Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2006

Now here’s some advertising I heartily endorse. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an item on England’s social engineering campaign to encourage people to throw their chewing gum in a trash can rather than spit it out ignorantly on the sidewalk. I know it is merely a nusiance crime, hardly comparable to the atrocities being committed all over the world on a daily basis, but when I some slack-jawed moron spit her masticated wad of gooey gunk out on the ground I grow livid—it literally ruins my day, as I spend hours imagining the hell I want to see them consigned to. If it takes a nanny state to get the gum off the sidewalk and off the soles of my shoes and out of my mind, then let the nannying commence.


The article seems to imply this is trivial and wasteful. But if it truly is a replacement for the banned political TV ads, as it also suggests, then I can only dream that I lived in such a society that replaced lobbyist-funded hate speech and truth denigration with campaigns to stop people from littering. This is precisely the kind of advertising for government that seems needed; rather than the message of political-campaign ads—that government is full of ill-mannered, back-biting politicians who will say anything to get elected and that it makes no difference who you vote for, really—these campaigns send the message that government exists to provide a civilized public sphere where the selfish and indolent behavior of some isn’t allowed to ruin it all for everyone. They posit a government that’s intent only on meddling in the small things, the everyday hassles we’d like addressed—not one that’s spying on us, sending us to die in cryptic wars, legislating our sexual and religious behavior and taxing us unjustly and so on. Even if it merely supplies a smoke-screen, it at least mitigates quotidian misery. Does it make people forget about the larger issues or free them to confront and consider them? An open question.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jan 23, 2006

In the comments (thanks!) a reader linked to this article, which succinctly makes many of the points I’ve been clumsily dancing around recently. The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to remove the buyosphere from one’s life—we’re embedded in it and in many ways we wouldn’t know how to get along without it. Chances are we wouldn’t be able to know ourselves without it, and that’s what is so scary. That is what fuels my impulse to try to resist it, or adopt this contrarian semi-contradictory stance toward shopping. But Heath and Potter, the authors of the article, have (like Thomas Frank, whom they acknowledge and borrow a great deal from) perfectly pegged the more smug aspects of the attitude exemplified by the previous post: “Once we acknowledge the role that distinction plays in structuring consumption, it’s easy to see why people care about brands so much. Brands don’t bring us together, they set us apart. Of course, most sophisticated people claim that they don’t care about brandsa transparent falsehood. Most people who consider themselves ‘anti-consumerist’ are extremely brand-conscious. They are able to fool themselves into believing that they don’t care because their preferences are primarily negative.” And they explain the uselessness of the non-conformist psuedo-anti-consumerist stance well: “We find ourselves in an untenable situation. 0n the one hand, we criticize conformity and encourage individuality and rebellion. On the other hand, we lament the fact that our ever-increasing standard of material consumption is failing to generate any lasting increase in happiness. This is because it is rebellion, not conformity, that generates the competitive structure that drives the wedge between consumption and happiness. As long as we continue to prize individuality, and as long as we express that individuality through what we own and where we live, we can expect to live in a consumerist society.” That seems to me exactly right, exactly what is so annoying about ostentatious non-consumerism. It’s self-aware in the wrong way—in a satisfied rather than slightly insane and paranoid way. And it sums up my suspicions about the “consumers are really producers/users of culture, not its dupes” line of thinking favored by consumer caapitalism’s apologists. If you use consumer goods to manufactrue distinction, it doesn’t matter how creative you are about it—you have accepted consumerism’s fundamental value—what Baudrillard calls “the code.” But to resist this value system in a society such as ours you must have it in your mind always, which achieves almost the same effect as accepting it unconsciously. It’s like being in a band and trying not to have an image. We know how well that works.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jan 23, 2006

My favorite kind of store to be in is a thrift store, and not only because they are cheap. (In truth, they aren’t so cheap anymore, thanks to the eBay effect; afraid their goods will be resold by amateur retailers, many thrift stores have applied a price hike across the board in the last year or two.) What I like most about them is how no effort is made there to cater to the consumer. It’s just a hodge-podge of random stuff barely categorized and distributed haphazardly on the shelves and racks. The real hard-core thrift stores don’t even have shelves; they just have clothing massed in a heap and you sort through and buy by the pound. If there’s music, it’s often the worst species available on the radio—religious music or smooth jazz (religious music for the soulless suburbanite?). They are often in some semi-industrial or abandoned neighborhood, retro-fitted in something that used to be a grocery store or a hardware outlet; often you can see where the aisles used to be because the floors aren’t replaced or resurfaced. They aren’t doing a thing to “shop for customers.” They don’t give a crap about who I think I am or who I want to pretend to be, and that’s just how I like it.


No strategies have been developed to make an “experience” for the shopper or to give their trip to the store an implied narrative through well-choreographed signage and a carefully sequenced goods designed to prompt certain “should I buy” questions in the receptive consumer. Sociologist-turned-marketer details a lot of these ploys in Why We Buy, a book I found extremely interesting, albeit in a counter-intuitive way. It’s good to know what retailers have learned about shoppers’ tendencies and biases, in their attempts to lull shoppers into a comfort zone, so that one can systematically resist it. If you are “comfortable” while you are shopping, you’re probably in trouble, as this means you’ve let your guard down at precisely the moment it’s most important it be up. Also, comfort comes at a cost. If you are experiencing some mellow feeling in some store, you’re probably going to pay for it in some way, or will very soon. Shopping is an ersatz experience, an experience substitute; if you permit retailers to gull you into thinking it’s an activity in itself, you’ve surrendered already—you’ve given up on real experience, on having an actual life. It seems imperative to resist that at all costs, especially as the buyosphere expands and engulfs more and more of the space we inhabit. So when retailers learn from Underhill that shoppers tend to veer right upon entering a store, you should remember to veer left and avoid the trap set for you there. When Underhill points out that shoppers don’t notice anything until they’ve acclimated to the inside of the store, often 20 or 30 feet from the door, you should remember to try to acclimate yourself sooner, get yourself braced up. When a sign has been placed to amuse you while you are forced to wait in some predictable way, ignore it. If there’s a promotional video playing, for God’s sake, ignore it. Amuse yourself weith your phone if you must. By denying retailers the opportunity to cater to you, you gum up their works and you just might get to see behind the curtain, see through to real costs of things, real discounts available perhaps, and most of all, you’ll be having a real experience instead of some bogus fantasia. Make yourself comfortable in your own way; don’t let yourself be sucked into the stereotypes about what we prefer that marketers like Underhill make convenient for us.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jan 23, 2006

Need something to get your blood boiling?  How about this: Big Content would like to outlaw things no one has even thought of yet.  Yes, the friendly people at the RIAA and their movie equivalent the MPAA wants to force all of the electronics manufacturers to get their seal of approval for any new product that they’re going to roll out to consumers.  Seeing how well they’ve done with Digital Rights Management (Sony) and crippling copyright antics that are slowly sapping creativity in the entertainment world, do we really want them to take this further step to limit what we can do with our computers and stereos in our homes?


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Jan 20, 2006

You’ve discovered that a CD in your collection has gone out of print and is now selling on eBay for $75. Do you: (1) Get excited and immediately list it for sale, (2) appreciate the fact that its going rate is closer to the priceless value you place on it, and think how all of your collection will someday be so vindicated, or (3) regard the news with utter indifference? Both speculators and collectors love this kind of discovery, but for the opposite reason—one enjoys realizing what the other enjoys more as a potentiality.


How one answers probably shows something about how far along one is toward accepting the digital future and how tied to the sentimentality of physical property one is. There’s nothing romantic about a digital file (yet? CD’s used to seem a lot more soulless) the way there is with a collection that you can contemplate in terms of size and extent. It seems likely to me that at some point one will pay a subscription fee to have access to just about everything that ever was recorded, and it will just be out there in cyberspace, rendering music collections moot. What will would-be music collectors do instead (besides blog about what they once would have collected?)


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.