Slaves To Fashion

In joining people from all over the world in a great system of communication, the Internet has effectively killed the nonconformist. Now, as in days past, the great majority of the people say what they say and do what they do because other people have said and done the same things before. In the past, one or two in a community would walk to their own beat, so to speak, and stand out from the crowd. Whether they did this because they did not care for the groupthink of the masses or because they just wanted attention, they did not conform. Now, the Internet unites these rebels with others of like mind, effectively defeating the purpose of nonconformity. It is a cliché that people express their individuality by doing what so many have done before.

Society is enslaved to fashion. Advertisers with mountains of data create commercial enterprises for the purpose of selling a brand to millions of people. Just as casinos are designed using the latest in technology and psychology to part a man from his money, modern-day advertising uses deep knowledge of human behaviour to convince people of what they absolutely need.

I am tempted at times to call this a modern phenomenon, but this is clearly not the case. Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau spent two years in relative solitude, pondering the vagaries of human existence. Of the human obsession with fashion he wrote thus:

We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveler’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

I was amazed at how well Thoreau describes our modern society just as much as his own. We are a nation of monkeys, merely copying the monkeys in Hollywood and Madison Avenue. We may think we have free will to decide how we will dress and how we will present ourselves to others, but the advertisers who create our products are much smarter than we are. They know our psychology, they know what creates desire in a human being. They know how to push our buttons to achieve a desired result.

Even the nonconformists conform to something. Through the Internet, those who rebel against the system reach out to others who do the same. Soon, they all march together: a long parade of nonconformists, marching to the same tune. Behind it all is another advertiser, a student of human nature, beating the drum.

Is it too late? Can a man still withdraw from the system? Is there still a Walden Pond where one can step back and observe, without being a part of it all?

I hope so.