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We like to think that some things are still sacred, that not everything has a price.
We’re wrong, of course.
So are the scientists. The basic unit of matter isn’t the atom, or even the quark. It’s the dollar. And it’s time we faced up to that fact. Sure, Jack Kerouac doesn’t care whether you wear khakis or a sari. Fred Astaire never danced with a vacuum cleaner. But they’re both dead Americans, and there’s no more honorable death than to live on by hawking stuff.
Once upon a time, folks like Kerouac and Astaire were cool because they were original. Now, cool is a mass-market identity. Have you got the right one, baby? Consumerism doesn’t make your sense of self. It makes your sense of self better. It’s the heartbeat of America.
You know what we’re talking about. You’ve probably got a commercial jingle stuck in your head right now. Or a popular tune turned to the dark side by some conglomerate or another. Remember when “Start Me Up” and “Heroes” were songs by the Rolling Stones and David Bowie? Neither do we. Try humming a bar of each and not seeing the Microsoft logo.
The fact is, price tags, commercials and product placements are everywhere you want to be. Always. The Stones and Bowie didn’t sell out to Microsoft any more than they sold out to us when we bought their songs for $11.99 on compact disc. If Bill Gates offered you $35 million to do for him whatever it is you’re good at, you’d take the cash. It’s the right thing to do. Anything less would be uncivilized.
The point is that we protest too much about how consumerism cheapens things. Sure, a Marxist like Frantz Fanon would lecture us about the dangers of alienating ourselves from the products of our labor. But you know what? Fanon would write that lecture in MS Word 7.0 on a Pentium II Thinkpad running a Windows 95 desktop if he had one.
Look around the University. We’ve got two official beers, a Coca-Cola monopoly, a certified milk provider and even a deal with Old Dutch, the official salty snack product of the University. And what does “Minnesota” mean? It’s a native phrase for the land of sky-blue waters. Try saying that aloud without singing the Hamm’s — “Hamm’s, the beer refreshing” — jingle.
Nobody forced all this crass consumerism on us. Capitalism just sells better than the competition. So there’s no reason to be ashamed about jumping on the treadmill of brand identity and manufactured lifestyles. It’s who we are. We should celebrate it!
That’s what this issue is about. For this finals week, the Daily sold out. Or we tried, anyway. It was surprisingly hard to sell our souls for a few bucks. Turns out the Daily’s 98-year record as the nation’s largest and best college newspaper just isn’t as marketable as we thought.
In fact, nobody bought us.
So this issue represents our attempt to embrace that most American of values, the love of product. You’ll find inside a guide to the stuff and services you need to survive as a citizen of the mass-market. We also present the winners of the 1998 Grapevine Awards. These quality campus merchants need your money. Go to them and spend.
We hope this issue helps you survive Spring Break as well. Whether you’re celebrating a successful quarter or drowning out a bad one, you’ll have a better break if you buy stuff. Especially the products you see in the Daily.
As for us, we need some time to recover from failing to sell out. Look for us at the mall, repairing our egos by spending some quality time with Mastercard and Mistress Visa. Uh huh.