Gilles Lipovetsky, considered one of the most important French intellectuals of the late twentieth century, made himself known internationally through essays such as L’ère du vide. As principle speaker for this 4th Creativity and Trends Day, the 11th of April this philosopher, sociologist and writer will tackle the transformation of consumer industries in a masterclass on "Artistic Capitalism and the Consumption of Experience". We spoke with him today about the need to value culture in order to resist our fascination with consumerism, consumption as therapy and the power of values to combat injustices.
Culture has become inseparable from the commercial industry. Is it a simple commodity?
No, although we can consider it as a tool for hyperconsumption. But it is thanks to general culture, knowledge and the practice of the arts, that individuals are not systematically trapped within this fascination for the commercial. We must value culture in schools as that which facilitates the tools to resist consumerism. If culture does not exist, the consumer buys success and trends, and is no more than a consumer. The way to avoid this is to have your own values, to reflect, to read things that are not necessarily on trend. Commit to other activities beyond consumption: associations, NGOs, politics. Culture is an element of creativity. There are no other ways to escape certain obstacles of consumerism than to educate people with the tools of culture.
Companies of all kinds work to mobilize emotions to win markets, creating seductive products that induce affection and sensitivity. Why has this become such a key component when it comes to brand competition?
The fundamental reason is that the basic needs of people within European societies are currently covered and, based on this basis, brands must perform to meet the demand for experience, emotion and feelings of pleasure. They are obliged to propose other things that go beyond what is useful to differentiate themselves. That is why the marketing of experiences is booming. A razor is a razor. But if you suggest tourist destinations that include experiences, or a store that offers something different beyond the product... then you can seduce the consumer.
Democratic access to luxury and hyperconsumption have caused great internal imbalances in the individual's relationship with himself. We all want to have access to novelties, quality and pleasure. Do we seek in consumption what we do not find in our own existence?
I think so. Our passion for consumption is stronger insofar as our dissatisfactions and personal voids are. When you feel depressed, the easiest way to escape is to buy. When you finish arguing with your husband or your children, when you have problems, you go to the hairdresser, travel or go shopping. Consumption is a palliative that allows us to replace and alleviate the dissatisfactions and misfortunes of everyday life. Before people went to church to pray, that was their consolation. Nowadays consumerism is increasingly becoming a form of therapy.
Never before in a big city has there been such high records of visits to exhibitions and museums. Never so much music, so many concerts, television series, movies or festivals. We have become aesthetic consumers in search of emotional experiences that provide immediate pleasure. Has consumption become a cult of leisure?
Consumption has become a search for pleasurable experiences. But it is not just that. In France, for example, the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) consider that consumerism has become a problem. Look at the food, for example. It is not a hobby, it is a luxury, but for many people in Western countries, who have their basic needs covered, it has become a hobby that ends up being harmful to their health. Nowadays everyone abuses consumption, that is why it is not for everyone. Young people from 20 or 25 years old begin to be dominated by the things they buy. It is a source of anguish for many people and it has become dangerous for the planet.
In this new paradigm, is ecologism a simple disguise? A social stance?
No, ecology is a serious matter, it cannot enter into the same logic as consumption. The existence of ecology is a form of tragedy for us, because it has to do with the future of humanity and it raises a multitude of difficult questions. It is an imperative, a great question of the future facing the consumer economy, but that does not mean that it is not compatible with artistic capitalism. We must change our habits. Create awareness and take responsibility for the future. I do not share the ideas of those who believe that the solution is voluntary austerity, but it is necessary for brands to introduce the ecological dimension in their production. Sooner or later we will achieve it. Ecology will transform consumption in the long term.
We live in the era of what you call artistic capitalism. A cold and calculating financial capitalism surrounded by an aesthetic mantle that enhances the emotional dimension. Is there still something that escapes the domain of the aesthetic?
Yes, fortunately there is another dimension to life. The principle or the ideal of truth, which is not aesthetic and obeys another world that is not commercial. It is a primary ideal that resists artistic capitalism, but there are others: justice, ethics, tolerance, rejection of violence. Values are something superior to the world of consumption that allows us to have a criterion against artistic capitalism. To fight, to speak out, to impose ourselves on everything unacceptable in the world and to correct it. We must reject the idea that everything depends simply on money, business and financial capitalism. Values are fundamental to our life in a community, to avoid becoming a nihilist society that knows nothing but money and commerce. And the reason why there is hope.
If you want to know more about Gilles Lipovetsky and the transformation of the consumer industries, do not miss his masterclass "Artistic capitalism and the consumption of experience", within the framework of the IV Conference on Creativity and Trends from the Design Museum. Sign up here.