Archive for “Shop” is not a verb

On trendy pseudo-responsibility and its commodification

Posted in Capitalism, USA with tags , , on June 11, 2016 by Z

A few days ago, my girlfriend came home with a story.  She had stopped at a place called “Sweetgreen” (one word) on her way home from work.  Apparently, “Sweetgreen” (one word) is some kind of salad and yogurt place for the hip and health-conscious urban sophisticate consumer with adequate disposable income.  Fond of salad and yogurt, particularly when one or both happen to contain bacon (I don’t know if they did in this particular case), she placed an order.  Based on her description, it seems the clerk was an unduly alert and enthusiastic young lady with a penchant for upward inflection at the ends of her sentences, the sort of customer service professional my girlfriend has been forced to work with in the past and often describes as “wretched.”  (She’s not known for patience in the face of annoyance).  Her order was prepared with the usual “this isn’t fast food but it is fast food but it isn’t fast food” efficiency no doubt familiar to patrons of “Sweetgreen” (one word).  The funny part came next: she opened her wallet to pay – and was informed by the clerk that “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t accept cash.  Uh, why?  Apparently (according to the clerk) because cash is not sustainable.  But, the clerk noted, you can pay with apple pay on your smartphone!  Or a credit card, if you still use those things (come on, they don’t even have apps for those!)

Wow.  “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t take cash because cash is not sustainable.  Apparently, paper money is doomed to destroy the environment, but the massive coal and nuclear powered energy infrastructure necessary to maintain the elaborate electronic payment systems “Sweetgreen” (one word) prefers are somehow sustainable and will save us all.  It’s remarkable how many people seem to be convinced that electricity comes from some kind of magical green-friendly no place, like a happy meadow where gumdrops grow from the sunflowers.  Even if we had 100% wind and solar tomorrow, the maintenance of physical infrastructure like copper wire (mining, smelting) and the rubber to cover it (chemicals galore!) would still probably be less sustainable than simple paper bills, which come from trees that can, if I’m not mistaken, grow back.  (And we haven’t even touched on the level of pollution, social chaos and even armed conflict endemic to many regions of Africa where a large share of the rare earth metals needed to make devices like smartphones are mined, or the worker suicide plagued factories in China and Southeast Asia where they’re assembled!)  There’s also the issue that those most likely to lack smartphones and credit/debit cards are of course the poor, who are therefore likely not able to patronize “Sweetgreen” (one word), but no one seems too worried about that.

What then, is the reason for this compulsive attachment of poorly thought out pseudo-responsibility to acts of consumerism?  Is it simply a marketing tactic, begun (probably) by Starbucks, and now necessary for all others to avoid being outcompeted via the logic of capitalism?  Slavoj Zizek suggests a more complex picture.  I might think we could call it quits here, but “Sweetgreen” (one word) is doing something a little different from the more familiar cultural capitalism Zizek describes.  They aren’t just offering some kind of one-for-one personal moral redemption for the individual consumer; they’re actually making an unambiguously authoritarian decree.  It isn’t “buy one of our salads and we’ll do something nice for the less fortunate,” it’s “engage with us on these terms or be cast into the outer darkness, you enemy of sustainability!”  That the poor are de facto excluded from the ethical light of “Sweetgreen” (one word) may be taken as especially instructive; this is a form of class-ignorant yuppie slacktivism.  It’s doubly slacktivist in that not only does the business carry out your slacktivism for you, it tells you what the issue is and has already done obviously lazy and totally inadequate research in order to identify it.  It is both smug and lazy on your behalf, bestowing upon you a sense of righteousness at the expense of the excluded unwashed.  Ah, bourgeois virtue!  Of course, it’s also quite possible that it’s just a cynical marketing ploy existing only because the management prefers electronic payment for totally selfish reasons and grabbed at the first eco-friendly sounding excuse within reach.  But then, that’s arguably also a bourgeois virtue.

I’m not dead

Posted in Announcements, Web Satire Round Up with tags , , , on December 2, 2014 by Z

As the title says, I’m not dead.  I’ve been going through a career transition for the past year and a half or so that has involved holding three jobs simultaneously and working between 60-80 hours a week.  Things are now beginning to stabilize (I’m down to just two jobs now) and I thought I might try to resume posting here.  In the past I’ve tried to shine a light on off the rails consumerism around the holidays.  It’s too early to tell whether I’ll get things organized in time to do something similar this year, but for the moment here’s something from The Daily Mash relevant to this year’s Black Friday bullshit and the ongoing occupation of everywhere by obnoxious social media marketing:


Product somehow succeeds without social media bullshit


A PACKET of four-inch roofing nails is mysteriously selling to the public without having a Facebook page.

Haven't even got a Finest range

The galvanised steel nails, available from hardware stores nationwide, have no online brand presence, no Twitter and no website with Flash games for the kids.

Builder Tom Logan said: “I needed nails for a garage we were working on, so naturally I checked out the Likes and Shares on my news feed.

“When that didn’t work I went to trending hashtags, and when that failed I just went to the shop blind, wondering if there were Vines I’d missed.

“Amazingly they were just there on a shelf, in a strange, alien pack that didn’t have a quirky story about the founders’ passion for nails.

“They seem to work. But I don’t feel engaged with their consumer narrative.”

Social media consultant Carolyn Ryan said: “Because it hasn’t made a genuine connection with the public, the product has no audience loyalty.

“Its customers will drift away and use something more popular, like Oreos or Monster Energy drinks, to fasten down their roofing felt instead.”

Post Thanksgiving Update 2: Black Friday, AKA American Thunderdome, or possibly Lumpenfest USA

Posted in Bad Faith, Capitalism, Economy, Media, News, USA with tags , , , , on December 4, 2012 by Z

What can be said about the uniquely American quasi-religious retail holiday known as Black Friday? This year’s observance happened to coincide with a Walmart worker’s strike that almost no one appeared to care about. Well, that’s not quite true; I’ve heard of several stories indicating that many shoppers expressed support for and approval of the Walmart strike – as they crossed the picket line to shop AT WALMART.  (This account of some of the more successful actions may lift spirits a little.  Let no one say I’m more than 95% gloom).  In addition, I’m aware of an incident of mass pepper spraying by a shopper looking for a cheap Xbox (California), two people shot dead in a Walmart parking lot over a parking space (Florida) and a man who tried to punch his way to the front of the line outside Sears, until he happened to attack a man with a concealed carry license, who drew his weapon and chased the attacker away (Texas). While I’ve never been a fan of concealed carry (if one must carry a weapon, surely open carry is both more honest and a better deterrent), the Texas Sears incident is probably the best argument in its favor I’ve yet seen. Of course, the Florida parking lot shooting seems a more potent argument against it.  But back to the matter at hand: How has this de facto holiday achieved such significance that people are prepared to kill for it? Why also do so many see no contradiction in indicating their approval of the Walmart strike even as they cross the picket line to shop at Walmart?

This second question is made more interesting in light of the revelation that the term “Black Friday” was used by factory managers in the 1950s not to refer to crowds of shoppers, but to the large number of workers who called in sick.  Only later did the day transition from a headache for manufacturing into a for profit free for all for retail. One might characterize the transition in this way: 1950s Black Friday was a day for workers to tell the boss “piss off, I’m extending my holiday and there’s nothing you can do about it,” while present day Black Friday is a day for consumers to say “it’s great that you’re standing up to this evil company I’m about to make more profitable. I’d stay home or shop elsewhere and actually support you in a meaningful way, but I can’t show any real solidarity. I mean, seriously dude – there are plasma screens at stake!” Between the violence and the disregard for workers, I think the following ought to be the official Black Friday slogan (or mission statement, if you’re the corporate type): “Plasmas over people!” This attitude shouldn’t surprise us. It makes perfect sense in the context of a society in which people have come to identify as consumers rather than workers.  This is what becomes of six decades of local news reports on who’s getting ripped off at the register instead of who’s getting ripped off on payday.  Yet the culture of Black Friday doesn’t really favor the consumer, either.  The desperate violence, after all, ultimately stems from the once a year availability of products that most consumers ordinarily can’t afford.  This is another effect of the worker-consumer disconnect. The exploitation of American workers is what sets the stage for the annual struggle over products that are temporarily affordable.  This is what leads to actual human beings calmly considering the pros and cons of unleashing pepper spray on their fellows in the name of savings, and this is what leaves us with shoppers who seem totally unaware that the bargains they’re hunting come at the direct expense of the striking workers they’re largely ignoring.  There is no understanding that the workers and consumers are the same people; even the workers and consumers themselves seem unaware of this.  Everything is simply part of the environment.  Deploying pepper spray against a rival for a game system seems as natural as two predators fighting over a gazelle carcass if it’s perceived as an environmental necessity.  Ignore the man behind the curtain, peon.  This contrived retail scenario has nothing to do with him.  Now face your opponent and fight to the death!  Two shoppers enter, one shopper leaves – with a discount!