Supposed Brand-Name Fun

"In fact, pop culture references have become such potent metaphors in U.S. fiction not only because of how united Americans are in our exposure to mass images but also because of our guilty indulgent psychology with respect to that exposure. Put simply, the pop reference works so well in contemporary fiction because (1) we all recognize such a reference, and (2) we're all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference.


It's true that there's something sad about the fact that David Leavitt's short stories' sole description of some characters is that their T-shirts have certain brand names on them. But the fact is that, for most of Leavitt's educated young readership, members of a generation raised and nourished on messages equating what one consumes with who one is, Leavitt's descriptions really do do the job." (42-3)

Foster Wallace, David. "E Unibus Pluram", in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997.

But do we think that this is really a 1990s phenomenon? I don't know if I agree that this is "sad". Compare this idea to any of the quotations from the nineteenth century--aren't most based on consumer identities, albeit in different systems of immediate recognition?