Le stuff, c’est moi

I had been reading a collection of essays by Nick Hornby, one of my favourite writers. He was talking about the sheer accessibility of Internet music, and, by extension, the elimination of the need to purchase a single bit of it.

“If the music I like stays out there in cyberspace, as it does on Spotify, then somehow it cannot indicate character and taste in the same way [as owning it],” Hornby wrote, “although I doubt that younger generations will feel like this, and good luck to them.”

Yes, yes, so true, I thought, that’s exactly what I think. I’m just like Nick Hornby. And I was moved to paste the quote on my Facebook wall.

Minutes later, my eldest daughter chimed in: “This need to own things in order to indicate character and taste is why younger generations need luck.”

She’s right, of course. A smart-ass, but right. For generations, we have defined ourselves by the stuff we own. When civilization was first established, people owned a horse for travel and labour. Today, I can’t think of anything quite so impractical as owning a horse. It’s like owning a pleasure boat, except slower and not so good on a lake. You own a horse because a horse is fun and defines you as a salt-of-the-earth country type who can afford stabling fees.

We own things not simply to survive but sometimes just because. The post-Christmas hangover is a good time to look at this proliferation of stuff, much of which we really don’t need, a lot of which is plain crap. The only purpose it serves is to define who we are, both as givers and getters.

For example, I bought my wife a corkscrew for Christmas because that’s the crazy romantic I am. Like a horse in the middle age, a corkscrew is necessary for survival. Any argument? No, didn’t think so.

But it wasn’t enough for me to purchase a basic twist-in/lever-out corkscrew. The one I found was fancy! It had a ratchet arm that you used to ease the cork out of the bottle. Just pump, pump, pop! Rather than simply getting to the wine (survival), it was equally important to do so with style (identity).

The problem was that the corkscrew was so poorly designed that the ratchet couldn’t overcome the resistance of the cork without slipping, rendering the corkscrew impractical and virtually useless. In short, the corkscrew was a piece of ratchet.

Fortunately, we own a simply designed backup corkscrew. All is well.

Another example: If ever there was something no one really needs (besides a horse), it’s fabric softener dryer sheets. Somewhere along the way we decided that woven cotton wasn’t soft enough. But to itch his own. And I immediately regret that pun.

But it isn’t enough to have dryer sheets – sickly scented, toxic dryer sheets, but, hey, I don’t want to cause any static. (That’s IT!) We need to define ourselves by the type of dryer sheet we use.

bounceformenApparently, if you’re a man, you shouldn’t be using any old floral-scented dryer sheets, not because they’re wasteful and bad for your clothes. No, because they’re not manly enough. How do I know this? Because the other day I came across Bounce For Men: dryer sheets “For Men and Those Who Smell Them.” You know what else is for men and those who smell them? Showers.

Instead of flowers on the label, the package depicted a football. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled a football; it doesn’t smell that great. Balls generally don’t, and you knew I was going to go there, didn’t you?

Regardless, the message is that, as a man, your identity is on the line if you don’t use the product targeted to your masculinity. What this really means is that Axe-drenched teenage boys around the world are yelling, “Mom! You made my clothes smell like girls again! I want manly, super-soft, cuddly clothes. So you need to do two loads of laundry, Mom!” Bounce for Men is a bad day all around for gender politics.

Dove for Men, Nivea for Men, Head & Shoulders for Men (it doesn’t just fight dandruff; it gets into a drunken brawl with dandruff). And we fall for it. We let all this stuff define us.

Perhaps with my smartypants daughter’s generation, this identity consumerism will end, and with it all the waste and needless crap. Self-identity, of course, is part of human nature. If not with stuff, how will future generations indicate character and taste? Probably by posting brainy quotes on social media.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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54 Responses to Le stuff, c’est moi

  1. So very true….and now I will never mistakenly buy Head and Shoulders for Men for fear of a bar fight on my head!

  2. Karen says:

    Ok, I must take issue with you on one point: your contention that we don’t need dryer sheets. Of course we need dryer sheets! Especially at this time of year! Have you not heard of static cling? Dryer sheets (or any fabric softener, I guess) diffuse the electric charge that can build up on clothes as they rub against each other in the dryer (especially when there is less humidity in the air, i.e. no water to conduct the electricity to other points beside your body). I guess we don’t need them, but I, for one, would not be happy walking around with my hair standing straight up on end.

    But I’m with you on the explosion of “pour homme” products out there. My bathroom is cluttered with Men’s Shampoo and Men’s Body Wash and Men’s Deodorant because (I guess) my husband fears being thought a sissy if someone catches a whiff of Lady Speedstick on him.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Static is just nature’s way of saying you’re atomic. And I’m really sensitive to fake floral scents. But, you know, go nuts…

      I nearly referenced my son’s vitamins. They’re the chewy kind, and it actually says on the bottle, “Gummies for Men.” We’re all oxymorons.

  3. Amanda Fox says:

    Your daughter, my oldest son. He would have said the EXACT same thing. Ugh!

  4. vsvevg says:

    Well, this was very interesting. I own three horses, and I moved to Mexico so that could own then because I could not afford stable fees. I also own bounce dryer sheets(though no dryer), they keep rats out of your corn. And, I have a ratchet corkscrew, because I was a waiter for 20 years and that is the kind waiters use because they’re the most effective. Curious the perspective of things, no?
    As for owning stuff…I don’t own much, no space for extras in a one room house. Still there are few things I will always keep, my favorite books…I suppose because they define me, but mostly, it just feels good to have them close. Great post! Thanks for reminding my of Nick Hornby.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I knew I’d hear from horse people. When I’m writing these things, I tend to latch onto the first thing I think of for the sake of the gag. I know many wonderful horse people, so thanks for not taking it personally. It’s all perspective indeed.

  5. Paul says:

    Please Ross, this isn’t about “men’s identity” this is about keeping women out of our bathroom products. My ex used to grab my razors and do her legs – which subsequently left me with bloody divots in my chin when I shaved. Now, when they use our stuff, we can at least smell it and know what they’ve done and can chastize them appropriately. Ha! As if that would make any difference.

    The drunken brawl on your head is hilarious. Well said. I worked in retail for a number of years, and I can tell you that this differentiation is a retailer’s (and mfg)dream – all these new products and because they are specialized, you can charge more. After all they are filling a “need” and they are addresing our vanity, a huge buyer of products.

  6. Those damn advertisers. For a moment I thought, “Man bounce, I could use that.” Wait a minute, then I’d have to do my own laundry…

  7. I like the tag line on the Bounce: “For men and those who smell them.”

    Maybe a line of clothing made of Bounce sheets? You’d never have to use deodorant!

  8. Ha! This whole post hit home, from the Horse to the Axe Scented teenage boy, both of which are active in my life. Perhaps buying Pure Sport Dryer Sheets should go on the “list of 10 manly things guys should know how to do.” I have to admit we do own a horse and although we have the space and facilities to keep him, we have always paid to board him because we like to just blow money like that! 🙂 Interestingly the first thing that came to my mind here, we have recently PURCHASED two music CD’s (the parents, not the kids)… I know, “what’s a CD?”…. and were struck by the $9.99 price tag on both. Certainly much less expensive than when CD’s were the primary source of music!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I still buy CDs on occasion, but never more than $10, mostly because I’m stubborn and know I can get it cheaper/on sale/online. I look at vinyl sometimes too and then laugh at the $25 price tag, like they’re some kind of artisanal craft product, which in some ways I suppose they are.

  9. Thank goodness we have our children to open our eyes to alternative perspectives. Anyone else, and we would shun them as crackpots.

  10. Carrie Rubin says:

    The hubs and I have reached a point where we like our gifts to be something we can eat, drink, or wear. That way we’re sure to use them. Of course, there are exceptions, but we’re all about eliminating the clutter these days. Too much stuff becomes a burden.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      One of the benefits of camping is to demonstrate that everything you really need you should be able to fit in the back of a van.

      • Paul says:

        That is not my idea of camping Ross. I like a 40 foot mobile home with all the immenities. They are actually prettty reasonable to rent – the big cost is gas (or diesel). Amyway, the last time i rented one for a vacation with the family, it was a dandy. There were hydaulic leveler controls beside the driver’s seat so that the motorhome could be leveled for proper sleeping and system functioning (drains and such) when stopped. There were rams that deployed under each corner of the vehicle when stopped and could lift any corner until all was level (there were level guages on the dash). i got so good at leveling that i could sit in the driver’s seat and put the right tilt on the motorhome, so that a can of cold beer would roll the full length and stop right in my hand. Now that’s camping.

  11. markbialczak says:

    I was looking for your special post on this issue for women, but I couldn’t find it, Ross. WordPress must have messed up again. 🙂

    With the smelly products, I buy by scent, not label. The fact that I choose all the stuff made for men is just mere co-Winky-Dink, right?

    And finally about Nick Hornsby and his quote about music and owning, seriously, the issue is about the eventual paying of the creators of the music and the books and the art, and that’s what’s so scary about the free taking of all of it online. I think. As a writer and all.

  12. This was a good one. I mean…they’re all good. But this one really hit its mark. What I think you’re describing is Rome right as Nero was tuning his fiddle.

    My wife is a miracle. She doesn’t give a damn about material things. Everyone should aspire to the Zen state she lives in. I sure do.

    I have great news! I’m in the middle of Hornby’s new novel, Funny Girl and it’s a beauty. Fully fleshed-out characters. Snappy dialogue. Compelling plot. Funny as hell. He’s really hit is stride. Did you see Wild?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks, Mark. I was feeling it was pretty weak, but maybe because I actually had a point this time, it held together.

      My wife is much the same. Makes it hard to buy her gifts, though.

      Glad to hear about Funny Girl. I didn’t think it was released yet. I thought Juliet, Naked was top form as well, so great to here.

      I thought of you yesterday. Heard an interview on CBC Radio with the director and subject of the doc, Art and Craft, about the forger Mark… I forget his last name. Lots of questions about art and its monetization.

      • Funny Girl has been released to strong reviews in England. I can’t speak for Canada, but it’ll be released here in the US on February 5. Fortunately, they invented this thing called the Internet so I could buy an advanced review copy and not have to wait untill February.

        Art is money. Money is Art. It’s an old story.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      P.S. Haven’t seen Wild yet. Was planning on reading it first, probably next.

  13. ksbeth says:

    i should probably hide my boyfriend’s ‘old spice swagger’ shower gel really soon. )

  14. Ned's Blog says:

    My wife made special softball-sized yarn balls that go in the dryer and bounce (ha! bounce!) around to make the clothes soft without using those pansy dryer sheets. Then my daughter did a load and sprinkled lemon seed oil (don’t ask) on them, so now all my clothes smell like Pledge furniture polish. I’m not really going anywhere with this. I just wanted an excuse to tell you about my yarn balls.

  15. pinklightsabre says:

    I like this mild rant, to itch his own. The corkscrew, a piece of ratchet. Good god: I spent about 24 hours in the wilderness surrounded by my own rants and came back smelling like a man, for sure. And I succumbed to using shampoo too.

  16. calahan says:

    I actually once purchased Nair for Men. I applied it to my chest, then took it off within minutes for two reasons: the horrific smell and the atomic blast-like burn.

  17. Shh! Don’t tell my sailor there’s a special Bounce for Men. Since he doesn’t grocery shop, he’s blissfully unaware that the clothes I launder for him could carry the manly scent of balls instead of “clean linen on a spring day”. Let him enjoy underwear that’s soft as a Chihuahua’s underbelly without knowing what he’s missing.

  18. Hummm… What about Bouncy Men? Chasing balls? 😉

  19. I think it’s perfectly okay that we give it away for free. In some lines of work, that’s the only way it’s legal.

  20. Letizia says:

    Bounce for men, I can’t believe that exists. I wonder when floral scents became associated with femininity. Perhaps the same time laundry did. At least men are doing the laundry now 🙂

  21. Pingback: My Canada Gross coat | Drinking Tips for Teens

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