'In less than a month's time, I am going to burn every branded thing in my possession,' reports one Neil Boorman in BBC Online's 'Magazine' section. Superficially, it looks like a bold statement against branding and materialism in general. Who hasn't been slightly depressed by the importance attached to brands, those empty symbols that say nothing about an individual except that they're a member of a not-very-exclusive herd?
Boorman explains how owning the 'right' brands had become a substitute for a meaningful life and genuine feelings of self-worth: 'I have been topping up my self-esteem and my social status by buying the right branded things. In my world, the implications of wearing a crocodile as opposed to a polo player on the breast of one's shirt are of crucial importance.'
Boorman obviously has a slightly different definition of 'crucial importance' than, say, the average Lebanese citizen or cancer victim, but nonetheless, it's an admirable moment of self-realisation, surely? There are very few positive things to say about brands. Some represent quality, unquestionably, such as German car marques, but this is really just a case of 'you gets what you pay for'. Some brands are indeed desirable on the merits of their products: Levis makes decent jeans, although nothing that is spectacularly better than similarly priced products. And some brands are merely synonymous with shit: McDonald's, Bernard Matthews, or the unspeakable anti-food that is Pot Noodle.
But where brands are at their most pernicious, and this is surely what Boorman is talking about, is when it is primarily the brand you're buying, not the product. What brands hope is that they will become 'must have' items, and this is usually accompanied by making vague lifestyle associations (beautiful people wear our jeans, heterosexuals use Ronseal), or, in the school playground, acceptance and not being called a 'pov'. As Boorman puts it: 'Being the gullible fool that I am, I believed in the promises that these brands made to me; that I would be more attractive, more successful, more happy for buying their stuff.'
Maybe we could all learn something from Neil Boorman. But sadly it wouldn't be anything to do with branding and rampant consumerism - it would be about how to relaunch a media career with a cheap publicity stunt. Boorman's plans to burn his branded products are in fact part of a media 'project' he calls 'Bonfire of the Brands', which is being related in a blog (yawn) and a book (ker-ching, hopefully).
Boorman is actually the last person you'd want to be preached to about consumerism. He describes himself as 'a music promoter and style magazine editor by trade'. 'By trade' is a superb sleight of hand: Boorman is the former editor of the wanky lifestyle mag Sleazenation, which was later rebranded as Sleaze, and which went under a year later, as did Boorman's next project, the London lifestyle mag Good for Nothing. Boorman can describe himself as whatever he likes, but a *practising* magazine editor is not it.
There's also the fact that Boorman is 31. As such his claims that he believed he would be 'more attractive, more successful, more happy' as a result of owning brands show that his problem isn't an addiction to brands, it's being a bit immature and/or thick. What Boorman actually has to say about brands is nothing you haven't heard before. With the sort of fuckwit sweeping statements that you tend to find in, um, lifestyle magazines, he argues: 'In this secular society of ours, where family and church once gave us a sense of belonging, identity and meaning, there is now Apple, Mercedes and Coke.'
Really? Perhaps if he'd devoted his life to something more intellectually substantial than Sleazenation, Boorman would realise that brands aren't a religion for secular society. In what *actual* way have brands become a substitute for 'church and family'? It's one of those statements that sounds as though it means something, but doesn't. Brands may offer the chance to be fashionable, or to conform, or just to look good, but no one except someone suffering a very obscure mental disorder would believe that brands offer emotional or spiritual nourishment.
Unsurprisingly, Boorman has come in for a lot of flak over his plans to burn all his branded goods, with people saying he should at least give them to a charity shop. It's a valid enough criticism, but it misses the point. Just giving stuff away won't provide the sort of photo opportunity that Boorman needs to launch 'Bonfire of the Brands'. Insincerity practically oozes out this particular project. Boorman claims that 'To find real happiness, to find the real me, I must get rid of it all and start again, a brand-free life, if that is indeed possible.'
Does he believe a word of this? It's obvious that he's simply replaced one form of self-promoting behaviour with another. Once Neil was the coolest kid in the office with all the right gear, now he's desperately cool because he's seen through the superficiality of it all. How very fucking original. And ironically, in the course of devising 'Bonfire of the Brands', isn't he just hoping to create a brand of his own?