How Do Brands Help Us Construct Ourselves?

Last week, it was announced that a couple was suing Airbnb for copying their apartment. They were upset that Airbnb was “branding their company with [their] life.” It’s an understandable gripe.

Here’s a funny thing about this situation that writer Jamie Lauren Keiles pointed out: this lifestyle is constructed from things made by not them, by things made by brands. So is Airbnb really copying them if all the components of the self aren’t even one’s own but instead “curated”? That is a fascinating question. It gets at the same idea copyrighting a styled outfit: you are copyrighting an idea. As Keiles observes, this is a truly bizarre thing.

What I’m trying to illustrate is the fact that the Airbnb case represents a key development in the “personal brand as art” debate. That is, if the specific arrangement of purchasable commodities is upheld as a true form of intellectual property, then we have reached the day that all brands dream of, when strategic participation in capitalism is legitimized as a meaningful reflection of our authentic selves.

Oooooocccchhhh. That stings. That hurts all around, for these Airbnb people to YouTubers to photographers to a lot of other creative fields: anyone who uses something else to make is complicit. Yes, there are a lot of professions that require using a good or item made by a brand to succeed. That includes most creative fields. Unless you are doing something like making clothing or making furniture or making an app, you are involving yourself with someone else. We are nothing without brands these days.

Some days (On really fucking depressing days.), I think about what about me is special and a lot of that has to do with the clothes I wear or what makes me happy. What answer do I have? I like to shop and I enjoy recommending things to people. How sad is that? I feel boxed in by the frames of a Barbara Kruger artwork. Who am I without brands? Are my words even my own or are they on loan from someone else? Are we even able to be creative or unique or special without a brand anymore?

Who knew a stupid fucking case against Airbnb would sit up so much psychological shit for me.

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