourself, to anything.
I like this idea; but I like even more that the two critical margins of the branded world--the two conceivable forms of brand without product--are a spectral postmodern art scheme and what amounts to an update on good old-fashioned thrift. …