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Disposable People

Our throw away culture is one of the major problems when it comes to the environment. From our oceans filling with plastic, to the rapid use of natural resources to make products, our society's attitude of dispose-ability is having many negative effects on our planet. However, today in my English class we had a discussion on the dispose-ability of people. About how our culture simplifies people down to commodities and throws them away once their "value" is gone. Obviously there are problems with this, starting with the fact that people are not commodities, but it got me thinking. I decided to go to the local mall and look at advertisements to see if they were really commodifying people, and if so, how. This is what I found.

The first things that caught my eye were the obvious. Over-sexualized images of women with lips slightly parted and eyes blank. Mostly found at Victoria's Secret--no surprise.

What they're selling is the model's beauty, the idea that this is attractive, you don't look like this--but you can if you buy our product. These women are being simplified down to one trait, their looks. Nothing else about them matters, their hopes, dreams, intelligence, creativity, anything else they are isn't important. They become simplified, thus replaceable. Their beauty is the commodity they become, and while it's probably the most common way humans are commodified, as I searched further I realized it's not the only way.

Another way people are commodified is being turned into parts. In ads like these:

Smile, legs, abs, boobs, butt, people are picked apart. It shows us not as complete human beings, but instead as a Frankenstein mash of parts. If a person is only a bunch of separate parts put together rather than a complete entity, it's so easy to replace them. What does it matter if it's this person's legs or that one's, as long as they look good? We start seeing ourselves as parts. We start thinking things like, "well, my legs are ugly, but at least I have a small stomach!" Simplified down to parts, there's no reason someone else with the same good part can't replace us.

It wasn't just physically that people were sold. Some were reduced to the idea of an emotion, selling the message that this is what emotion is supposed to be. Love, fun, friendship, whatever it is, there's no complexity to any relationship between humans, so each one is interchangeable. It's the idea that if we're not happy all the time, just get someone else. A new bestie, new boy/girlfriend, doesn't matter who it is.
This photo of love is everywhere in our culture. One lifelong picturesque moment where everything is perfect. There's no struggles if you've got love! If you're having problems, you're obviously not in love enough, so buy this product and those problems will go away! Love is a core aspect of being human, but it's being simplified and sold. Nothing about these people, or their relationship, matters but the fact they show this particular idea of love, so they can be interchanged indefinitely. If it's not like this with your person, if they don't buy you this expensive thing, then they're not good enough! Change them out for a new one!

Even celebrities are not immune to this, in fact there's a specific way they're commodified. They're simplified down to their fame, the image, the name.

Talent, skill, struggle, hopes, fears, what does it matter? They're famous, you're not, buy this to be like them. Who that person is doesn't matter. If they would like the way they're being depicted doesn't matter. They're simplified down to their fame, and sold as that, any famous person will do. Even the people we look up to are interchangeable.

I'd like to take a second to specifically talk about the Marilyn Monroe t-shirts. She's shown with tattoos she didn't have, and holding guns. How does this in anyway depict who she was as a person? In fact, I'd argue that it's exactly the opposite of a woman who, while sexual, also had an air of elegance to her. That doesn't matter, she's famous, and tattoos and guns appeal to a modern market. It doesn't matter that she never posed or approved of such images, photoshop can make it happen.
Who they are isn't important, they can be made to have whatever image is necessary to sell the product.

People, both men and women, are being pornified, picked apart, and simplified. They're being sold as a replaceable product, not the kind of sale a customer has to pay money for, but being sold to our minds. They sell ideas to us, and once that idea takes hold, only then can a product be sold. These advertisements aren't the only thing creating this problem, but they reinforce the ideas being sold to us. That people are simple, interchangeable, and don't really matter unless they're bring us happiness 24/7. If they're not (and of course they won't) then this product can fix that! It's a powerful message when it's told nonstop in ways we don't take the time to recognize. I've been to that mall many times, and this is the first that I took the time to really look at the messages innocently placed on the walls.

What does this have to do with the environment? Well, as a society we start to believe everything is easy to throw away, even people. Consequences be damned. Disposable people sell disposable products, that use resources and go into landfills. If we don't buy these products, then we'll be disposable too, which keeps the cycle going.


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