Saturday, February 25, 2017

Personal branding is bulls**t

Of all the nouns to become verbs in the last ten years (i.e. trend, adult, text) ‘brand’ is the one I like least. In the larger sense of the word branding denotes broad corporate hustle, the means by which a company shapes its customer’s perceptions. Say I see a commercial for Louis Vuitton where David Bowie plays harpsichord at a party. Say this party looks a LOT like a scene from Labyrinth:

Because Louis Vuitton connected their purses with one of my favorite films/pre-teen feelings about men with makeup and glam pantaloons, I am more likely to see their brand in a positive light. Louis Vuitton could, in theory, tweet non-stop Bowie-related puns and win me over completely. The distance between a company and its customers has been reduced in a giant way, especially when you consider their presence on sites that were once the purview of actual friends, drunk photos and news.

The individual version of this process is called self-branding or personal branding. To create a personal brand, Forbes suggests that you plan how you want to be perceived, create a personal website and make sure that everything you do publicly online (whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) fits this perception. You are a one person corporation vying for the hearts and minds of potential employers and it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you send a cohesive, constructed, appealing message about who you are and what you can bring to the table. You are Louis Vuitton hawking purses except that you, potential employee, will have no assist from David Bowie (RIP) to sell yourself and if you don’t sell yourself you DON’T HAVE A JOB.

Apart from the disturbing imagery of self-branding, I take issue with the onus it places on job seekers and its implications on the widening gap between rich and poor. As Astra Taylor puts it in The People’s Platform “As institutions crumble and social safety nets fray, individuals increasingly stand alone, responsible for themselves and their well-being.” This sort of self-promotion assumes that everyone is on equal footing. So, sure, tell the single mom living below the poverty line to buy a website she can’t afford, with free time she doesn’t have, to work on her personal brand.

Personal branding and its ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality is wildly at odds with the lives of most Americans. If, as Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez estimates, the top one percent captured between half and all income growth between 2009 and 2012, personal branding matters way less than which of your dad’s überwealthy friends can land you a job. Alice Marwick, a communication and media studies professor at Fordham University puts it this way in Status Update, “Championing self-branding as a universal solution for economic woes demonstrates the disconnect between neoliberal ideals of identity— which emphasize self-improvement, responsibility for skill acquisition, and self- surveillance—and the reality of day-to-day life.” I am a white, middle-class millennial unsaddled by student debt. I’m coming from an affluent place. Yet, given the overwhelming disparity of wealth in America, the current economic climate;and the fierce competition for an ever dwindling number of jobs in my field, when someone suggests I work harder on my LinkedIn profile I just:

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