There are forces on campus and in the world that are more sinister and manipulative than the comprehensive final exams, more invasive and Acheronian (look it up) than Portland State admissions forms. They seek to drain our resources and leave us floundering in the mother of all hangovers – buyer’s remorse. Students are a slow-moving target, wading through the malevolent seas of class standing and grade point average compromise. We are being chased by the greedy machines which promise fulfillment and contentment spun from flashing lights, blinking signs, and the all-encompassing "deal." The student demographic has become the marketer’s silver bullet for generating revenues based on hype.
We are being attacked on all sides, by the most likely to the most far-fetched of suspects, from the Internet to on-campus posters and canvassers, and even by the advertisement section of this very newspaper. And for what purpose? Don’t the ubiquitous "they" know that we’ve been practicing our frugality for years? Do they think that we’re not hip to their misaligned notions of gullibility? We are the all-singing, all-dancing salt of the academic earth and somewhere in between morning classes and really terrible late-night karaoke, perhaps we lose sight of what is really important.
The rock star lifestyle we purportedly have, and are anxious to achieve, is one of the most pervasive urban myths of this century. There are those who truly believe that the American student is focused only on fraternity, freestyle, and fortune-seeking. Marketing companies have created a persona that hopeful merchants have assigned to us, born of wishful thinking rather than what is feasible.
One website entitled "Marketing to College Students 101" makes several large claims. They have the gall to try and capture our essence in a broad, sweeping statement probably designed more to lure corporate clients than produce tangible results. "They’re online and big spenders, and they’ve been saturated with advertising since they were born." While they do begrudgingly recognize that we have not just fallen off the turnip truck, they mock us by patronizingly affirming that the things that define our retail experience will lead to fatter sales reports.
Chances are that at least one of these aggrandized observations is true for each individual student, and there is data to support assertions that we spend an inordinate amount of money on things other than basic living expenses. What is not carefully studied is the sustainable quality of our buying power. We all have those weeks when we splurge on food that has never seen a microwave, brand-name laundry detergent, and legally acquired music. Just as likely to occur are the leaner weeks where we can’t imagine why it was so important to put twenty songs on the jukebox, and how that 10 bucks would really be nice to have back. Not all students are poor and struggling, but I would venture that even the relatively wealthy student could see the value of practicing frugality and moderation in all non-essential endeavors to accumulate "stuff."
The credit card offers deserve their own honorable mention, becoming a rite of passage for the college-bound. I receive so many offers that have yet to fruitfully provide me with that delusional security of "just for emergencies" funding. Most Portland State students have a running start on the games Visa and Mastercard like to play. Non-traditional students are past the years of fresh financial folly, and either have credit cards, or have ruined their credit enough to be denied by the URGENT envelopes filling our mailboxes. I take some small consolation from knowing that while they will not accept my financial history as worthy of a $1,500 spending limit, every unsuccessful envelope sent to me is one less available to send to the unsuspecting teenager with a credit score death wish. Not only do the credit card companies waste their resources and stamps, but I get the satisfaction of recycling their evil paper, thereby doing my part for the environment. That’s what I call customer appreciation.
My latest peeve is the so-called "student promotion." How, exactly, are we being promoted? Do the business owners lobby in Salem on our behalf or offer free tutoring sessions? No, we are offered free sandwiches for just three minutes of our time. We skim the small print, attach our signature to the dotted line, and eye with glee the complimentary specialty sub that will sustain us through four hours of early American literature. Three minutes and a free bite later, we vaguely remember having agreed to hand-deliver our firstborn children to the proprietors of some second-rate franchise.
In my experience, the naivete of early consumerism is short-lived and fleeting. I want the new gadgets, the MP3 players, the laptops, and all the glory congruous with the high-tech world we live in. And yet, I am satisfied with out-of-date, bargain-bin replicas of what I am told I am supposed to desire. Scrambling for validation, I am content with slightly defective, cheaper goods and am resigned to merciless reminders of this fact. I do have to admit, however, that scrimping is not an option when it comes to shoes or sheets, and I think that many female-identifying beings would attest to this admittance. I will never pay retail value. Almost everything is on sale somewhere at any given time, but I will never settle for the less expensive, K-mart version either. Those purple, snakeskin (faux, of course), knee-length boots stand to bring me the happiness only dreamed about in retail fairy tales and only realized by shiny, polished people with tailored cuffs.
How do we stand up to these mercenaries of merchandise and the peddlers of promotional propaganda? I offer advice to all you students of Portland State, in the form of my newly found love, the haiku: If you can’t beat em’, join em’ and make that purchase, it’s only fall term.
Purple faux snakeskin boots, here I come.