Material Void 

May 2, 2023

Capitalism drives an insatiable appetite for the material.

I open my double panel French windows to a gust of fresh Parisian air. Blossom Dearie’s vocals float from my gramophone turntable as I tread gracefully across my room at the Ritz. Today will be full of reporting on the top designers’ Spring/Summer collections. I am a revered journalist at Vogue Italia. My boss flew me out to report from the front row at Paris Fashion Week.

This isn’t some whimsical dream.

I don’t want it to be. One day, it will be my reality. Each day until then I am plagued by my overarching desire to have it.

This mentality lasts a lifetime. Little Bryn wanted the famed Holiday Barbie doll, and when she got that, her heart’s desire was to mother an American Girl doll. After that, she graduated to wanting the real stuff: money. It never stops. Even my father, in all his glory at 51 years of age, still wants more. Visit his office and you will find “MONEY, Master the Game,” “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” “Who Moved my Cheese?” and other self-improvement titles perched atop his bookshelf. Despite dabbling in recruiting, car dealing and even authoring several children’s books, he still ardently pursues monetary prosperity.  He still longs to fill an evidently everlasting lack. Only the ink from the Fortune 500 list can strip him of his emptiness.

The overshadowing discontent that looms from an unreached goal kills the ecstasy of aspirations. Our minds birth gold-plated dreams, all shiny and new. We stop at nothing to get them. We devote treacherous amounts of time to achieving these goals. But soon after, the gold rusts away, revealing a facade. Only brass remains. All that is left is costume jewelry.

But the desire never fades. We continue to search for the real gold — everything we want but are never supposed to have.

Material desires turn into forbidden fruit. We are told to be content with what we have, but capitalism leaves us to wander the frivolity of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” My garden overflows with the glitz and glamor of stars parading on red carpets, cloaked in dresses meticulously crafted by the world’s most renowned designers. Sirens infiltrate rivers of gold and wine, seducing me with hymns disguised as affirmations: You are a magnet to prosperity and Everything you want shall be yours. My dad’s vegetative estate reflects wisdom and wealth. The very air penetrates the field’s inhabitants with vast knowledge. The garden houses the world’s best libraries, shelved with the works of his favorite philosophers like Machiavelli. In the orb’s capital lies his headquarters. On the top floor, towering over the entire realm, lies the office of its millionaire boss: Johnny Palmer.   

Just as capitalism teaches us, we don’t solely tend to the garden – we plant ourselves in its soil. Our internalizing of this economic system births a severe malfunction of insatiability within every earthly being. The allure of my garden entices me to curate my very existence around its imaginative world.

It starts with one goal. But upon achievement, the goal manifests itself into something bigger and more unattainable. We keep digging and digging at this desire until we get to the gold-plated core of the Earth, shiny with the appeal of our forbidden fruit. We barely relish in our fruitfulness before  re-arming ourselves with the shovel. We hollow out a void in the planet — and in ourselves. Our corporeal void condenses into a dark fog, polluting our minds with an anxiety of deprivation.

Enter: Greed. Since the beginning of time, humans have sought the material. Eve’s greed was literally the birth of all sin, for Christ’s sake. In the Gilded Age, industry giants like J.P. Morgan dominated the economy with their ever growing profits. Bearded, pot-bellied men drowned themselves in layered suits as they paraded around an industrialized New York to signify their abundance in profits. Their wives donned nothing less than the finest silks: figure-hugging gowns laced with frills, buttons and bows. Decadence prevailed, and it still does. Even today, tech moguls like Elon Musk accumulate net worths of nearly $200 billion dollars as their companies rise in market value. Yet they still seek to maximize profits and expand their influence.

We continuously seek more because the opportunity sends us an invitation to take it. Greed becomes a sinkhole that never leaves. Its soil camouflages itself according to the eye of the beholder. The more you achieve, the more its score grows, expanding constantly until it destroys all obstacles. Greed is the root of all evil.

This is the Collier-Hoeffler model for the “greed vs. grievance” theory in action. Typically used to break down the motives for war, we can enlist its concepts to break down the root of our desires.

Welcome: Grievance. In a world where we get lost in the plethora of highlight reels broadcasted via social media, it is easy to find ourselves comparing our lives to others. Instagram feeds are filled with 20-somethings telling you to quit your day job and invest in crypto or pursue a career in social media to generate a six-figure salary. They’re telling you that at 22 years old, you should be financially stable enough to afford $2,000 monthly rent and a brand new BMW. It’s exhausting. For a majority of the population, this lifestyle is unattainable. You can invest all your time and money into following the teachings of these self-proclaimed prophets and still be left with nothing but hope, a dream, and the feeling of inferiority.

Grievance conditions us. Already overwhelmed with a job, school, and extracurriculars, I originally did not want an internship during the school year. After watching my peers post about their successes on LinkedIn, I became insecure. This feeling only grew with time. Compelled to compete, I landed a job as a blogger for a sustainable online retailer. To my demise, I was flooded with work and eventually had to quit. Instead of staying true to myself, I misplaced the root of my insecurity and convinced myself that I wanted a job just because other people did.

We need to eradicate this Gilded-Age mindset. While the inevitability of this lust persists, what matters is whether we allow it to drive us or decompose us.

If we don’t dispose of the dark clouds that plague our mind with feelings of unfulfillment, we will find ourselves trapped in the hell of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Our dreams lead to our demise, transforming into a never-ending nightmare.


I open my eyes to my beloved photo wall, ambushed with framed photos of my favorite pop culture icons from Shrek to The Weeknd. SZA’s vocals float from my record player as I trudge across my room to get ready for class. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I find comfort in knowing I freed myself from the unrelenting pursuit of material pleasure.

This isn’t some whimsical dream. I am content in knowing this is my reality. ■

Layout: Victoria Porter & Melanie Huynh
Photographer: Ren Breach
Stylists: Cynthia Lira & Mariana Aguirre
HMUA: Irina Griffin & Azucena Mosqueda
Models: Vani Shah & Rhionna Jackson

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