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Quest for meaning through merchandise

The quest for authenticity led to the Renaissance, prompted the journey to the New World and inspired Thoreau. Now it’s all about buying a better life

Los Angeles Times 12/06 By Gina Piccalo

In the blink of a satellite , modern life has become an endless high speed connection. It’s streaming 24-7, with crystal clean reception that’s virtually life like. It’s airtight and soundproof, except of course for he white noise or the dead air or the occasionally break-in of cell phone chatter….. It’s now wonder you’re always online, and on medication, checking email, checking voice mail, checking email.

What you crave is something fare more visceral. You want calloused hands and lungful of fresh are…. You want the stripped down, low-fi versions of life, the kind that feels vintage, handmade or homegrown, You want authenticity. Or a really authentic imitation of it. That is why you buy DVD’s that sound like vinyl and brand new T shirts that look like thrift store finds. It’s why you keep your SUV bust ask for paper bags at Whole Foods… It’s why you quite your job to start an alpaca farm and “live richly” like Citibank says you can…..

Can you shop for a better life? IKEA thinks so. Just toss some DIY birch veneer shelves and paper lampshades into the mix and you’re “unboring,” not broke. … Even Levi-Strauss, possibly the most authentic brand on the planet, is digging deep for a meaning behind its message. the 130-year old company is now launching “the reinvention of the blue jean,” with a more “real,” “iconic” look….

On vacation, you seek out those eco-friendly resorts… or maybe you choose a “culture tour” instead, because, let’s face it, it’s not a real experience unless you can brag about roaming the Australian Outback with an Aboriginal guide….A craving for authenticity

So what’s going on here? Are we really so lost that our search for meaning is in earnest? Or does this faded-jeans-and-iron-ons infatuation with “real” just look good in magazine ads? Some social observers say this is the dawning of a new civilization. Really…

“What consumers are seeking is more of a balanced lifestyle, which talks about physicality but also emotionally, mental and spiritual balance.”…

Translated, this means we’ve grown bored with consumption for consumption’s sake. Our lives, constrained by gridlock and sprawl, air conditioning and antidepressants, video games and Internet anomie, lack the milk bottles on the doorstep and the smell of homemade bread that in our minds add up to genuine experience.

“If you live in a major city, the pace of life is somehow not real.”…

“Remember a time when you could actually go to the corner store before there were supermarkets? Remember a time when there weren’t focus groups that anticipated how we’re supposed to response to something? Well, they don’t exists any more, and they never will. What we had in its place are people who can give us a false sense of authenticity.”….

“I believe people are looking for hope in the way they live their daily lives. How ma of us live is not exactly synonymous with consumption, But there’s a lot of overlap there- between what we buy and consume, and who we are.”

The pursuit of authenticity, of a life free form conformity and industrialization, had motivated similar cultural shifts over the centuries – from the Renaissance to journey to the New World, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s that all things modern were evil, to Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists’ 19th century credo of self-reliance…..

In the 20th century, the pursuit continued with Mohandas Gandhi and his nonviolent movement…. It surfaced in the united Stares in 1950’s when Nashville Rev. James Lawson adapted Gandhi’s teachings…. He mobilized college students with the phrase “walk your talk.”… The phrase would later be used by the peace, student and women’s movements.

Today, retailers such as Starbucks, IKEA, Pottery Barn and Trader Joe’s trade in earnestness. The star student of this trend, however might be Whole Foods Market. … Shoppers stroll down aisle where Haagen-Dazs is sold alongside soy ice cream sandwiches, In Style magazine next to Organic Style….

Beyond the cash registers beyond the store’s wide windows, the dichotomy comes into clear view – the organic Farmers’ Market in the shadow of spotlights on the Grove. On a saffron wall framing that picture scraps of a mission statement have been painted in curly script.. One reads: “ We create wealth through profits and growth.”

POSTSCRIPT: Article now online!

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