Macklemore and Ryan Lewis challenged Hip Hop’s fashion status quo with the radically popular song “Thrift Shop.” They chimed in on the hot button issue of homosexuality and marriage equality with “Same Love.” And their highly thoughtful social commentary doesn’t end there. Also off their recent album “The Heist,” this song titled “Wing$” powerfully, and one might even say prophetically, highlights the bankruptcy of American Consumer Religion, using sneaker culture (something I knew practically nothing about) as an example. Check it out.
The Consumer Catechism has taught us that our identities are constructed by the possessions that we acquire. “We are what we wear, we wear what we are.” The products we do not yet have are to be seen as essential pieces of ourselves that are missing, and it is our incompleteness without them that constitutes our depravity. Our inevitable awareness of our own dependence, finitude, corruption, and fragmentation has thus been hijacked by advertising as an exploitable resource. We are told that our fulfillment, completion, perfection (i.e. our salvation) will come with the next Air Jordans, or the next iPhone, or the next car, or the next house, or the next (fill in the blank). “This would be my parachute, so much more than just a pair of shoes…this is what I am.” This is the consumer theory of atonement.
The particular object in which we are to seek our salvation is always changing from moment to moment, but it is always an object, and it is always the next object. As soon we have a particular pair of Nikes or live in a particular house we realize that we are still unfulfilled, and so we look in faithful longing to the next thing. And so the cycle continues. When will we realize that all that awaits us every time is “just another pair of shoes”?
Failure is built into the system. The consumer gospel can never make good on its promises, for if it did consumption would all but grind to a halt. Unfulfillment is the fuel which keeps the wheels of the capitalist machine turning. Insatiable desire for consumption requires perpetual dissatisfaction.
In one way or another we have all “listened to what that swoosh said.” To some extent we have all bought into this false gospel. We have tried to construct our identities piece by piece with material possessions. We have sought our salvation in having the right stuff. From a Christian perspective, this might very well be the most radical affront to the Lordship of Christ in individuals and in our world today. Our identity and our salvation are to be found in Christ. In him we are the adopted sons and daughters of God. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
But we have not taken this truth to heart. We have sought our life elsewhere. We have turned our goods into our god. We have looked to these idols for our identity and our salvation. We have knocked and knocked and knocked; “but there was no voice, no answer, and no response” (1 Kings 18:26). We have “bought these dreams” and they “all fall down.”
Macklemore says that “these Nikes help me define me, and I’m trying to take mine off.” Whatever our Nikes might be, whatever material possessions we might be trying to define ourselves with, it’s time for us to take them off.