Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I'm Lost in the Supermarket

Shopping World

What does capitalism do well? Well, it makes for a ‘great’ shopping experience.  You can get 200 varieties of breakfast cereal.  Tens of thousands of shoes.  Uncountable choices in clothing that you can throw away later. Many, many cable channels, some you don’t even watch.  Every conceivable type of furniture.  Drugs for every conceivable illness – even ones that you don’t have or that don’t work.  Hundreds and hundreds of car or scooter choices that only an expert can tell apart.  Toothpaste?  Soap?  Addictive fast food?  You got it baby!

Branded!  Woman Passing through Boutique
It is this very plethora of goods that is the end-point of capital.  It ultimately is the point of the whole system – that and that alone.  Really.  But without money you cannot buy anything, so even shopping is ultimately based on class and where you reside within which class strata.   This plethora is not for everyone.  The worker on a pinched budget will make the economical choice nearly every time. 

I put ‘great’ in quotes because there is a massive cost here.  Unplanned and profit-based consumer development creates waste, repetition, consumer fetishization, shoddy materials, environmental destruction, pollution, packaging nightmares, cheap wages (even virtual slavery), unhealthy or chemically destructive products, over-production, ‘under consumption’ and high prices due to monopolization or control of real estate.  Capital does not take anything but the profit cycle part of this 'circulation' into account.
But it is still in this consumer wonderland that shopping shines as the number one attribute of capitalism.  It is the Number One ‘hobby’ in the U.S.  It is what most people do to relax, even when they don’t buy anything.  For many it is retail therapy which justifies those long hours of work. 

Take a look at women’s clothing.  The men’s clothing area is about quarter of the women’s sections.  Women’s clothing dominates many brick and mortar locations.  Women of course must look ‘good’ or sexy or constantly diverse, either to other women or to men.  This is a reflection of the sexism in the society.   It is not such a burden on men.  Class is reflected in clothing choices, as is being ‘hip’ or projecting some other image, like health or sportiness or corporate ownership or manliness.  Clothing is also a ‘costume’ and we are all players on that stage.
A brick- and mortar woman’s clothing shop is full of young women attending to the needs of the shoppers. Serving them, waiting on them.  After all, everyone wants a servant...  Trying on clothes is a ritual in the dressing rooms.  The music is never disturbing or obtrusive - it is always light and poppy so that the shopper pulls out her purse.  Each store has an ‘atmosphere’ created by careful design.  There is sometimes a men’s chair, but mostly women shop alone so that they can spend as much time as possible.   A ‘shopping trip’ can take up a whole day, visiting both department and boutique stores and include a lunch.  Boutiques exist so that the shopper can get ‘individualized’ clothing, which enhances her individualization – a prime goal under capital.  The ‘hit’ only happens at the end – when the woman has to take out her wallet and pay for the overpriced item she just chose.  You can go to Wal-Mart, buy bespoke shoes in a chi-chi part of town or buy from a ‘craft fair’ – facilitating artisanal capitalism.  It only varies in price and quality.

Is her closet full?  Will she wear it? How long will it last?  Will it go ‘out’ of fashion?  With ‘fast fashion’ it certainly will.  Will it ultimately go to a second hand store, become a rag, be thrown in the garbage and landfill, given to someone else or molder in the closet until death?   Which at that time the children have to dispose of in some way.
We all know this cycle.  It is in fact so ‘normal’ that we do not notice how actually abnormal it is.  Commodification extends into our very psychology.   Normality is the mask capital wears.

Wealthy women used to start women’s clothing boutiques, perhaps with their husband’s money, but now it is an avenue for the petit-bourgeois strata of women to earn money.  It was one of the first ways that women became business ‘owners.’  Now many other avenues are open and these businesses are really the root of the petit-bourgeois part of the womens’ movement.  This extends to women-owned ethnic businesses too.    
What is interesting is that the shopper is ultimately a passive ‘consumer.’  There is no need in this system to sew your own clothes, or to add or subtract to clothes in various ways, to enhance them - to have any imagination or creativity.  Sewing is a dying skill at present.  All is ‘off the shelf’ – the work is done by someone else.  The shopper is not active or creative or even skilled – except as to where to get the best price for the best item.  Shopping itself becomes a skill of sorts, which used to involve lots of driving and some walking, but which now maybe comes down to being internet-saavy.  In a way, it is a procedure of infantilization. 

The recent mass closing of department stores is a sign that shopping is becoming even more ubiquitous.  Department stores were originally a signal of the ‘democratization’ of clothing, as a variety of mass-produced clothing items could be bought at lower prices in central locations.  Now with shopping moving into the computer robot, every home has a ‘store’ installed in it, open 24 hours a day.  Stores are becoming fronts only. 
In a capitalist society, the ‘consumer’ is king and queen.  The worker is forgotten.  The environment is forgotten. But the real issue is why is the diner superior to the cook?  The coffee drinker a buck above the Starbucks barista?  The clothing buyer more important than the hidden seamstress?  The skilled worker less important than the consumer?  The land beneath the chemical dyes? Is it because of the ownership of a credit card, in which the banks then collect interest?  Of course that is it.  The credit card and shopping are almost like the banking carrot before the donkey.  Many people have been forced to use credit cards for essentials, so then it also becomes extortion by criminal syndicates called banks.

Consumerism is routinely denounced, but few have yet to grapple with the changes that an environmentally sustainable and labour-friendly economy would bring to this shopping house of cards.  Essentials would be taken care of – education, shelter, food, health, clothing.  But the production of goods would be decided by democratic means instead of market and profit means, by the ‘associated producers’ in factories and assemblies.  As such, many useless products would disappear… the ‘pet rocks’ of consumption.  Many marginally ‘different’ products would also disappear.  In the realm of fashion, people would enhance clothing by their own creativity to create fashion items, much as was done in the past.   That is the future or the future will not be.
Review of a book on a Marxist analysis of fashion, "Stitched Up."  Use blog search box, upper left. 

Toronto, Canada
May 30, 2017
Red Frog

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