I’m not a brand, brought to you by me

Image from YouTube.

I was reading an article about a reality show (don’t ask), and I saw it again: “brand,” as in “personal brand” or (in the article) “public brand.”

I hate the whole idea of “personal brand.” The writer didn’t like it either — she used the description with almost tangible scorn — but there it was, having worked its way into our societal conversation like an army of termites.

I know it’s meant to be helpful. Show off your specialness! Turn yourself into a marketable — yet individual — commodity! Let you be you!

I can’t do it. Not in the casual, affectless way I’ve often seen. Put my best self forward? I’ll try. Play up my talents? Absolutely. I’ll even keep certain parts of myself out of public view, because, uh, they’re personal.

But “personal branding” has quickly degenerated into jargon. The term sounds cold, robotic, unemotional. (Ironic, since the etymology of “brand” is from “to burn,” as in mark something with a hot iron. Ouch.) It brings up visions of imprinted cattle – or a factory extruding thousands of plastic souvenirs, complete with embossed logo.

You are a personal brand — just like everybody else.

I’m not a product. I’m not my taxable income. I’m not my likes or dislikes — that is, I’m not just my likes or dislikes, and hell, I don’t even know what my likes and dislikes are half the time — nor am I some decision-making meat machine. (At least, I don’t think so.)

(“I am a human being!” There, let that out.)

A brand is Cheerios. A brand is Sani-Flush. (Or was.) When I read about reality stars grasping for fame — trying to establish their personal brands to make themselves rich, rich, rich — all I want to do is run in the opposite direction. If that’s all you are, are you still human, too? Or have you given up the clumsiness of compassion for the sake of a few bucks and a giant roving spotlight?

Sure, we all wear masks and put on personas to make ourselves presentable and (yes) marketable. Celebrities and politicians, in particular, have been sold like detergent for decades. But if that’s what personal branding is all about, I imagine we’ll end up in the cutout bins before long.

That’s really reality.


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