Buying Identities on Borrowed Money


The film Rebels of the Neon God refers to a new generation drowning in the imported values of the modern metropolis and American style individualism, and hence in conflict with the old values, the old Gods. (Cinema Matters)

"Nowadays seventy per cent of the population are consumer orientated. But it wasn’t always like that. In the old days, people tended to resist this kind of a lifestyle. They worked so hard to make a living through farming or low quality manufacturing. They hated the rich people who had luxury goods. As long as they had enough money to raise their children they were happy."

"I read a book which said you have to feel you belong to some group - in this society one is persuaded that one wants to join the rich people - not because they are the best group or because they have the nicest things - but because they dominate the surroundings. The advertisements around you are constantly telling you this is the group to join. The rich people present the good side of life, e.g. when you watch TV programmes and adverts it gives the impression of rich people living happy lives, e.g. car adverts; so we aspire to be like them."

Taiwanese society has been unified by the global capitalist marketing message. Join us. Join the rich. You can never spend too much. You can never show us how much you want to be us. And who from this new generation, finding themselves extricated from traditional constraints, and by the same token lacking a sense of purpose and value, can resist this pervasive message?

"The advertisements are able to influence people because Taiwanese people don’t think independently. The advertisements tell them the products they sell are symbols of success. Furthermore, the technical classes have a lot of spare cash to spend. They can save all the money they need within five to ten years - the rest they spend on luxury goods."

"I want to be different. Even though I resist I care about how other people think about me. I buy goods because they're high quality, because if you have a 200 year old brand it represents good quality. For example, the other day I bought an Adidas cap. I might feel happy when I buy something such as this, but it doesn’t last that long."

And the great thing is that ‘money is free!’ which means we can all be richer and richer and richer until. Each purchase brings us closer to heaven, brings us closer to the realisation that we have fucked ourselves.

"Nowadays, younger people spend all their money. It is much easier to borrow money through the ATM. Some companies advertise their card saying there is zero interest on whatever you borrow. However, they will introduce astronomical withdrawal and handling fees, which are usually calculated as a percentage of your withdrawal, and will make sure the minimum possible withdrawal is quite high. Added to this is the fact that there are too many things that young people want to get. The marketing has changed. For example one cash card showed a person riding on a Harley Davidson, this dream came too late - so the message was catch the moment - you can do this earlier."

Do people resist? Can people resist Big Brother, the big marketing brother, this colonisation of the public space through which people relate? Can people resist free money and all its curses?

"Some highly educated people try to fight for their freedom inside. They read more things about philosophy, religion and nature."

"This kind of advertisement doesn’t work on me because I suffered from borrowing before. I had credit card debts and spent a lot of effort trying to clear them. Credit card debts cause suffering but people learn from it. I understand the reality now. But the students don’t know what their future will be like. The government has to do something to educate young people. Older people had a different approach because they knew their limits. Personally, I have to give a proportion of my money to my parents, who save it for me, and I spend the rest."


James Johnson - December 2006




The Taiwanese - a people set adrift




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