What if we refused to occupy Black Friday? Or, at least stopped shopping at Wal-Mart?

One might think that Black Friday mania might be scaled-back this year, given the economic crisis and the rising awareness of socio-economic injustices evidenced by the Occupy movement. But, no, consumer capitalism will not go gentle into that good night – instead, it will bang the shopping drum in a mad frenzy, exhorting people to buy, buy, buy as if their life and happiness depended on it. Unfortunately, like children running after the Pied Piper, we heed this call, heading out to Wal-Mart ON THANSKGIVING DAY. Yes, that’s right, Black Friday, is being “rolled back” to Thursday.

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago, years before a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on Black Friday. But, I readily admit that I am somewhat of a shop-aholic. I grew up in a family that loved to shop, and I have not rid myself of the addictive pleasures of consumer consumption. I try to shop less though, to deny the siren call of the shoe sale or buy-one-get-one-free bonanza. And, I try to be more savvy about where I shop.

Of course, buying sweatshop free or supporting fair wages is nigh impossible in today’s world, but we can all take little steps – and giving up Wal-Mart is a great way to start. Why? Because the Waltons are the apex of the 1%, because Wal-Mart exploits is workers, relies on slave labor, and is sexist and racist in it’s hiring, promoting, and firing practices. It is also one of the most powerful and profitable mega-consumer-corporations of its kind. If we could force Wal-Mart to change, other chains would surely follow suit.

As someone who includes a directive to not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedyreveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disproportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderfulFrontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-MartWal-Mart Sucks, andWal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

 

What if instead of wearing pink and “I LOVE BOOBIES” bracelets we got down to some nitty-gritty, non-consumer-based activism like Occupying Wall Street?

(originally posted as “What if you could buy social justice? Think Pink: Cancer Profiteering” in 2009)

The pinking of cancer is arguably one of the most well-known examples of the cultural misconception that we can buy social justice. Starting out with the pink ribbon, this consumerized think-pinking has, as Ayelet Waldman details in her Salon.com article, made us “awash in a sea of pink”:

“Pink ribbons, pink wristbands, pink Cartier watches, pink makeup kits, pink Tic Tacs, a pink Delta airplane, pink nail polish, a pink Montegrappa Micra Pen, pink bouquets, pink tweezers, pink candles, pink jeweled key fobs, pink totes, pink shower gel, pink tea, pink moisturizer, pink Lean Cuisines, pink teddy bears, pink Waterford crystal, pink Post-its, pink M&Ms, pink sneakers, pink umbrellas, pink yogurt, pink golf balls, pink pencil sharpeners, and even pink toilet paper. That’s right, wipe for the cure.”

Wipe for the cure?!? Ha! I wonder, are there pink condoms so we can also fuck for the cure?

While this pinking of cancer began with the pink ribbon, the history behind how the ribbon became pink is worth considering in more detail. In fact, the cancer awareness ribbon was originally PEACH. This peach ribbon was part of a GRASSSROOTS ACTIVISM campaign, not a corporate profiteering label. As Sandy M. Fernandez details in her excellent article “Pretty in Pink” (read it in full here):

The woman was 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer. Her peach-colored loops were handmade in her dining room. Each set of five came with a card saying: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”

Haley was strictly grassroots, handing the cards out at the local supermarket and writing prominent women, everyone from former First Ladies to Dear Abby. Her message spread by word of mouth. By the time Liz Smith printed her phone number, Haley had distributed thousands.

Then Self magazine called.

“We said, ‘We want to go in with you on this, we’ll give you national attention, there’s nothing in it for us,” Penney says. Even five years later, her voice still sounds startled by Haley’s answer. “She wanted nothing to do with us. Said we were too commercial.”

At the end of September 1992, Liz Smith printed a follow-up to Haley’s story. She reported that Estee Lauder had experienced “problems” trying to work with Haley, and quoted the activist claiming that Self had asked her to relinquish the concept of the ribbon. “We didn’t want to crowd her,” Penney says. “But we really wanted to do a ribbon. We asked our lawyers and they said, ‘Come up with another color.”

They chose pink.

So, the real history is that pink was chosen as a way of STEALING and PROFITING from one woman’s idea. Holy pink crap! (And, if you need more proof that Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source, their entry on the history of the pink ribbon does NOT cover this information.)

As Fernandez writes,

“…because of Haley’s ribbon, Self and Estée Lauder had traded in a color that was merely peachy for one that was an icon, a semiotic superstar. “Pink is the quintessential female color,” says Margaret Welch, director of the Color Association of the United States. “The profile on pink is playful, life-affirming. We have studies as to its calming effect, its quieting effect, its lessening of stress. [Pastel pink] is a shade known to be health-giving; that’s why we have expressions like ‘in the pink.’ You can’t say a bad thing about it.” Pink is, in other words, everything cancer notably is not.”

While peach would have been problematic too, given its false associations with being skin color or “flesh” (thanks for nothing Crayola!), it might have been preferable to the bubble-gum faux-female-empowering and infantilizing pink.

Further, the shift from peach to pink, or from somewhat natural to neon, symbolically echoes the shift in cancer activism. As David Bollier notes in his article “The Pink Ribbon Juggernaut”:

“At one time, activists focused on the environmental causes of breast cancer and the importance of prevention. But as corporate marketers came to recognize that breast cancer awareness offers a great way to position one’s company as a champion of women, the ‘social meaning’ of the disease changed. The ‘pink ribbon’ branding of breast cancer has made the disease an upbeat, emotional celebration of ‘survivors,’ women’s fitness, civic voluntarism – and selling.”

Thus, when peach went pink, an activist movement became a consumerist movement. Yet, as noted by Barbara Brenner, executive director of BCA (Breast Cancer Action),  ”If shopping for pink ribbon products was truly the path to a cure, we’d have solved the breast cancer problem by now.”  Yeah, and if SHOPPING was a CURE for anything, we would have also saved the environment, the economy, and eradicated poverty!

However, instead of “shopping for the cure,” we are ironically “shopping for the spread.” Or, as Ayalet Waldman points out:

“There is a particular irony in this corporate sponsorship. Many cosmetics contain parabens, estrogenic chemical preservatives that can disrupt normal hormone functions, and exposure to such external estrogens has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The link between environmental pollutants and breast cancer is also becoming clearer. When absorbed into the body, certain pesticides, plastics additives, and chemicals present in foods, household dust and air act like estrogen, possibly increasing the risk of breast cancer.”

Even more ironic, as pointed out by Professor Julia Mason, is that “The largest drug companies who make cures also make carcinogenic products, which cause cancer.” Wow, talk about lining your own pockets!!! Give em cancer, then sell em ‘cures,’ and THEN sell em PINK products that show just what a caring corporation you are!

Along with capitalizing on disease, the think-pink paradigm also works to “pink-wash” products. Akin to “green-washing,” pink-washing presents products and the corporations that make them as caring about women in general and preventing/curing breast cancer specifically.

Further, even people, it seems, can be pink-washed. As David Bollier reports, “after a series of prominent NFL players were involved in serious crimes such as rape, domestic violence and DUI, the NFL launched a “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign. This PR effort enabled the NFL to showcase its players as community-minded volunteers who care about women and children.”

As this example reveals, there is a serious lack of social critique accompanying the think pink movement. When rape and violence can be pink-washed away, we must question if the pinking of cancer is ultimately doing more harm than good…

In addition to allowing corporations to plaster their image with a pink happy face, pinking also obfuscates critical analysis in favor of feel-good consumerism.

Got cancer due to that toxic waste dump you live near? Forget about it! Put on some Avon pink lip-gloss, some pink tennies, and walk your way to feel good oblivion! Forget that you no longer have the time or energy (and never did have the money) to examine how poverty, racial inequality, and a rabidly unequal healthcare system contribute to unequal rates of breast cancer among different race/class groups. Forget about the economic injustice that translates into you living next to the toxic waste dump and put on your pink happy face already! If the pink ribbon people don’t advocate for federal budgets/laws to prevent cancer, and it they are not pressuring corporations to research and then stop using cancer-causing chemicals, who are you to complain? (A disclaimer – there are campaigns and groups that step away from unexamined pinking – notably Think Before You Pink launched by Breast Cancer Action).

So, while Kristin McDonald argues that the pink ribbon is “a symbol of the new spirit of activism that is changing the way we face breast cancer,” I disagree. I think instead it is a symbol of the new spirit of commodification that is consumerizing the way we face not only breast cancer, but ALL social issues and injustices.

Pinkwashing will not bring the cure let alone bring about prevention. What it will bring about is “healthier industry,” as noted by Penni Marshall in her piece “Pink to Green.” As Marshall indicates, this cancer profiteering is not about saving the planet nor the women who live on it, but about allowing industry to continue to use cancerous toxins as it claims to be working towards a cure. As Marshall argues, “Above all else, the bottom line on breast cancer has to be what’s healthy for the environment and for women’s bodies, not what’s healthy for industry.”

Perhaps in October, when we are again inundated with pink products, we can reflect on the peach history that has been forgotten, or on the ways in which cancer harms the flesh of individual bodies (and disproportionately harms bodies of color due to systematic poverty/unequal healthcare) and DOES not harm, but BENEFITS corporations – the very same corporations that have put on pink happy faces while their products and manufacturing practices rely on known cancer causing toxins…

Addendum:

This October finds many, many people participating in “Occupy Wall Street” protests. Hurrah! Now this in not only non-consumer-based, it’s anti-consumerist, anti-corporatizatoin, and pro-justice. Hurrah!!!

 

What if the Supreme Court in a Supremely Sucky Decision Sides with Wal-Mart?

The Supreme Court sided with Wal-Mart. I am still in shock. This is such a blow on so many levels, especially in regards to sexism, worker’s rights, and the continuing corporatization of the U.S. For background on the case, go here and for a list of proposed actions/protests, go here.

I am re-posting a piece critiquing Wal-Mart to mark the day of this  heinous decision.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart)

When I read that a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on “Black Friday,” I flashed back to Reverend Billy. His over-the-top evangelical-style preaching’s that encourage ‘worshipers’ to STOP SHOPPING in the docu-comedy What Would Jesus Buy equate our consumerism to evil, to greed, and, catchingly, to the “SHOPACOLYPSE.” Black Friday’s news, with one Wal-Mart worker dead as a result of consumer madness, and several others injured, as well as the shoot out at a Toys-R-Us in Palm Desert that left two more men dead, seemed to indicate that the ‘SHOPACOLYPSE’ is indeed upon us.

As someone who includes a directive to please not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedy reveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disporportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderful Frontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Sucks, and Wal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

What if Obama’s State of the Union speech ushers in an age of government sponsored reality TV: “Education Idol,” “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”and“The Amazing Race to Control the World”?

Before I read around the net for reactions to the state of the union, I thought I would formulate some of my own. So, here are thoughts on a few areas close to my heart: Education, Body Image, and Militarism.

On education, Obama referred to the “national competition to improve our schools.” Wow, will there be a reality TV show to go along with that? How about “Education Idol”?

I agree with Obama that “one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” Too bad he doesn’t back this belief with monetary support. Alas, there always seems to be enough money for war but not for education.

On body image, Obama gave a nod to Michelle Obama “who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.” Oooh, sounds like the makings for another reality show! How about “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”?

Instead of targeting body size, how about targeting high fructose corn syrup and ultra-processed Franken foods. Oh no, food corps wouldn’t like that, and now they hold the purse strings…

On militarism, Obama resorted to euphemism again, hiding war cries under the guise of “national security” and “terrorists.”

There seemed to be a big gap in the war portions of his speech – the military budget!!! Why no mention of how our war-happy stance has a lot to do with our current economic collapse? Why no talk of curtailing military spending or cutting back on our bases around the globe?

Seems all his war talk could have the makings of a reality show too – how about “The Amazing Race to Control the World,” “American’s Next Top War,” or “Country Swap”?

To sum up my reaction, I found most of the speech to be about as believable (and disheartening) as reality TV.

I heartily agree with Obama that “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity,” I just think Obama and the US government define freedom and human dignity a little differently than I do.

I don’t find that occupying the globe with our soldiers, bases, and prisons is the best way to bring about freedom. I don’t find that championing corporate capitalism promotes human dignity – to the contrary, it puts profit before people.

If he really wants to stand on the side of freedom and human dignity, Obama must think about de-militarizing the globe and decreasing the corporate stranglehold on our world. Oh yeah, and supporting education with more than just words would be nice too.

What if the preamble to the US Constitution read “We the corporations of America…”?

This week proved the disastrous effects of a Bush-appointed supreme court, or, to put it another way, welcome officially to the United States of Fascism.

As Rural Woman Zone argues, “The Supreme Court’s Decision this week to remove campaign finance restrictions for corporations means the end of participatory democracy.”

In another good post on this catastrophe, Rodrigue Tremblay of Dissident Voice argues we are now a plutocracy, or a “political system characterized by ‘the rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.’”

As Tremblay continues, “the Roberts Court has thus abolished the laws governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how much special money interests can spend to have the elected officials they want. The government they want will largely be ‘a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.’”

People have been warning that the US is moving further and further away from democracy, a move that Naomi Wolf warns will be “The End of America” (the same title as her 2007 book, which she discusses here.)

Listening to talk about the recent Supreme Court decision on the radio and around the blogosphere, the following notion rules the (right) airwaves “we can’t limit the first amendment rights of a corporation because that would be un-American.” This argument is based on the faulty notion, writ into law ages ago, that a corporation IS a person and deserves the same free speech rights as a person. Stephen Colbert mocks this idea, noting “corporations do everything people do – except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River.”

One of the best anti-corporate sources of information I can recommend to those worried about the increasing corporatization of our world is the Canadian documentary The Corporation.

The clip below is especially pertinent to the supposed personhood of corporations:

As Noam Chomsky notes in the above clip, corporations have no moral conscience (unlike most humans, Bush excluded). Would you want Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Wal-Mart, or Citi-Group making moral decisions on your behalf? Would you even want them as a Facebook friend? Hell no!

A corporation is not a person!!! Corporations are ruled by the “bottom line,” or how to make as much profit as possible. They could care less about the environment, social justice, or your Facebook status update. Due to their profit-motives, they tend to lean to the right or very far right and their political contributions will aim to make the US as anti-progressive as you can imagine.

As a dear friend joked recently,

“How do you spell fascism?”

“F-a-c-s-i-s-m” I replied.

“Nope,” he quipped. “U-S-A.”

If you’re worried about this ruling (and if you are not, you should be), go here for a petition and other activist links.

What if…? Short Takes 1/21/10

1. As detailed by Cynthia McKinnery here, what is happening in Haiti will likely promote justification for turning increasing US militarization of Haiti (a trend with precedent, as noted at HaitiAction here). She reports that the US military, with echoes of Katrina, have turned away planes trying to deliver humanitarian assistance from “CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy, and even the U.S. Red Cross.” As she warns,“All of us must have our eyes wide open on Haiti and other parts of the world now dripping in blood as a result of the relentless onward march of the U.S. military machine.”

2. In more great writing on Haiti, Renee of Womanist Musings examines the phenomenon of “the people of Haiti continually being referred to as looters.” As she writes, “The idea that these people are looters is ridiculous when you consider that Western nations have had no problem stealing from them for centuries.” In another echo of Katrina, this language frames people of color as “looters” and fortifies the positioning of white westerners as the saviors, or, as the infamous copy from below maintains, as the “finders.” Kind of like how white people “found” all the land the now occupy as theirs…

3. In more Haiti news, the wonderful Naomi Klein shares how the Haiti disaster is only partly natural, detailing how the entrenched poverty in Haiti is far from natural and how corporate capitalism has played a big part in impoverishing this and other nations. Check out the clip here.

4. One of my favorite blogs, Shakesville, posts thought provoking quotes of the day regularly. Check out this one:

Guided by our values, we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom.”—From the website of Trijicon, a gun sight manufacturer with “a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army,” which inscribes “coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ” on its rifle sights.

Wow, quoting Jesus on rifles? What a concept!

What if Fight Club, ten years on, is more relevant than ever? Part 1: The Capitalist Body

In honor of Fight Club’s ten year anniversarynt and recent release on Blu Ray, I will be posting a three-part ode to this classic anti-capitalist film.

Here is part 1:

In opposition to the celebratory policing of the body so in vogue in the contemporary USA, Fight Club scorns a society that has allowed the body to become a mere object.  Deriding the very technology that many other films (such as Forrest Gump) celebrate at both the level of content and form, Fight Club refuses to buy into the supposed technological promise of disembodied capitalism where we can project our bodies into the past or future.

Through a contemplation of the pervasiveness of violence, ennui, and lack of affect definitive of the late 90’s, the film meditates on the body as brutalized not only by the self and by other bodies, but by the whole ethos of capitalism.

In contradistinction to Forrest Gump, the film did not celebrate the current state of affairs in America by offering up a bodiless white male hero.  Rather, it introduced us to a dejected and morally bankrupt capitalist everyman who suffers profoundly due to the disembodied and depersonalized capitalist landscape in which he must live.

Most reviews and articles about the film did not consider it in this light though. Instead, they focused on its supposed celebration of violence and virulent masculinity.

Again and again, writers interpreted the film as a sort of call to arms that inveigled viewers to reject ideas about the ‘new man’ and return to ‘traditional masculinity’, complete with bloodthirstiness, aggression, and domination.

For example, Henry Giroux claims the film “locates violence as the privileged vehicle for male community and solidarity.” I myself see it as critique of violent masculinity, rather than a celebration of it.

The film’s critique of consumer capitalism was not lost on most, but the majority of commentators felt this focus was overshadowed by a larger concern with the supposed ‘crisis of masculinity’ occurring in the late 90’s.  Giroux argues the film in fact reduces the crisis of capitalism into a crisis of masculinity arguing that “the crisis lies less in the economic, political, and social conditions of capitalism itself than in the rise of a culture of consumption in which men are allegedly domesticated, rendered passive, soft and emasculated”.

In a sense, Giroux is suggesting that the film serves as a rallying cry to re-masculinize the body, to bring back the brawn and bravado of the Rambo age.  To him, this is a key weakness of the film as it focuses on an individualized politics that waters down real world issues into mere fist fights.  However, Giroux’s reading of the film focuses mainly on the surface images – he spotlights the violence, the quasi-fascism and celebration of militaristic hard bodies that the camera repeatedly captures. Yet his reading fails to address the fact that that the main character Jack ultimately rejects his alter-ego’s violent credo and that Tyler is, in fact, an undesirable double that is destroyed by the film’s end.

What readings such as Giroux’s also fail to consider is the film’s sustained focus on the body – at both the level of form and content.  At the formal level, the camera zooms in on bloodied faces, battered bodies, and black eyes.  The film is also awash in the fluids of the body – blood, sweat, spit, and urine practically ooze from the screen.

The sound editing further accentuates the material factors of embodiment, emphasizing the thud of punches, the thump of bodies hitting the ground, the thwack of fist against bone.

At the level of content, the film contemplates the status of the body within the advanced capitalist American landscape.  This bodily fixation is not quite as apparent in the film as it is in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, but the movie nevertheless gestures towards broad questions involving what consumer capitalism does to the body. And what it does is not pretty.

Up next: Part 2: (Dis)Embodying Capitalism

Professor, What If…? Short takes 11/29/09

1.Wal-Mart in Upland, California forced to close for two hours when shoppers got out of hand on Black Friday. Please, can we all stop shopping at this horrible corporation? Do we want the future to look like the one in Wall*E? (Not the fat-hating part, but the world taken over by Wal-Mart part.)

2.Huffpo reports that “First Ever Store for Porn Apps Launches.” Yup, that’s just what we need in this world, more porn. Especially porn on the go. And we thought texting while driving posed a problem. Wait until porn apps promote wanking while driving…

3.More troops to Afghanistan? Yeah, cuz we need more war in the same way we need more porn. I am disappointed in you Obama. Sorely.

4.IRS filed $79,000 lien against Governor Schwarzenegger. So, we in Calif our governed by a man who can’t pay his own bills? Hmmm, no wonder our state is in such an economic dilemma. Maybe he could sell off some of those Hummers to pay his debts.

5.Entertainment Weekly ( 12/4/09) notes in it’s Hit List that “Heidi Klum hits the runway in lingerie six weeks after giving birth.” Guess, the mommy myth so cogently critiqued by Susan J. Douglas is still going strong. Soon women will jump off the delivery table straight into a pair of high heels or exercise shoes. Nothing more important for a new mom than losing the weight or getting the sexy back. Gag.

What if you would like to give thanks for capitalism? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving part 1)

In the run up to turkey day, I am reposting my three-part piece on Thanksgiving. Here is part one:

If you are looking for a reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving, how about this: give thanks for capitalism! I came across this nifty idea when searching around the internet for “alternative ways to spend Thanksgiving” (as I am one of those crazy radicals that has problems with the holiday.) Anyhow, in so doing, I came across an article that must be read in full to be believed.

If you have an empty stomach, go here to read the full piece, entitled “An American Holiday: The Moral Meaning Behind Thanksgiving.” If your stomach isn’t empty, I would wait to read the piece, unless that is, you want to be cleaning vomit off your keyboard… (Or, if you are one of those troll-types who believes in the American Dream and clings to the idea that Native Americans were ‘savage’ and capitalism is the bees knees, well, you can read the piece anytime and, as you do, you can nod in agreement that yes, you, DESERVE to celebrate.)

Anyhow, the Ayn Rand worshipping author of the piece, Debi Ghate, encourages us to celebrate our ‘bountiful harvest’ of  “the affluence and success we’ve gained… the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy… the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on…the good life.” Granted, Ghate’s piece is from November 2007, and thus predates our current economic meltdown. Even so, it is wildly myopic in its vision of America as “the land of plenty.”

So too is Ghate a tad wrong about American history.  According to her, “This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities.” Yeah, if you call 10 to 15 million indigenous inhabitants “mostly uninhabited.”

These “forefathers” (uh, do you mean genocidal, power-hungry maniacs?) used “the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity.” Yeah, if killing, enslaving, and raping is what you call the “American spirit.”

As a proponent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, this author proclaims “We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.” Does she mean, “we are the corporatist bastards who exploit the world’s people and destroy the planet, and Thanksgiving is our day to celebrate this gluttony”?

Now, if you feel a tad bit squeamish about celebrating the wonderful “forefathers” and the glories of corporate capitalism, Ghate has the answer; she insists you DESERVE to celebrate and greed is GOOD. She laments that “We are scolded not to take more than “our share”–whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism–selfless concern for others–is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.” Yes, because why should we share the planet? Why should we care about other humans? Damn it, this world is MINE and I don’t give a shit about anyone else. Furthermore, I am eating the whole damn pumpkin pie so screw you! Wow, what a great philosophy. No wonder why the Ayn Rand Institute is so popular.

Ghate continues “morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one’s production–and savor its consumption. Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one’s rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one’s life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish–one’s life and happiness depend on it.” Rationally selfish??? Oh my, the ways capitalists find to make their greedy machinations sound moral…

Ghate closes her piece with the claim that “It’s a time to selfishly and proudly say: “I earned this.” Sadly, this is the true, though NOT moral, meaning behind thanksgiving. Thanksgiving truly is a holiday where we rather selfishly celebrate personal bounty (if we are able to do so) while ignoring the historical costs, as well as the present costs, of our individual as well as national bounty. In the posts to follow over the next few days, I will further consider the historical costs as well as the present costs of “US bounty” and how we might better frame the holiday so as not to dishonor the atrocities of the past, condone similar carnage in the present, or perpetuate such myopic, selfish celebrations of US imperialism in the future.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset)

This series has been based on my conviction that green products, pink ribbons, rubber bracelets, political t-shirts, and Oprah give-aways are NOT going to bring about social justice. The consumer activism mindset that has taken hold in US society will not end genocide, war, poverty, racism, or anything else. In fact “consumer activism” is largely an oxymoron. Although one can be a “conscientious consumer” (and take an activist stance via NOT shopping/promoting certain corporations (i.e. Wal-Mart)), I don’t believe a socially just world cannot be bought – no matter how much is being spent.

Further, although many social justice organizations need money in order to do their work, donating money will not in and of itself bring about equity. Such donations are important no doubt, but what is just as necessary (if not more so) is using your voice, your brain, your pen, your keyboard, your body to PROTEST those things that are wrong in our world. (And NOT buying can certainly be a form of protest.) Besides, throwing money at a situation never works – it may make things look better on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and the problem will still be there.

In spite of this, justice through consumerism is being sold to the world citizenry at an alarming rate. Donate to this politician and your country will be saved. Buy this car and the environment will be healed. Purchase products with pink ribbons and breast cancer will disappear. Send money and the ravages wrought by Katrina will be fixed. Order a box of Thin Mints for a soldier and ameliorate the damages of militarization. These are the types of messages that we are inundated with. They vary in type and urgency, but all, at their core, have the same purpose: to make us, as humans, believe that through consumption we can make the world a better place.

This mass-delusion keeps the wheels of advanced corporate capitalism spinning us happily towards our doom as we go about lives driven largely by consumerist desires. Even more abhorrent though is the way the consumer mindset has infiltrated activist/social justice movements. I imagine many earlier visionaries are rolling in their graves. Emma Goldman certainly would take issue with consumerized voting movements such as Rock the Vote. Karl Marx would hardly endorse the push for re-usable bags over and above the push for worker’s rights (after all, how many of those Whole Foods shoppers with their cloth bags are thinking about the exploitive labor that picked that organic produce?) Virginia Woolf would see right through pink-washing. And I doubt if Sojourner Truth would be quick to buy a rubber bracelet claiming “Ain’t I a woman?”

Part of the reason that this consumerist mindset has taken such a strong hold is that consumerism has become the new one world religion, as discussed in parts 1 through 5 of this series. We are encouraged that with shopping comes salvation, that buying is the best form of worship. Yet, in spite of the ways consumerism has infiltrated every facet of life, including not only religion but also activism and protest, there are a number of indications that the world populace is beginning to question justice through buying. Sites like Enough.org are good signs “enoughism” is gaining appeal. Enoughism, a concept that Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown describes as “a threshold of wealth and consumption above which no one needs more…a threshold below which no one can thrive” seems to be the type of system that combines socialism with capitalism in a productive way – a system that would allow for capitalism with a social conscious and a collective world view (Brown quoted in Ms., Winter 2009, p.37). Perhaps one positive outcome of the global economic crisis will be more people saying “Enough!” to the corporatist greed that got us here. Perhaps it will lead people to break their ATM habits, to a switch from a consumerist mindset to an enoughism one.

Meanwhile, I believe that instead of heading to the ATM, literally or figuratively, we would do better to spend time, rather than money, doing the following:

  1. Reading/Writing
  2. Thinking
  3. Talking
  4. Listening
  5. Acting

To elaborate:

Reading/Writing: We would be better served by educating ourselves about the many problems in our world rather than running out to buy green/pink products. Reading about the complex history behind the problems that plague human society is vital. We cannot hope to change the world without doing our research first. Writing is the next part of this equation – whether it is writing a blog post, a letter to an editor, or a missive to Dear Aunt Hilda. The pen (or keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword.

Thinking, an activity that is woefully under-rated, must occur both individually and collectively. We need to think about the changes that need to be made, examine what prevents these changes, and consider how we can make change a reality (rather than merely a rhetorical stance peppered in speeches). Buying is easier than thinking, hence many opt to purchase something in hopes this will bring about change (i.e. a politically hip t-shirt or a rubber bracelet) rather than THINKING about what really needs to occur for change to happen.

Talking, or raising awareness, is crucial. We cannot hope to change the world until the masses wake up from their slumbering sheep-state. However, as the conversation is currently controlled by the corporate owned BIASED media, most of the ‘talking’ that takes place on a societal level works to maintain and perpetuate things as they are. We must interrupt this conversation and CHANGE the subject(s)!

Listening to ALL kinds of ‘others’ regarding how to make the world a more socially just place is vital. Everyone deserves a place at the table, and the more diverse the voices the better. We must listen to others as their experiences will be different from ours – even if they share the same sex/gender/race/class/sexuality/belief etc. This is one of the reasons the big umbrella labels we use can be problematic – not all women are the same, not all queers are the same, not all trans people are the same. Each person, no matter how many ‘social positionings’ they share, will bring something new and different to the conversation. We must keep our ears open for to ALL types of voices coming from all types of places. We need to seek out others to listen to who have different “lenses” or experiences from our own.

Acting in ways both small and large to bring about the socially just world we envision is the essential culmination of these five steps. If we do the first four, and forget about the fifth, not much will be gained. We need to take action regarding all of the above, continually asking ourselves “What actions can I take to change things? What activism can I be a part of?” What we do NOT need to do is act in more ways that our bound up with consumerism!

(And, for a list of sites that encourage NOT buying, go here to find a number of great sources compiled by Dervish.)

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