This brief polemic is not from the head, the heart or even from the soul….more from the nerve endings!
Pain and suffering
I am destruction
I am angry
I am total
Lyrics Courtesy of Iggy Pop
Pain and suffering are often thought of as being much the same; they can be experienced separately…..
Pain is fundamentally unpleasant sensation.
Suffering is something we do with our pain.
New research shows that more than a quarter of us suffer daily pain, …the BMA (an inherently conservative body) estimate that approximately 6 million people in the UK suffer chronic pain – I am one of those people
It does not mean an always alienated presence in the sense that my experience is disconnected from the surrounding social world, but it does mean acceptance of a loss …..for example loss in ‘quality’ of life.
And, given this notion of quality is in part culturally defined….. Experiencing pain is an act of cultural appropriation…and in a consumerist culture it follows that pain is meshed-up with acts of consumption.
Despite apparent ‘greater agentic primacy being afforded to the consuming subject’ consumer & marketing research has the nerve to largely ignore this notion of pain
Where is it? Where do we hear it, feel it and see it? Those ‘in the know’ make pain related consumer purchases…from ‘Merton elite’ tables and TENS’ machines…. (Yes of course …there is an array of consumables built up around the practice of treating pain) …..But I am alluding here to ‘painful consumption’ beyond the walls of the specialist consultants & therapists.
Ok, Holbrook and Hirschman – when talking about consumer fantasies – did refer to the difficulty of using ‘’ indices of chronic hedonic energy in the context of explaining acute sensory-emotions’’.
In so doing they introduced core language from understanding pain; acute and chronic….
This specific example is part of a quiet movement: where insights from the world of health care are being co-opted by those studying consumption to help gain deeper understandings of the human condition… . Materially we see this with, for example, the growth of quasi-phenomenological consumer research and notions such as ‘positional shifts’ of the participant – becoming more apparent. One pertinent strand of consumer research that consider mortality and how this shapes our ‘embodiment practices as consumers’….. does give concrete form to the consumer body; a feature often treated only in the abstract.
And here I use the term abstract in both its academic sense but also to signify remoteness.
So I ask:
Where is the appreciation of routine practices revolving around pain and our response to it, the paradox of both the extraordinary-objectifying quality it brings to our relationship with our body and, at the same time an ever present (sometimes razor sharp) reminder of our subjective isolation.
Where is the performative character of consuming (and researching) with and in such conditions?
To use John Law’s work here – the sediments of our ‘natural state’ means pain all too easily disintegrates as either manifest absent (on the part of those experiencing it) or ‘othered’ by those who don’t.
So what is this polemic other than a cry for us to offer a little more empathy, or, if that’s too difficult, a dose of sympathy to those in & with pain?
Time to move pain from the background to the fore: to evocate the more visceral
Enough talk about immersion, we need to better tune our accounts of immersion.
Chronic pain challenges many people’s enactment of consumer scripts; it also generates challenges for some in their practice as researcher….beyond this it can act as a catalyst to challenge…
With passing reference to Daniel Millers ‘The little black dress is the solution. But what’s the problem? We need to add to the list of ‘crimes of consumption’ its development and preservation of a belief in perpetual remedy, fueled by widespread dissemination of promotional texts about the perfect life….
At a more reflective level, given that as consumer researchers, we need to wrestle with the impact of our work upon the people and culture we study… we need to be concerned about the widespread existence of consumers ‘with’ pain & the void in what we have to say, feel or do about this.
I offer two glimpses of the potency of mixing pain and consumption…….both stem from the lived experience of chronic pain and exhibit strong parallels with existing work on consumption practices.
The first is a sense of perpetual dilemma ……needing to be extra well prepared and yet knowing that all is contingent on ‘how you are feeling at the time’
The second is articulated in a number of ways that revolve around the notion of ‘rhythms’
……….Rhythms of feeling connected and separated, of searching & accepting, of engaging & retreating, of hope and despair……
More practically this affords transformative potential for marketing and consumer research that might focus……
on…both cognitive and affective distraction
on… offering narratives beyond the dominance of restoration and quest
on…spaces in consumption that ‘get it’, that at least overtly make efforts to bridge the gulf created by pain being an essentially private experience.
on…ways for consumer practices to become the pseudo-morphine injection …
Imagine for a moment, life – as described in a recent novel entitled The Illumination – where pain manifests itself as light, where cuts and bruises blaze, arthritic joints glow….where we all wear a badge not of our honour but of our debilitation……..where we have no choice but to look at, and to knowingly see other people’s sorrow.
That was ‘Noises from the creaking and cracking of ‘Painful’ consumption experiences’
PROMOTIONAL CULTURES & COMMUNICATION CENTRE
Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University