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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Off-Brands, Off the Grid, and Off with Their Heads!

Off-Brands, Off the Grid, and Off with Their Heads!

Spanish people may be every bit as brand-conscious as Americans; there just seems to be fewer expensive (read: exclusive) brands and fewer people willing to pay for them. Just like in Seattle, I don´t drive here and neither do my friends—at least not very much. You don´t associate people here with the kind of car they drive because you rarely see them behind the wheel. If people here do have cars they mostly keep them hidden away like the crazy uncle you keep in your basement (Don´t forget the food and water!). Most people wear really, really off-brand clothing, inexpensive stuff that all comes in on the boat from China. If you do wear some American brand, it means you are really paying through the nose for it. I suppose that Spain has its share of pijos, or snobs, but as an outsider I don´t notice them, at least not in my neighborhood.

I would go so far as to say that there isn´t anything like a good neighborhood or a bad neighborhood in Valencia. There are a couple of new housing developments on the outskirts of town that cater to more affluent Spaniards. These are really awful places that resemble the worst aspects of American suburbia and have none of the charm of traditional Spanish cities. There are lots of individual homes with gardens and you have to drive everywhere and I hope that people here soon realize the error in this type of urban architecture. I can´t imagine anyone would actually prefer living in this manner when there is such an attractive alternative in any of Valencia´s downtown neighborhoods (this means everywhere in Valencia proper). There are also a few modern apartment blocks near the Ciudad del Las Artes y Ciencias that probably cater to wealthier folks, but once again, the neighborhood lacks any sort of charm. From what I have seen, there are no cool bars or restaurants in these areas so I can´t understand why anyone would chose to live there.

On the other end of the socio-economic spectrum you have my neighborhood of Ruzafa. It has a great mix of immigrants, old Valenciano families, yuppies, hippies, and just about every other class you can think of. If any of the bars and restaurants are expensive or exclusive I haven´t visited them—and I think I´ve been everywhere. The cafĂ© terraces are filled with doctors, video store clerks, butchers, street sweepers, university professors, and at least one deadbeat, off-the-grid American. Everyone at these places lives a block or two away. I don´t know if the people who live in the pijo neighborhoods come to Ruzafa to hang out, but I am positive that the opposite isn´t true.

The inbred Spanish aristocracy still survives but it hasn´t infected the mentality of the population as much as the idea of exclusivity has infected the thinking of many Americans. It is utterly ridiculous the degree to which we obsess over luxury in America. Name me a product and I can probably name a super-expensive, exclusive variety of it, no matter how mundane its purpose. I mean, is there really a need to separate yourself from the masses by the sort of hyper-expensive camping gear you use or your brand of face soap? I used to call these kinds of products “bourgeois” back when I was in high school and couldn´t afford them; now I just find them to be obnoxious and offensive—especially the ones I still can´t afford.

I suppose that distancing yourself from others with where you live, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the pots and pans you use to cook, etc. is a lot easier than just becoming an even remotely interesting person and thus becoming truly unique. Consumerism has become a shortcut for people desperate to be different. If you ask 1,000 young kids whether or not they feel they are conformists or nonconformists, I´m sure they will all say that they are different. They all want to be different in the exact, socially-approved manner such as getting a tattoo or a body piercing. People who are truly different scare the living shit out of us normal lemmings. People don´t really want to be different, they just want to be like everyone else in the particular group they wish to join.

Some of these groups are harder to get into than others. The luxury club simply limits membership by the price tags they use. None of this shit that you buy really says anything about you except that you had the money or the credit to pay for it. These exclusive brand names are nothing more than the coat of arms for the new, wannabe aristocrats.

Just be careful with your life of over-indulgence and over-priced luxury items because sometimes bad things happen to thoughtless monarchs; just ask Marie Antoinette. I look at some of our best and brightest and all I can think is, “Now where did we put those guillotines?” Of course, I´m not speaking of decapitation in the literal sense, I just feel we have reached the point where it has become necessary for the health of our democracy to trim the over-growth of the ultra-rich before they completely pollute the middle classes with their empty values of consumerism, greed, and stupidity.

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