“Tell me about yourself, and you might mention where you’re from, the music you prefer, perhaps a favorite writer or filmmaker or artist, possibly even the sports teams you root for. But I doubt you’ll mention brands or products. That would seem shallow, right? There’s just something illegitimate about openly admitting that brands and products can function as cultural material, relevant to identity and expression. It’s as if we would prefer this weren’t true.
The underlying discomfort is something I’ve noted over many years spent writing about brands and products. One reader comment clarifies the dilemma. In a column about products and companies that exist only in the fictional worlds of books and movies, I categorized such things as ‘imaginary brands.’ Harrumph to that, this reader replied: All brands are imaginary.
I saw his point, but he’d missed mine. The ambiguity in the relationship between our selves and the brand-soaked world we navigate is exactly what’s worth taking seriously, not waving away. When such consideration is filtered through an open and unpredictable mind, anything seems possible. Willfully imaginary brands and products can be considered as a medium, expressive of joy, fear, humor, unease, ambivalence–very real stuff, in other words.”
–Rob Walker on “As Real As It Gets,” the medium-is-the-marketplace exhibition of fictional products, imaginary brands, hypothetical advertising, and speculative objects that he organized. The ersatz emporium is open through December 22 at apexart in NYC.