So this actually happened: Pim de Graaf, a freelance copywriter in the Netherlands, is selling plain blocks of wood (handmade!) for about $50. They’re called “Nothings.”
The idea here is that giving a Nothing is an “ironic” way of “taking a stand” against consumerism, by highlighting the silliness of buying and owning another material object. So having a Nothing on your mantle or shelf is supposed to signify, in some sort of dadaist fashion, a self-recognition of hyperconsumerism and a critique of the culture of stuff in which you live…
Which is all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that the Nothing becomes, almost instantaneously, the very thing it’s meant to critique. Consider the following imaginary but inevitable commentary: “Oh this? This is a Nothing. I got it for my birthday last year. Isn’t it great? What a statement against consumerism. Oh, you don’t have one? You need to get one, they’re all the rage. Super rare, but definitely worth the price. I got mine on eBay for $450 dollars…”
In other words, cultural critique is instantly co-opted into product, price-tagged and shelved next to Che Guevara shirts at your local Hot Topic. I’m calling it now: within a year or two, there will be knock-off Nothing’s floating around. Cagey entrepreneurs will hustle to get in on the anti-consumerist-statement market.
Look: Good for Pim, getting an idea, seeing it through, and making it profitable. I appreciate the idea, and even like it on some kind of ideological level. We are a people drowning in stuff–I’m just as guilty as the next man. But the answer to the problem of too much stuff IS. NOT. MORE. STUFF.
Buying a Nothing doesn’t make a bold statement about your opposition to consumerism. It is the wooden equivalent of an “I Recycle!” bumper sticker–an appeal for hand-claps.
You want to simplify your lifestyle, and live with fewer material possessions? Go for it. God bless you. But don’t advertise it.
And if you REALLY want to own your very own Nothing? Give me a few months, and I’ll be able to hook you up. I’ll even give you a good deal on it.