Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stars - They're Just Like Our Libidinal Fantasies!

I am a tabloid reader. I admit it. I’m not proud of my up-to-the-minute knowledge of Britney’s hair color changes or how Brangelina feel about marriage. Tabloids are my candy, my escape from complicated thoughts.

Even the most casual tabloid browser knows that there are two major celebrity activities that end up in Us Weekly or Pink is the New Blog: nightclubbing and shopping. Getting Starbucks runs a distant third, mostly because there are still a handful of stars who spend their days running to and from meetings, not acting out for photographers.

I snark with some affection here, because I myself have pored over what the It Girls wear when they go to It Girl parties. (Or, as of late, what they don’t wear – yuck, Britney.)

But why shopping and clubbing? Why do people outside of Los Angeles even know about the existence of Kitson or Hyde?

Shopping and clubbing are activities that are primarily driven by libidinal impulse. Besides just a sexual drive, Freud felt that the libido was an instinctive life force that bucked at the conventions imposed by civilized society. This is the society where you and I live, forced to repress our libidinal impulses in order to work, follow traffic laws, and pay for things using money we earn. Repressing the desire to act out and run free takes energy, and so to let off steam we fantasize about scenarios where youth (youth is the playground of the Id), beauty, and lack of responsibility are celebrated traits.

Who hasn’t wanted to walk into a store in the middle of the afternoon, try on loads of fabulous, expensive outfits, and then walk out with whatever we wanted without a care to cost? Or go out any night of the week and not worry about having to be functional the next day? And what’s more to be fawned over for such behavior?

I raise this topic on The Good, the Bad, and the Money because the escalation of celebrity consumer culture has a profound effect on our sense of what is “normal” (hence “good”). When we are surrounded with images that portray a certain way of living, this is bound to influence our own expectations.

Earlier in my career I used to call this the Nice Girl Complex, because this was how I thought of the set of expectations that influenced me and my girlfriends. Nice Girls have their nails done. Nice Girls have good haircuts and keep their roots re-touched. Nice Girls know about this season’s bag, heel shape, and hemline. (Though my ideal of a Nice Girl may not have been too concerned with actually being nice, she was awfully fashionable.)

Being seen as someone who was able to stay current (or as I might say at this point in my career, “able to effectively manage the signifiers of competitive material culture”) was a demanding job and a serious drain on the finances. Eventually I had to shake the Nice Girl and decide for myself what my priorities were for myself and my life.

I still see many people who need a constant diet of new and stimulating, or else they become agitated, bored, and even self-destructive. These people are highly likely to try to spend their way out of an unpleasant mood. A new outfit can represent a shiny new self. A night on the town can stand in for love and approval.

These people are usually terrified of a balanced spending plan, because the idea of having to defer the impulse to spend, consume, and to run free is tantamount to a maximum security prison. Having never learned to manage their own emotional processes and self-soothe, they are afraid they will never be able to. These are usually people who declare that they are “bad with money” or “hopeless with budgeting.” This is actually code for “I can’t (or won’t) control my impulses.”

To give in to an impulse is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact at the opposite end of the spectrum are people who experience every impulse as bad and dangerous. They are the ones who must have rigid structure or else they feel completely out of control.

True emotional maturity is characterized by appropriately moderating impulses. In my financial wellness practice, I try to help clients flex their beliefs about what is “good” and “bad” financial behavior and instead look for what is healthy and sustainable for them.

Healthy spending involves meeting one’s needs and experiencing gratification in ways that are not destructive to oneself or to others. It’s okay to buy yourself something nice. It’s not okay if it means you won’t be able to pay your rent, if you have to lie to your significant other about the expenditure, or if it creates unsolvable debt.

A sustainable, well-formed budget should create balance between your impulses and your priorities for growth and self-care. It should feel like a perfectly tailored garment, with the right fit, construction and support to make you look and feel your best.

Fantasizing about the hedonistic lives of celebrities can be a harmless diversion, but if it makes you feel bad about yourself, creates temptation to buy things you can’t afford, or causes you to devalue your own personal experiences and relationships, then it is not an activity that contributes toward your quality of life.

To chase an "ideal" of good, bad, fun, or fashionable means that you are pursuing an extreme. And any extreme is very likely unhealthy. In money as in life, you are unique.

Besides, you've can see how well it's all turning out for Lindsay Lohan. A cautionary tale if ever there was one.