[22 January 2007]
“The majority of human discourse is now occurring in online product reviews.” - The Onion
According to Jim Morrison, “The self-interview is the essence of creativity.” Of course, Morrison also insisted that the soft parade has begun, the lizard king can do anything, and the blue bus is calling us. Still, I’ve got hedonistic “self-interviews” posted in all the usual places: Classmates, MySpace, Friendster, Live Journal. Taken together, however, they’re little more than distractions, sad little annotations that might at best be depended on to provide context to the one place that reveals the true me: my Amazon.com Wish List.
Having surpassed the bumper sticker and the screen-printed T-shirt to become the tool of choice for promoting one’s irreverence, cultural awareness and intellectual prowess, the Amazon.com Wish List is the only social networking website of note. Its appeal is a complex and layered thing; the Wish List’s essence cannot be reduced to a simple slogan or a crude icon like that of some lesser sites (our local mall offers a T-shirt featuring a stick figure first typing on a computer and then engaging in cute, iconic butt sex with an enthusiastic partner to the accompaniment of the following caption: “From MySpace to My Place.”) However, this complexity has in no way hampered the Wish List’s momentum, for how better to weigh the worthiness of a potential pal, mate, or employee than through his or her Wish List? How better to sell yourself than through your own?
The Wish List is a friendly and unassuming ambassador who greets visitors with a directory of your desires (or, perhaps, your confessions) before they need bother getting to know less significant, incidental personal details; such as your gender or ethnicity or religious preference. Through the Wish List, your every conscious yearning is laid bare and assigned a numeric value between one and five with which a visitor might gauge the intensity of your emptiness, resentment, and animosity. Further, you are given the opportunity to annotate each item on your Wish List with justifications, disclaimers, or even just simple context. The Wish List is a crucial instrument with which to navigate a world in which you are, more than ever, the things you choose to buy.
Ah, but if you’re anything like me, nobody actually buys anything from your Wish List, yourself included. If you happen upon a stray 20 bucks, why waste it on something you already know you want, when instead you can go to a brick-and-mortar shop and discover something you had no idea you couldn’t live without? It’d be like spending your allowance on food. Items are not added to your Wish List to be purchased, but rather to be admired. The primary deciding factor when it comes time to choose whether to click that seductive ADD TO WISH LIST button is the extent to which the item in question might impact your social rank or status, like all those books you own only to loan out, but never do loan out because you have no friends. Still, the books are proudly displayed, and your imaginary friends look upon them with approval and jealousy, in which case actually clicking on a book, charging it to a credit card, and having it shipped to your place of residence to rest alongside other unread-but-impressive volumes would be redundant; if books exist only to impress and intimidate guests (and they do), they can serve this function in cyberspace just as easily as on your shelf.
Regardless of whether your Wish List items will ever be purchased, grooming is a crucial and rewarding component of the Wish List experience; there is an unspoken but critical obligation to trim the fat on occasion. Many items are deleted because they are mere passing fancies in the first place, impulsive additions with no lasting appeal. Others are removed for more self-conscious or even political reasons:
Paris Hilton’s Stars Are Blind CD single? DELETE. Unknowing visitors might not grasp that this item is on display for purely anthropological reasons.
The Star Wars Trilogy DVD set collecting the unaltered theatrical cuts? DELETE. Nobody finds your righteous indignation impressive; these movies always sucked.
That Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology DVD? DELETE. The Wish List novice is unlikely to realize that this is an ironic posting. (Or maybe it’s not; perhaps balding superheroes with orange tans, roid rage, and yellow underwear are among your more earnest passions.)
The Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 Broom with special vibrating action which sparked a flurry of very enthusiastic consumer reviews? BUY. We all need a little magic in our lives.
The Snakes On a Plane DVD? DELETE. Before the film hit theaters, it was cool to be in on the joke; if you purchase the DVD, you are a joke.
Frank Miller’s Sin City (Recut, Extended, Unrated)? DELETE. We all enjoy the Repressed Homosexual Longing genre, but surely Hemingway would be a better choice?
That 20th-anniversary Japanese import Optimus Prime toy that costs more than you earned in a week at your first job? BUY. While you should always keep the social networking qualities of the Wish List in mind, and while it’s true that no one will have sex with you once they see Prime on your Wish List, Optimus Prime’s death was the Kennedy assassination of the ‘80s; he deserves the love.
Or perhaps you simply trim the fat because you feel a neurotic need to tidy up, as I do. I am a conspicuous consumer who has single-handedly crippled entire terrorist cells via my patriotic purchasing of unnecessary material goods, but I am also compulsive when it comes to purging; I get nearly as powerful an endorphin rush from ridding myself of goods as I do from buying them. The Wish List presents a unique opportunity to experience the relief and thrill of getting rid of material goods without having purchased them in the first place.
Someday, MySpace and its ilk will be ground to dust in the mighty gears of the Wish List Revolution, and all will see them for the irrelevant, inadequate fads they’ve always been, and all will celebrate the glory and unparalleled genius of the ACME of social networking websites: the Amazon.com Wish List. I can only hope and pray that on that beautiful day, my prophetic vision will be remembered and honored. In the meantime, I offer a conclusion in two parts. First, Jim Morrison, had he lived, would have produced one pretentious, unwieldy mess of a Wish List. Second, and more important, I really, really want that Hulk Hogan DVD.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/wish-or-wishout-you/