How Brown and Cameron make us feel fabulous
February 12, 2010
An unspeak.net reader writes:
You covered “aspirational goals” back in 2007, but now we have ‘aspirational’ NHS gowns (which are also ‘lux’). What does this mean? That the patients should want to nick them and take them home, as people are said to do with luxury hotel bathrobes? That they will want to remain in hospital because the gowns feel so fabulous? Either way, it would seem to mean more expense for the NHS. Or does the designer think “NHS gowns” will become a desirable brand, in the way that NHS specs weren’t?1
These are all excellent questions? Designer of the new gown, Ben de Lisi, elucidates:
“The old hospital gown was hideous, embarrassing, ill-fitting and probably ill-making too. You are away from home, ill, and in hospital and you have to wear this horrific garment with your arse hanging out. Give me a break. I wanted the new gowns to feel fabulous and aspirational. They are made from beautiful cotton shirting which is very smooth, cool and lux.”
He said his design means patients can have their modesty covered but still allow medics immediate access through clever “entrance points” in the gown.
“It’s infinitely dignified, yet practical. And Velcro doesn’t enter into the equation.”
It is tempting to mock (I’m sure the unspeak.net readership is always clothed in an infinitely dignified style), but this is basically good news, of course. It ought to remind us, though, of the peculiarities of the newly ubiquitous invocation of aspiration(al) in political speech. In fashion, aspirational means something openly brutal:
In consumer marketing, an aspirational brand (or product) means a large segment of its exposure audience wishes to own it, but for economical reasons cannot.
Aspirational products are therefore a way of enforcing a class hierarchy through deliberately excessive pricing. Compare, then, the way Gordon Brown talks of an age of aspiration, and analyses his citizens thus:
This is a country of aspirational individuals who, given half a chance, want to get on and not simply get by.
Meanwhile, the sinister and lubberly wattle-head David Cameron prates:
[C]hange must be based on the values of responsibility and aspiration […] We can’t go on with an old-fashioned left-wing class war on aspiration.
Politically, the fetishization of aspiration valorizes the social and economic anxieties of the populace, insisting that a neurotic obsession with the greasy pole is a national virtue, while cunningly reversing the usual manifesto structure whereby the politician promises something to the people. Instead, it is enough that the people promise something to themselves, while the politician looks on benevolently and encourages them in their lust for material advancement. The people are praised inasmuch as they merely continue to desire something kept critically vague, and the politician doesn’t have to promise that he will grant them the means to fulfil those aspirations — indeed, he doesn’t have to promise anything at all. Which is just as well since, in the world of fashion, what is aspirational is deliberately engineered to be what most of us can’t have. This is, in quite a precise sense, the politics of envy.
What are your current aspirations, readers?
- Thanks to Barney. ↩