The other day, I was watching a TV commercial for a car in which a young working woman drives the car out of her office to the middle of bumper-to-bumper city traffic. She is then inspired to take the highway instead of continuing in the traffic towards downtown. She takes the deviation and enjoys the wind in her face, lets her hair loose and speeds away on the free roads. These are quite obvious metaphors for freedom, enjoying the simpler things of life and exercising free will. But can a brand of car buy a consumer all these things? Apparently, it can.
There are ads about chocolates that can fill the emptiness in your soul with their smooth texture and melt-in-the-mouth softness; cellphones that don’t judge and only pamper you to bring out your human side; body soaps that rejuvenate you from within; home furnishings that soothe your senses; foods that make you see the lighter side of romantic relationships; mattresses that buy you sleep and therefore wellness, etc. Such ads start by pointing out to us consumers that such emptiness even exists in our lives. The marketers’ solution? Buy our product and watch your worries go away.
It takes a large amount of will power for an average person living in a consumption-driven metro to ignore these messages and not, at some point or other, give in to this need to lead a more ‘fulfilled’ existence. Since it’s so difficult to escape this consumerist culture, many have found a creative middle-path and are mashing and modding the two very diverse perspectives of life.
Finding spirituality in the inescapable buying culture is called metrospirituality. This “devotional consumerism” as the Beliefnet website terms it, has its roots in the desire to buy responsibly. It means that consumers make shopping choices based on the values of sustainability, gaia, savvy and thrift, with the intention of bridging that gap between the emotional and spiritual planes.
A metrospiritual, therefore, is someone who buys eco-friendly products; he purchases goods that are associated with social campaigns; he pays a premium for products that promise they haven’t exploited child labour in their production process; he endorses products and services that don’t pollute the environment. All excellent ideas to support, especially if it can be exercised by simply buying one brand instead of another. But will this, at the same time, also buy the consumer lasting spiritual peace? Likely not.
That is because a metrospiritual, through his buying choices, tries to take the guilt out of shopping and makes himself feel better that he is helping someone else by shopping. However, what he may or may not realize is that the good feeling lasts only as long as his excitement and engagement with the product lasts. Once the consumer is bored of this product and is eyeing another one in the market, the feel-good feeling also transfers to the new product.
Metrospirituality works only if the consumer is aware that this brand of spirituality has a short shelf life. The metrospiritual, at some point, will have to confront his own doubts that this buying behavior is nothing but a fake front to feed, in a guilt-free manner, his addiction to shopping. The metrospiritual will also eventually face fatigue and want real answers to existentialist questions. And those, he will realize, cannot be found in a bar of imported chocolate or a branded luxury car. Having said that, it is in fact possible to address higher spiritual needs even when one is sitting in that branded luxury car or enjoying that imported brand of expensive chocolate. But to connect that chocolate and car to a deeper understanding of life would be a basic error.
The desire for more overtakes the intent of being content with what one has. The twain — spirituality and consumerism — rarely meet.
So, think again, all you metrospirituals. What is the real intent of your purchasing behavior?