Shop Til You Drop

What does shopping mean?  In her post, “A Truly Black Friday,” buddistfemme discusses how a 34-year-old, part-time worker was trampled to death by a mob at a Long Island Walmart as shoppers rushed the doors early this morning.  It’s a terrible image of the social scene engendered by consumerism, and it got me thinking about the consumer frenzy that has come to define the holiday season and the typical misconceptions about it.  

Consumerism appears to be something quite different from what it truly is.  The truth about shopping is revealed in a great essay by Jean Baudrillard called “Consumer Society.”  Here’s some food for thought before you head to the mall:

The world of consumer society is actually a world of “general hysteria.”  This is because the “profusion” of commodities–the spectacle of objects that makes you salivate when you go to the mall–is designed to overcome the consumer’s logic and produce a “frenzy of purchasing and possession.”  

Despite what economists say, consumerism is not about fulfilling needs.  We go from one object to the next because we’re trying to fulfill a desire that fundamentally cannot be satisfied.  You can never really get your “fix.” What we “need” is not the particular object but social meaning.  

Although it seems like consumerism is about pleasure and indulgence, it’s actually just the opposite.  Shopping is not a pleasure but the citizen’s duty.

Failing to consume, especially during the holidays, is seen as unAmerican.   If you say that you’re satisfied with what you have, that you don’t need to “shop til you drop,” you’re risking being asocial.   

Although consumerism is a mode of socialization, what we’re being socialized into is an individualistic and alienating world.  Maybe one reason why consumerism is so often associated with a feeling of emptiness (after the “high” of the purchase) is because it isolates and stratifies us, instead of bringing us together.

Those frenzied Walmart shoppers are not the exception but the rule.   They are us.

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Beyond Guilty Pleasures

Do we as femmes focus too much on appearances? Does this make us superficial queers? Do we need to focus more on the internal not the external?

Buddhistfemme raises these questions in her excellent post, Femme-ness & Consumerism (A Few Thoughts). I really appreciate her effort to rethink femme from the inside out–especially in the blogging world where, from what I can tell, there’s a tendency to define femme more in terms of fashion, style and beauty. Are “the inner qualities of femme” missing from the conversation, as buddhistfemme suggests? Here’s my response:

1. Inner vs. Outer? Perhaps when we as (as femmes, butches, etc) are telling stories about our desires, how we experience of our bodies, how we style and dress our bodies, and how and with whom we partner, we *are* talking about what defines our identities at a very core level.

2. The Social, Not the Individual. Although as a pyschology student and buddhist, buddistfemme has a much more inward focus than I do, I think we’re both equally committed to questions of social and economic justice. It’s just that I come at these issues from a different angle–through the category of the social, not the individual or the personal.

3. Lifestyle Politics. I love the point buddishtfemme makes in one of her recent comments on this site about how people need to just *consume less.* She’s right. Our identities are so tied up with consumerism that we find it much more comfortable to look for consumerist solutions to social problems. Why protest if you can shop, after all? This is a major limitation of lifestyle politics, which suggests that we can change the world by just changing our lifestyles. As said here previously, I think making more socially conscious choices in our lives is important, but this just a first step towards authentic social change. Shopping isn’t going to help the queer kid living on the streets, as buddhistfemme rightly point out in her post.

4. Hey, You! Step Away from the Queer Theory. I think it’s worth noting that lots of us schooled in queer & gender theory have been trained to be suspicious about the very notion of gender as an inner, core identity. I’m thinking of Judith Butler’s argument that there is no gender identity that precedes our performance of it, no “doer behind the deed.” So perhaps this is one reason why some of us haven’t been talking about “the inner qualities of femme.”

Last but definitely not least…

5. I Like “Fluff!” And fashion, and beauty, and style. In my view, hair is pretty much a matter of life and death. My cultivation of femme-ininity isn’t a guilty pleasure for me; it’s at the heart of the campy, drag perspective on femme that infuses everything I do in work and play. I’m both serious and trivial, and I value both beauty and brains, politics and pleasure, high-brow art and low-brow pop culture. Not only do I refuse to choose between these things, but I’d like to question why we (particularly queers and women) have been made to feel like we have to.

Thanks to buddistfemme for her honest and thoughtful contribution to this debate. I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts, as always!