Rivals, Allies and Models in the RSS Feed

Several stories turned up today that touch on Girardian ideas of mimesis:

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Concept Inflation by Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias: In pondering whether the connotation of some descriptive words broadens or becomes more narrow with use, Hanson assumes, quite rightly it seems to me, that people are more generous in their descriptions of themselves and their “allies” — people whom they view as similar to themselves — than they are of people they view as rivals, as unlike themselves, in order to make themselves look good and ‘the other’ bad. His example: My friend/party/group is thoughtless, while you are rude.

When we use language to demonise (the other) and sacralise (ourselves), we are able to justify our rivalry, hatred, violence, scapegoating, desire to expel, etc.

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Report: NFL Halts 49ers-Raiders Preseason Series Due To Fan Thuggery at Consumerist, on “the fan violence at Saturday’s San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders preseason football game left two people in critical condition. … In Saturday’s incident, a pair of shootings — believed to have been sparked by bickering supporters of the teams — left the two fans wounded after the game.”

I enjoy football and other sports but the long-purported cathartic benefit of sport seems rather assailable, given this, the brutal attack by men wearing Dodgers attire on a San Francisco Giants’ fan on opening day last Spring, mob attacks on one another at soccer and other games, and the violent incidents involving college and professional sports players themselves. On the other hand, we’re asking (i.e., often paying or promising gobs of money to) testosterone-laden young men to enact this ritualistic catharsis on behalf of our society, so violence that extends beyond the proscribed boundaries isn’t really too surprising, is it?

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Also from the The Consumerist, Save Money By Shopping Near Hot People So You Buy Less, reports on a study finding that “People who don’t feel positive about their appearance are less likely to buy an item they’re trying on if they see a good-looking shopper or salesperson wearing the same thing.” A reason this might be true is that we generally assess our status and appearance relative to other people, and particularly to people we view as models — those who seem to have what we want. The study found that people with low body esteem, who didn’t feel good about the way they looked, were less likely to buy an item worn by someone they perceived as more attractive than they are, perhaps thinking, “‘That dress is really cute and stylish on me, but compared to her, I look terrible!'”

What’s interesting to me about this is that one could have equally predicted that the downhearted shopper would see the clothing looking good on someone else and assume it would look good on them, too, even with body esteem issues, because most people seem to live in a sort of denial of their flaws and blissfully wear all kinds of unflattering clothes; or you could think that the shopper might believe that if she wore that particular article of clothing, she would be closer to the model — she’d be cooler, more attractive, more desirable.

This is what marketing sells us; they show us a bunch of young, fun, free people drinking Coke, and they expect us to believe that if we drink Coke, we’ll feel young, fun, and free, too. Do those ads not work on people who feel crappy about themselves? I think most of us have enough illusions, delusions, denial and irrationality that we still sort of hope that drinking Coke will make us vibrant and alive, that wearing that shoe or shirt or having that bag will make us attractive. If a shirt, or a Coke, promises us a step up in status, an enhanced sense of being, why wouldn’t we buy it?

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