December 19, 2012

Rethink That Bling

Shopping can be terribly frustrating. What is even more frustrating is the way marketing plays with our emotions and feelings of worth. And what compounds that more is whether we feel like we are low-status or high-status socially. In a study completed by Northwestern University and reported by The Ohio State University Research and Innovation Communications, researchers found that people viewed low-status as an indicator for purchases. The study was multifaceted, but the experiments showed that if people thought they were low-status, they were more likely to purchase or own high-cost, “bling” items.

The study started with an experiment based on race. It found that African Americans who felt they held a lower social status rated products of higher status such as fur coats, caviar, and Italian suits as more positive than lower status products like vacuums, washer, and unbranded shirts. The results, according to researchers, are that because African Americans are often seen as lower status they try to compensate by purchasing higher status products.

However, race was not the only factor and frankly not the primary factor. The main factor in seeking out high-status products had to do with the social status that participants felt they were in. If participants felt they were part of a lower status, then they tended to favor high-status consumption while those who felt they were part of high-status society did not. Though minority status certainly played a role because many minorities are part of the low-status social group, ethnicity and race had less to do with the desire for bling.

According to lead author of the study, Philip Mazzocco, “Anyone who is feeling low in status is going to try to compensate. And in our capitalistic, consumption-oriented society, one way to compensate is to buy high-status products.”

As I read this article, I was uncomfortable, mostly because bling makes me uncomfortable. I am not a flashy person by nature. Any sort of attention brought on by material items immediately makes me itch with nerves. However, I am also not a high-status person. I am barely a middle-class person. So to think of buying power in terms of social status made me cringe.

What bothered me most is that we live in a society where a person’s value and worth are being judged by what they own or do not own. We all fall prey to these attitudes and behaviors. Most have looked at another’s clothes, shoes, cars, jewelry, whatever and made snap judgments based on these. This study proves that we focus on the material before we focus on the emotional connections. Therefore, we must make purchases in order to fulfill some need to satisfy society.

I would love to say that I am not a part of this movement, but how can I not be in a world so focused on “what we own” instead of “who we are?”

What this study says to me is that we need to rethink our priorities. Yes, owning materials items contributes to some sort of social standing, but is that really where we should focus? Should we compensate for our social class by purchasing bigger, better, more bling goods? I think not. This study and its findings really have me thinking about the purchases I make, and the next time I go to buy clothes or food or whatever, I’m going to really think about why I’m buying what I’m buying, and if it’s solely for the label, I’m going to put my wallet up

I don’t want to be manipulated into purchases because of some compensating need, nor should anyone else. If this study does nothing else, then perhaps it will make us really consider our purchasing choices.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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