Ian Usher isn’t the first guy to do it. When it comes to the grand gesture of attempting to auction your life on eBay, he’s even too late to make the second wave of emotional e-commerce pioneers. Still, he certainly is raking in the notoriety.
Earlier this year, Usher, 44, a Brit living in Perth, Australia declared June 22 as the open bidding start-date for those wishing to purchase his life — or at least the material, tangible aspects of his life. The auction, which ends next week, includes an introduction to his friends, a two-week trial for his job at a rug store, his car, motorcycle, clothes, house and most everything else inside his three-bedroom Perth domicile. That’d be the house he built with now-ex-wife Laura with whom Usher ended a 12-year-relationship about a year ago.
You know, when women get dumped, we just cut our hair really short. This guy, he’s ditching his whole “life.” (If this is how Dude responds to a breakup, good luck getting another date, like, ever.) Interesting though, is how belongings and "life" are so intertwined.
In the post-reality-show Facebook era, privacy no longer holds value — but our stuff sure does. Fascinating to watch someone get rid of his, even more compelling is the finite implication of selling off one’s “life.” Like artists did in eBay’s infancy, he’s twisting the auction site into something it wasn’t built for. By packaging it as his “life,” however, Usher’s tapped into something more complicated and much darker than a simple soap opera.
Though we do love a good eBay soap opera, huh? Remember that cranky guy who eBay’d his ex’s Beanie Baby collection (back in 2003 when the economy was good and we had no problem ponying up triple digits for a plushy bag of plastic beads)? Dude was so angry, he went off on potential customers as well as his former wife (actual eBay post; emphasis not added):
“I told everyone in the begining everything I know and don't know about these STUPID animals! I have an idea for all people that are so worried about this.....DON't BID! I dont care! I am so upset that this clown of a woman figured out my SUPER PLAN TO SCAM MILLIONS FROM THE UNKNOWING BEANIE WORLD! I FIGURED I WOULD RETIRE FROM THIS RUSE! What a dolt she is! I have blocked her from my bidder list, that way she can cry about it. Some people are UNREAL! GET A LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
On a happier note, there’s this other guy who auctioned off his former wife’s wedding dress, even modeling it on his eBay post. He really enjoyed receiving e-mails from the masses, posting on his site that “most were thanking me for the laugh. You’re entirely welcome. Five years of misery was well worth the hearty guffaw that was my pleasure to give you.”
As Usher’s repeated in many interviews, he’s looking to sell off the things in his life that hold painful memories, and raise enough money to start fresh somewhere else. It could be that this started as a bid to auction off his home — in Australia, you must have a license to sell real estate — but by putting together this all-encompassing package, Usher gets a loophole.
He’s not copping to the real estate trick — though his irritation at fake bidders who pushed the auction to $2.1 million earlier this week reveals he knows what his house is worth, even if he doesn’t seem to understand the Internet. "Apologies to all, but I guess there are a lot of bored idiots out there," Usher stated on his Web site www.alife4sale.com, after he weeded out the fake bidders.
(Apparently, anonymous Netizens will prank the pitiful! When did this start?)
Usher’s real reason for positioning his life transition as this very public auction is unknown – maybe even to him. Before sharing our Dear John letters with the World Wide Web became ubiquitous, artists experimented with sharing the personal online, transforming cyberspace into public space.
The year 2001 was a boom time for said experimentation. Keith Obadike auctioned his “Blackness,” stating in the item description, “This heirloom has been in the possession of the seller for twenty-eight years.” Eryk Salvaggio auctioned his “personal hatred.” And John Freyer sold everything he owned on eBay, then visited everyone who bought his stuff.
These artists used eBay in a way it wasn’t intended for, but in a way that’s interesting. Plus, it made us think about social constructs on the Internet. These days, we don’t have to think about social constructs on the Internet, because we’re living them. We hook up, we break up, we sell our junk. This guy in Australia, he’s doing it all at once.
The big difference is that the art projects were fiction, and everyone knew ahead of time that they wouldn’t end in a dark way. We watch Usher’s experiment because we really don’t know, just like he may not know, the ultimate goal. Even if he gets rid of all his stuff, he can get more. It’s the “life” part that’s compelling. Tell someone unfamiliar with the story, “This guy is auctioning his life on eBay,” and they’ll react in one of two ways. A) “If this guy’s life is so miserable, why would I pay for it?” B) “That’s HORRIBLE!”
(Oh yeah, and maybe C) Didn’t someone already do that?)
See, the implications of getting rid of your “life” or just getting rid of your stuff can register as a very serious warning sign of something else. But maybe he’s casting off the shrouds of grief to emerge healthy and renewed. That’s equally compelling, and let’s hope that’s the case — for Usher, and the next guy auctioning his “life,” and the guy after that.