Chicago - Aug. 8, 2020
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Flex You

Before social media:

Flex. Verb. Merriam-Webster defines "flex" as "to bend especially repeatedly" or "to move or tense (a muscle) by contraction."

After social media:

Flex. Verb. Urban Dictionary (clearly an authoritative voice in this matter) defines "flex" as "showing off your valuables in a non-humble way."

As someone who doesn't use social media, I tend to be oblivious to the trends budding and blossoming on a weekly basis. Despite my rejection of social media, though, it's been impossible to avoid its influence on popular culture, and the people around me, so I've always been all too painfully aware of influencers and their "product culture" social media, mostly on Instagram. They are the culprits who have brought flex culture to the rest of us. Whilst flexing ("back then" known as just showing off) existed long before social media, social media platforms have invigorated, encouraged and normalized this grotesque act.

I wonder if our welcoming of flex culture is a subconscious reflection of what's going on on a deeper level in our collective societal psyche. Specifically, I sense a collective inferiority complex is plaguing our culture. According to Merriam-Webster, this psychological phenomena is "an acute sense of personal inferiority often resulting either in timidity or through overcompensation in exaggerated aggressiveness." An inferiority complex drives individuals to overcompensate. What often follows is over-the-top behavior.

Psychologist Alfred Adler was the first to coin the term inferiority complex. As psychology professor Saif Farooqi notes on his Life and Psychology blog, Adler believed that the basis of this sense of inferiority " . . . develops due to the innate human tendency of striving for superiority." It's no secret that a certain sector of Instagram is a competition of who's prettier, richer, happier, more adventurous, more fit, more productive, more . . . whatever . . . so long as I'm better than you and we all know it.

Whilst working to be the best version of yourself is perfectly healthy, this part of Instagram (and parts of other social media platforms) corrupts productive self-ambition and poisons it with a desire to be better than everyone else, not better than the person you were yesterday. Why else would people feel the need to posture and pose and fake their posts so often?

And because our society doesn't value things that really matter (strong values, good relationships, appreciating the arts, healthy fiscal habits, pragmatic mindsets, and practical lifestyles to name a few), the only way to compete is by capitalizing on what society does value: money, and the shiny things you can buy with it.

With the societal pressure we feel, thanks to sayings like "Pics, or it didn't happen," "Post, or it didn't happen," and "FOMO," it's not like these personal indulgences can be modest, respectable, and private. Forget it! Didn't you hear? Pics, or it didn't happen!

And obviously you don't want people thinking you're missing out on the fabulous life everyone else seems to be leading, so you decide to post whatever small good thing (sometimes staged or exaggerated) is happening.

But with the vicious competition for attention, you can't just share sometimes about only one or two things. It has to be all or nothing every time. Dare I say that people who feel the need to showcase their riches and success online are people deeply riddled with an inferiority complex. For what other reason would someone put before the world their symbols of success, if not to a.) incite jealousy, or b.) seek attention and approval? Either way, I find the behavior despicable, superficial, and fraught with a boatload of psychological issues.

Bragging about one's seemingly perfect, yet totally unrealistic life and semi-irresponsible fiscal habits has become normal. It almost seems as if the foundation of our culture is flexing; the number of people showing off flashy, expensive purchases is grotesque. The constant stream of seeing people lead such luxurious lives makes consumers feel like they, too, need to have all of these fancy items, and maybe they'll be just as happy as the people posting these ridiculous and fake posts. Picture after picture we see of women sitting on their staircases, surrounded by luxury handbag boxes. Post after post we see of guys standing in front of fancy cars, strategically placing their arm out so we see them sporting the latest wristwatch. The number of "luxury hauls" we see of grown men and women showcasing how many overpriced shoes they own; how many belts; how many coats would make me laugh if it weren't so depressing. It's tacky. It's childish. It's pointless. Why do we continue fueling these people's egos by liking, clicking, watching? It does us no good. It only encourages this shallow culture of mindless overconsumption; of building an identity around luxury goods. I almost feel sorry for these people. Their goods, which so easily can vanish, is what brings them joy and a sense of identity. Take off the stupid hat, ugly jacket, and gaudy jewelry, and what is left? Based off of the facade they've built with their posts: nothing.

Perhaps you think you are immune to flex culture as long as you don't pursue it in your social media feeds. But flex culture is like the latest gossip about Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian: you may not go looking for it, but it somehow - almost impressively - manages to find you.

And we wonder why our country is known for its overconsumption! Could it be that we've been conditioned to believe we can buy our way into a happy life? Why else would Americans have such crushing consumer debts? It's because we've been conditioned by our society to believe that buying, buying, buying is the way to a happy life, and there's plenty of evidence (empirically collected and anecdotal) to show for that cultural mindset.

"Provoking envy and anxiety makes fans want to spend, leading a generation too willing to go into impulsive consumerism and higher levels of debt," clinical psychologist Tracy Bennett writes in the blog post "Social Media Culture: Flexing on the Gram."

In "11 Stats That Will Change the Way You Think About Consumerism" at Relevant magazine, Jesse Carey, an editor there, describes how Americans spend more on fashion accessories - $100 billion - than college tuition. Also, "The average American household has more than $7,500 in consumer debt." Studies document this growing sense of materialism leading to children with high self-centeredness and aggression, Carey says.

Liking the finer things in life is fine - hell, even I can't help but do a double-take when I see a perfectly tailored coat or shiny loafers. There is nothing wrong with liking "stuff" and "luxury items." The problem is a flex culture that champions and prioritizes the flashy, tacky, and expensive material goods and gaudily flaunts them. Contrary to what we're told by our culture, overpriced clothes don't matter. Luxury cars don't matter. Exotic vacations don't matter. A stomach-sucked-in, butt-sticking-out gym photo doesn't matter. Morals do. Principles do. A strong sense of self, divorced from mindless materialism and bragging like a spoiled brat, does.

We deserve to live in a more meaningful, sophisticated, and noble culture. But before we can embark on the odyssey of achieving decency, we need to leave all of this - the glamourized dishonesty, materialism, shallowness, obnoxious behavior, ostentatious tastes, and fishing for attention - behind.

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See also:
* These Rich Parents Are Bragging Their Ridiculous Wealth On Instagram. More Like Instabrag!

* Rich Kids Of Instagram Can't Stop Flaunting Their Daddies' Money.

* Meet The 'Rich Kids of London' Who Flaunt Their Wealth On Popular Instagram Account.

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Previously by E.K. Mam:
*
How Studying History Made Me A Stoic.

* Dear High School Students And Recent Graduates . . .

* Tunes To Remedy Any Existential Crisis.

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Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on July 10, 2020


MUSIC - At Home Chicago Blues.
TV - TV's Veepstakes Lesson.
POLITICS - Infinite Corporate Greed Killing Us.
SPORTS - Blackhawks, Baseball Barely Back.

BOOKS - Think Twice About Showering.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The History Of U.S. Postal Inspectors.


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