One of the interesting results of the crash of the economy and the real estate market is what they brought into reach. In cities like Downtown Los Angeles, Austin, Phoenix, or Detroit, living accommodations that would been considered only by the wealthy just a few years earlier are not only available but desperate for tenants.
So suddenly you find yourself living in a 1,000 sq foot loft with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops and a view. It doesn’t take long for you to start thinking these floor-to-ceiling windows are a normal, natural part of my existence because that’s what our narrative tendency does – it stretches to arc around the points available.
This mirrors a larger trend in media. As publishing costs have plummeted, what were previously unattainable perks of an industry seem to peak out at just above eye level. Take a precocious amateur musician and put him in a room with the biggest band in the world and conceivably they’d have a lot to commiserate about: Myspace plays, YouTube views, iTunes downloads. They can throw around identical phrases with huge disparities in meaning – “spending time in the studio,’ an “album release party,” even going “on tour.” What was once a world that had to be broken into, a privileged position that needed to be earned, the amateur inhabits the second he decides to call himself a musician.
This creates interesting incentives, ones that have deeper personal consequences than their industry economics. As people, we have access to social spheres that have shed long-held barriers of entry. Yet the status and narrative associations still retain the prestige that goes along with the struggle and sacrifice they required.
There was a short period in my life where I was receiving regular amounts of fan emails for my writing. It ranged from devoted to unhinged. Yet, at 20, I’d never really written anything at all. I certainly wasn’t a “writer” but there, I’d experienced something that eludes people who dedicate years of their lives to the profession.
It’s tempting notion to buy into, that it’s actually real. Because if you do, you don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to get any better. The position becomes one where it’s irrational to set out and pay dues – to try and earn the illusion. Don’t buy the cow, the saying goes, if you can get the milk for free.
The precipitous drop in prices of plasma tvs, for instance, from lavish to commonplace has far outpaced their fall in status. Objects in this period become empty symbols – an available vessel for you to suspend your disbelief. Having doorman in your building. Being a writer or a musician or a comedian or a social media expert. Same deal.
As a people already predisposed towards narcissism, we’re certainly not compelled to quibble over differences that work out massively in the favor of our ego. But purchasing power isn’t really power at all. Or at least, it isn’t power that we have. The authority oscillates entirely outside of our control. This should make us humble, not enabled.
I’ve tried as much as I can to opt out. Recently, it’s become more clear and easier. I sold my car and bought a shitty old one I didn’t need to transfer money into my checking account to clear. I moved out of my apartment into a shotgun unit in the back of someone else’s house. I feel happier – less weighed down and more honest.
In my thinking, you can use a bad economy in two ways. Arbitrage: picking up the underpriced empty objects and coast on the surplus. Or, like a tide: take note of what was left exposed when the water went out and cut all that shit from your portfolio.