I recently saw a television show where a marijuana dealer was stoic to the point of appearing disinterested in making a sale. He explained to his potential buyer that he didn’t have to actively sell it or market it, because marijuana sold itself. The dealer’s attitude revealed that contrary to popular canon there is no fixed causal linkage between a seller’s behavior and the sale of a product or service.
I realize that my critique of this system will likely cause me to be viewed as obsolete, because “times have changed”, “the world has gotten smaller”, and “everything moves faster now.” However, to echo the conservatives’ perspective in their perennial argument with the liberals: just as some things can be improved upon, some things retain their value over time and don’t need a more updated, flashy version. At base, products are still products and services are still services. I realize that it’s still thrown around that “a good product or service sells itself,” however, I find this disingenuous, because other than illicit drugs, when was the last time you saw a product sold without multiple testimonies, colorful or tactile boxing, or some level of charming or inspirational rhetoric?
A free marketplace is defined as a competition friendly hub where buyers and sellers can operate relatively unrestrictedly. Now, laissez faire systems are truly free marketplaces, where the government doesn’t impose restrictions or tariffs or anything like that. Western, capitalism-leaning economic systems have more restrictions due to the focus on advocating buyer’s rights, as in, the right to not be deceived. This system assumes that a more honest market will be a livelier market, which helps both buyer and seller. I’ve experienced a truly laissez faire market and I understand the West’s criticism; it’s ruthlessly buyer versus seller. One may think that in the West we’re so much better than that due to our smiling faces and chummy rhetoric, but isn’t our big-toothed rhetoric just another method of pitting the buyer and seller against one another, because it muddies the waters? It may not seem like this when the car salesman so eagerly offers the potential car buyer a cup of coffee and tells them how comfortable their future kids will be in the back seats, however, no compliment or coffee will change the car’s features or overall quality.
To look at this in another way, in a New Yorker article titled “My Struggle with American Small Talk”, native Indian Karan Mahajan talked about his issues assimilating into the American culture. Looking back on witnessing a friend make idle banter with city vendors, he said: “At the time, this seemed intellectually dishonest to me. Did he really care what they were wearing? Wasn’t he just expressing his discomfort about being richer than the person serving him? If you did this little number with everyone, was it genuine?” His friend thought he was being curmudgeonly when he made comments like these. Yet, in Delhi, Mahajan’s home city, vendors were treated as the people who merely had something you wanted to buy, so the transaction was stoic and focused; both buyer and seller were on their toes to protect their interests. What Mahajan initially witnessed about America was the deeply seated social politicking that surrounded commerce; it wasn’t merely a transfer of goods for services, but community service. Sadly, when he finally assimilated, he said, “On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed. It’s my main form of social interaction—as it is for millions of Americans who live alone or away from their families.”
How is our consumerism a good thing if we’re so addicted toward being extroverted consumers that we become depressed when we’re not consuming?
And where is the quality-meter of the actual products or services?! Can we even recognize products or services in themselves anymore?
When it comes to modern book publishing, this whole mess floods to mind. When I log onto Twitter, I see authors promoting the bejeezus out of their work by featuring bright cover photos, cherry picked reviews, even begging for retweets. I see authors who post their emotional responses to scenes they just wrote or edited, essentially livestreaming their writing process. I even see authors sharing their thoughts and feelings on why they haven’t written in awhile, be it due to a dead pet, dead relative, or being in a manic or depressive state. This may not sound like it has anything to do with modern marketing, but it does: it reveals that we’re obsessed with enveloping our literary product within a certain image or mood. Essentially, books are not standalone products, but public relations campaigns launched in an extroverted modus. (This is why publishing is exhausting to introverts nowadays, which, sadly it not due at all to the actual writing part.)
So, is that the state of the art? Being divas?
Our culture’s compulsive consumerism is linked to our obsession with extroversion. As Mahajan said in his pre-assimilation days, “During these years in the small-talk wilderness, I also wondered why Americans valued friendliness with commerce so much. Was handing over cash the sacred rite of American capitalism—and of American life?”
Well, has this compulsion toward extroverted platitudes become a rite of passage in our world?
This deeply affects book publishing, because as the saying goes: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Essentially, as our culture “progresses,” we’re becoming less and less interested in the whats and the hows, deferring instead to the whos, but more specifically, the me.
Well, the marijuana dealer would disagree, because to him it didn’t matter who was buying the product or selling it or what packaging it came in, because the product was damn good on its own. Simply put, do we do this because we’re not capable of producing good products anymore, whether tangible or literary?