Consumptive Enjoyment

In his essay, Zizek’s New Universe of Discourse, Levi Bryant writes:

Everywhere we look, commodity consumer society seems to command enjoyment, such that if we are not enjoying we are somehow falling short or failing…The paradox of the superego is that the more you obey the superego, the more anxiety and guilt you experience… In the case of a direct command to enjoy, guilt arises insofar as the subject betrays his desire in condescending to enjoyment (desire becomes entangled in specific objects).  Additionally, the more the subject obeys the superegoic command to enjoy, the more ferocious and demanding the superego becomes, commanding more!, more!, more!  Here, then, lies the compulsive character behind consumerism…Moreover, if the consumer capitalist superego commands enjoyment, and if obeying this command necessarily generates guilt, this might account for the comparative rise in depressive and anxiety disorders in recent history.

On a recent flight to Shanghai, I was gently reminded of this imperative to enjoy in the form of an advertisement for Coke Zero.  The ad read something like:  “Enjoy zero calories at 30,000 feet.  Enjoy Everything.”  Enjoy everything.  The implication of the imperative would be that, if you do not enjoy everything, there is something wrong with you.  It is bad if you do not enjoy everything.  You are bad for not enjoying everything.  So for the subject bombarded with the imperative to enjoy everything, the only logical conclusion of the obvious impossibility of enjoying everything can be guilt.  Bryant mentions guilt being generated “insofar as the subject betrays his desire in condescending to enjoyment.”  So we (I will abstain from the usage of ‘the subject,’ assuming that I and readers are also influenced here) feel guilt when we, noticing the ad inciting us to “enjoy” their product, purchase and consume the product even though we don’t actually enjoy it.  We enjoy it because we’re supposed to.

This would suggest that in commodity consumer society, we are inundated with a constellation of commodities which we are supposed to enjoy.  Between Hollywood films and Men’s Health magazines, we are provided with an inventory of all of the things we are supposed to enjoy if we want to feel good about ourselves.  We should enjoy an active sexual life with many partners (if we are men), the latest fashions, the newest gadgets, vigorous outdoor activities like rock climbing and snowboarding, and a regime of supplements and techniques for ensuring a ‘full’ life.

Given this constellation, we may feel obligated to consume a variety of products in order to conform to the fantasy image of a fully enjoyed life.  To the extent that we consume products that we’re supposed to enjoy, guilt results.  On the other hand, we may enjoy various products or activities that are not included within the popular constellation of things-to-enjoy, and so endure guilt at our lack of conformity to the fantasy image.  We may also neglect the products or activities that we actually enjoy because we’re afraid they don’t fit the mold of a fully enjoyed life.

The Super Bowl just finished, and normally, I wouldn’t care about it at all.  In fact, I didn’t even know it was taking place until an acquaintance of mine mentioned it to me.  “You ready for the Super Bowl?” he said, and I didn’t know how to respond.  I was hesitant to tell him how I really felt, which was that I had no idea the Super Bowl was even taking place, and I find spectator sports to be an incredible waste of time.  Instead, I said, “Oh, yeah!  I’m just about to check it out,” and went to the living room to turn on the television.  Here, I clearly engaged in an activity out of pure adherence to an expectation to do so.  After all, it’s the Super Bowl, how can you not be excited about it!

All of this brings to mind Nietzsche’s question and answer: “What is the seal of attained freedom? No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.”  The original sin was not eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but shame.

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