Turning the tables on those corporate fat cats (when it’s not overly inconvenient or out-of-the-way)!
By Sam Linton
Consumer whore. You don’t need to know exactly what it means to get a general idea of the term. You’ve sold your soul to reap the benefits of capitalism run amok. Nobody likes being a consumer whore, or at least likes being conscious of it. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s one that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, must endure in order to function in Western culture. You may feel dirty, cheap, or even a little used after every purchase you make, knowing that you’ve once again abetted the plundering of the globe by corporate interests for another 30 pieces of silver (metaphorical silver, taking the concrete form of anything from Doritos to Jet-skis). But on the other hand, you can’t stop because it’s just so damned sweet! Doritos are delicious! Jet-Skis are fun! Silver is shiny! So it’s hard to fight rampant corporatism in the day-to-day, because it’s literally everywhere, and it’s just so dang tempting. And even when you do find a tiny space free from corporate control, in art, culture, food, et cetera, you’d better enjoy it while it lasts because once the big sharks find out that they can turn a profit off it, it’s not going to be your space for much longer. They’ll find a way to co-opt it, just as surely as they’ve done with punk rock, healthy foods, and green energy products. (“This year, The Oscars have gone green!” Sound familiar?)
So what can you do to resist? For some of us, we boycott, we research, and we don’t buy anything we find ethically questionable or that has ties to anything we find ethically questionable. We use a strategy of denial and often (let’s face it) self-sacrifice, as we’re missing out on a lot of really cool and/or tasty stuff due to its corporate branding. Others among us try to remain aloof. Once a piece of culture has become “infected” by corporate interest, it’s no longer cutting edge. Then we eschew it, looking towards the next frontier of culture, where interest does not yet fuel the very mechanisms of mundanity built up by rampant capitalism. This option has the drawback of making one into an elitist and, let’s not deny it, kind of a douchebag. And still, there’s that unpleasant business of self-sacrifice: deliberately denying oneself the benefits of corporate production simply because of the horrible cultural and ethical compromises this entails. In reality, most of us (your humble scribe included) are simply too lazy to spend all our time resisting. I mean, a guy’s gotta have some time to himself, right? A gal’s gotta have some time to herself, right? And since it’s just so easy to turn on the TiVo and curl up with some KFC, why not? I’m off the clock.
Despite all this, the lazy can still make a difference. While resisting corporate control may be too damn hard to become a constant theme in one’s life, there are almost always instances of everyday annoyances associated with the products of rampant capitalism that could be taken as a call to action. Sure, maybe you can’t be expected to place every purchase you ever make under the microscope of its macroeconomic impact, but certain things may just stick in your craw enough to make you re-evaluate a purchase. Maybe it’s a cross-promotion with a film you hate, maybe there’s an ad you find personally offensive, or maybe you share my own personal bugbear, “instant win” contests that require you to enter a passcode redeemed from your purchase on their website in order to even participate.* All of these should not be taken only as irritations, but as opportunities! An opportunity to stop buying a product, to say to them, “You know what, NO. This time, you’ve gone too far. That is my limit.” Sure, you may not have the energy or the inclination to keep up an indefinite boycott, but as long as those bastards are going to keep annoying you on a personal level, you can have all the denial power of a very indifferent God! The best part is that, whenever the promotion, ad campaign, et cetera is over, you can claim a personal victory without doing any work (or, if resisting the product in question was hard for you, still very little work)! All the rewards of that self-righteously good feeling of genuine advocacy, with comparatively little self-sacrifice. And for that one brief, shining moment, you scored a personal victory against the system. They can rape the earth, exploit the oppressed, and pollute mass culture, but when they start to annoy you on a personal level, you damn well better believe the buck stops here!
So yes, the system is flawed. Deeply flawed. We all know that (readers who didn’t know that: now you do). But, much as it may trouble us, we might not all want to devote a significant portion of our lives to fighting those flaws. For those of us with the will (and the time, and the means, and the inclination…) to take it on, fighting the good fight can be a full-time (pre)occupation. Those of us who aren’t Champions, meanwhile, can take what little victories we are inclined to take when they fall into our laps. That’s the self-conscious consumer whore way. And if it isn’t, well then by God, maybe it’s time that started being the self-conscious consumer whore way.
*Sub-Column: Why I hate Internet Contests
Honestly, I just loathe these horrible things. Time was, instant win MEANT instant win. You would check under the cap or open the bag or whatever, and if you won, you’d get that oddly satisfying feeling of accomplishment without actually having done anything, and then you’d associate the feeling with the product. It worked out great for all parties, and if you didn’t win, no big deal. Nowadays, the companies expect you to A) remember that you bought some completely disposable product long enough to get to a computer and B) spend valuable minutes from your life that you’re never getting back to go to their websites just to input some stupid code. I mean, I can understand it as a means to artificially inflate traffic to their own websites, but it totally comes at the cost of any good feelings that one used to get out of instant win (and would have subsequently associated with their products). I mean, you’re essentially asking me to put the same amount of energy into promoting your product to myself that I just explained I’m too lazy to put into resisting your product. The whole point of consumer culture is that it works because it’s passive! JESUS!
Sam Linton is, by default, MONDO’s authority on consumer culture. But yeah, he’s no Naomi Klien.