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The Price of Life

If you look at his YouTube video, to be honest, he looks like a pretty normal guy. The appearance of no less than a sportsman who’s lived in Perth, Australia for around six years now. You may have heard of Ian Usher, he’s become quite a celebrity since he decided to auction off his entire life and lifestyle in one big package – including home, cars, jet-ski, even introductions to his friends and a trial run at his job – on eBay. Usher is therefore perhaps far from what the average man may call ‘normal.’ In fact, at 44, some would even go so far as to say that the carpet-salesman, originally from the North East of England, is in the midst of a mid-life crisis. However, the fact that Usher himself acknowledges this possibility undermines the claim. Instead, the sale suggests something far deeper – an understandable desire for liberation. On his website (www.alife4sale.com), Ian notes the ‘shocking and awful discovery,’ that ended his twelve year relationship and five year marriage. According to the Mail Online, this entailed his (now ex) wife Laura telling Ian that she no longer loved him.

The auction began after what Usher calls the ‘Hundred Days Countdown,’ running from the 22nd until the 29th June 2008, and on this last day the word ‘SOLD’ became emblazoned in red upon the website’s homepage. Whilst this is undeniably a very interesting story of a man attempting to start afresh and perhaps some may even commend him for his notable courage, the idea of literally selling your life – your possessions, your assets, your memories, is somewhat perplexing. Usher writes on his page that:

‘on the day it is all sold and settled I intend to walk out of my front door with my wallet in one pocket and my passport in the other, nothing else at all and get on the train with no idea where I am going or what the future holds for me.’

Is Usher a cunning marketing genius, utilizing the resources of the internet to create an ideological storm alongside a reformed life for himself? Or, is he merely burying his head in the sand? Can we really walk away from our past without a turn of the head? The idea of him leaving his memories behind has been previously mentioned and whilst these are undoubtedly painful as well as good, does it not undermine life in itself? Is it not a series of events, good and bad, that make us who we are? I for one have always gone by the motto that heartbreak is necessary to learn in life, however romanticised or even self-deluding some may feel that is. Forgive me; I’m turning into Carrie Bradshaw. I shall desist with these unremitting rhetorical questions. More important and indeed the main theme that this article presents is the worth that we place upon our lives, our possessions and, crucially, our identity.

The online poll set up by Usher recorded at the end of the auction on June 29th that whilst 17, 848 people said that they would sell their life with ‘no worries,’ a massive 32, 388 said ‘no way!’ to the prospect. In a similar fashion, the age-old question was posed to friends and relatives, ‘if you were indefinitely deported to a desert island and could take only one possession, what would it be?’ stressing that the importance was not to be placed upon practicality, but instead to life so far. Whilst my boyfriend made a mockery out of my research, stating that he would take ‘copious amounts of condoms for all of the beautiful, untamed tribal women,’ others argued that they would keep musical instruments, pictures of loved ones and amusements such as cards and comedians. These material objects seem to stem from the individual’s past, simple pieces of nostalgia that make up a person’s interests, even who they are today. Usher clearly aims toward liberation from the experiences which he feels will constrain him in the future; however, how much of this can he actually forget?

It is notable that Usher is not distancing himself from any financial links to his previous life. Perhaps in order for him to really start a new life free from heartbreak, Ian needs financial backing; he can’t exactly wander the streets. Not only does he have in his ‘wallet’ his savings, but his earnings from the auction itself and any rewards from the publicity he has found. Does Usher therefore deem money to be a less significant reminder of who he used to be? This does nevertheless create somewhat of a paradox. On the one hand, Usher has chosen to keep his savings as a safety net, hence suggesting that he views money only as a practical necessity. On the other, the auction in itself clearly illustrates the importance of money and the power it can hold. Imagine if we lived in a world in which, when discontent, we could actually trade lives, trade friends, even trade relatives if only our wallets would allow. Ian Usher undoubtedly brings us closer to this fantasy.

I emailed Ian and asked what statement he was attempting to make through auctioning off his life on eBay, and he replied with: ‘I am not trying to make any type of statement at all – it is simply about selling my stuff and moving on.’ This is very interesting, particularly in light of his latest feat. Writing on his most recent website (www.100goals100weeks.com), Usher states that ‘I have set myself the challenge of achieving those 100 goals over a period of 100 weeks, starting on the day I walk out of my house.’ My own critique suggests that this is all getting a little too romanticised and clichéd, goals stemming from watching a baby being born (what’s the point if it’s not your own?) to visiting to the Grand Canyon. At the time of going to print, Usher was on his way to Chamonix and Mont Blanc; hardly soul-searching experiences.

At the beginning of the article, I had a wonderfully bohemian vision of Ian Usher wandering out of his home, leaving his past troubles behind, true to the words first quoted here. I have always felt and argued that detaching oneself entirely from our past is impossible simply by ridding ourselves of physical reminders; however, I nevertheless commended Usher for his courage and astute marketing ability. I now almost feel betrayed by the blatant agenda pushing of Ian’s latest venture. From the liberation of a man through the wonders of the internet came a trite set of tasks, serving to demoralise the philosophical questions concerning identity first raised. They still exist and are as interesting as ever, but are now far less applicable to this particular case. The public vote held online to determine the final five goals surely suggests that these are by no means 100 things that Ian wishes to do before he dies. Finally, internet users will be able to download Usher’s four-part autobiography at a small charge. No doubt Ian Usher should be no where short of worshipped for his entrepreneurial mindset. For me, however, the bohemian vision once held has now been ruthlessly shattered, and in its place stands an annoying publicity stunt.

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