Archives for the month of: September, 2013

A prerequisite of making a haul video is being a commodity fetishist, someone who the corporations “got to.” For the most part, individuals in this state aren’t consciously aware of the fact that they’ve been “gotten to” because they possess the high suggestibility/ lack of awareness that necessitated their manipulation in the first place. In that light, I found this haul video interesting because the subject made it clear she was aware of the ostentation and pretention of a haul video and grappled with the fact that she was going through with it anyways because she couldn’t resist the potential social capital gain.

This grappling displays that the subject buys into, participates in and accepts the public’s appropriation of commodities to construct and make meaning of concepts such as ‘truth’, ‘beauty’ and ‘utility’ (Arvidsson, pg. 236) while, simultaneously, recognizing another set of more humanistic values. She is debating which value set will bring her more utility. It’s a question of how she wants to live her life, and she’s having an identity crisis.

Arvidsson states that being “actively engaged in the social construction of consumer goods… produces a common in the form of community, a shared identity” (pg. 242). This girl is having an inner battle between being a part of that community and making social capital gains within it but not compromising her meta-values (her more fundamental, instinctual values). What’s driving her into this conflict is the fear of being alone. She just wants to be accepted.

This girl’s fear of not being accepted driving her to make a haul video is indicative of the psychological stimuli behind these public ploys at social capital gain. It shows that underlying consumerism may be, simply, fear. This video is evidence that the point of consumption is just to get other people to think you’re worth being liked. It’s a complex psychological dynamic but one that is so fundamental to being human.

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Haul videos are a great display of identity construction through consumption: appropriation and assimilation in implicitly advertising the self through explicitly advertising products. This is a form of conspicuous consumption, in which subjects share or show their *newly purchased* commodities to an intended audience. The “Fall Fashion Haul | Nordstrom Anniversary Sale” video by Katie’s Bliss begins with Katie entering, riding and getting out of a taxi to her in her room. This introduction signifies a journey and gives audience a brief view of her lifestyle through her choice of transportation.

Katie explains that she will be filming a series of haul videos in the same dress, and is quick to self-defend that “NO! I don’t just own one dress and I don’t just wear it in every single video I film” with a face of ridicule, exposing her concerns of being judged as not having the choice or taste attributes of an upper-middle class. Katie makes similar remarks throughout the video to protect her status while attempting to fit the norm; a pair of boots that she had worn much is “so beat up and dirty and just nasty I think I’m gonna just donate them to the poor this year.” These remarks demonstrate her social class, or at least her economic capital as well as her cultural capital to some extent, reflecting her habitus as Bourdieu would argue, leading her to implicitly look down on others with different habitus (those who deserve what she considers as negative).

Katie also refers to her other social media platforms, such as her blog, which her intended audience should already know of for more representations of Katie, as well as her Instagram, and Pinterest; these, along with her Youtube account “channel” the “new middle-class” need for self-promotion. She also adds an explanation to every product elaborating why it’s necessary that she just has to have it, accentuating a self-believed personal preference and taste.

Katie talks about a pair of boots and her most desired “black legging-esque pants” and one may notice her emphasis on functionality. She notes that the boots can keep her feet warm while enabling to walk a lot and being very fashion-forward at the same time. With the black pants, she is aware of formality, displaying cultural capital; she explains that she has been looking for a synthesis of leggings and jeans for work. She is aware of the norm for the cultural interaction she participates in. Katie also briefly mentions how she could wear the pants, “tucking them in the boots,” “wear with nice tops and sweaters and wear on the weekends too.” These are all additions to the consumer content and tie in with consumption practice, which demonstrate further how cultural capital is embedded in one’s lifestyle, literally, as she adds “I’m probably just gonna live in these pants.”

Katie’s online presence is an extension of her social life; Bourdieu would agree in that she has used her economic (spendings), cultural (knowledge) and social (relationship with followers) capital resources to compete for status. By the end we know she is a city girl who works in a casual environment and that she just moved out of college last year. Katie is not a snob because she participates in sales, despite her penchant for highbrow content; she is not an omnivore quite yet because she does not show much appreciation for diversity in the video. To emphasize this, most of her purchases are similar/replacements to what she has always worn or owned (Kate Spade watch to replace lost Michael Kors watch, boots to replace worn down boots that are very similar in style, and pants of a highbrow brand “Vince” to replace leggings that “sag in the butt”). Katie, however, is a cultural intermediary who has achieved a large following, perhaps because of the mass ‘new middle-class” audience out there alike, whom aspire for more.

 

One of the topics that we discussed in class this past week that struck me most was Weber’s theory of social classes.  Although I do believe that ones economic status greatly influences one’s style of living and consequently one’s social class, I think it is an interesting approach to understanding human relations and interactions.  The first thing that popped into my mind after talking about social classes in class was a website called Exactitudes that I was introduced to in a previous class.  Exactitudes was started by two photographers in the Netherlands in 1994 who were intrigued by “the striking dress codes of various social groups” in their hometown Rotterdam and began taking pictures of people and categorizing them by their dress (exactitudes.com/about).  Two decades later, they have now traveled all over the world, cataloguing 140 groups, and creating a sort of “anthropological record of people’s attempts to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity” (exactitudes.com/about).

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I think Exactitudes is a great representation of social classes as it has literally created over a hundred different groups of people who are socially similar, although not necessarily connected to each other through economic status.  How you chose to dress is a very personal choice in that it is an outward expression of your likes and your interests and is representational of how you want others to perceive you.  Therefore, one can make the assumption that people that dress the same clearly have something in common with each other.  In this way, Exactitudes also brings up the concept of imagined community.  We know that there are other people out there that dress similarly to us and probably have similar interests to us, even though we might not actually know those people.  I think this is why a lot of time we are drawn to those who dress similarly to us, because we already have a sort of connection with them, through the imagined community.  I think this can be used to explain why in some neighborhoods, like Williamsburg for example, there seems to be a ‘hipster uniform’ because the people that live and hang out there are all a part of the same social class and therefore have very similar tastes and choose to express themselves in very similar ways.

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This is dawn of the spectacle society. The self-constructed lifestyle. The person-as-brand. In a world where symbolism and representation triumph above all, clothes no longer have use, exchange, even material value – their sole purpose is to create an image, evoke a style. Of course, not all clothes serve this purpose. Discount t-shirts, socks in bulk, the clothes lining the wholesale warehouses – often times, clothes are all about use and exchange value – how expensive something is important to whether or not a person will consume, and a good’s durability is valued higher than its aesthetic beauty.

But not for this haul video by Youtube user JoeyGraceffa. With barely contained excitement and a high definition camera, Joey leads his viewers (of which he happens to have a million subscribers to his channel) on a romp through his latest shopping spree, displaying new purchases at Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, and Topman. Sadly for Joey, he didn’t manage to go to All Saints. But all of these stores are nearer the upper end of the market in terms of price.

This is worth noting, because throughout his whole video, he never once mentions the actual amount of money he spent on his clothes. This is interesting, since what then is the audience expected to receive? Perhaps commentary on the clothes’ quality? But that, too, goes unmentioned. Fabric, materials, stitching – all aspects of the manufacture of the clothes are omitted. As is the clothes’ economic costs.

instead, Joey decides to focus on the appearance of his newfound clothes. He talks about how the clothes look on him, how he ‘feels’ about the clothes – and his affinity for stripes. In this haul video, and most likely in his life, clothes are about casting an impression – painting a portrait. Whether they were manufactured in the U.S. under stringent labor laws or a Bangladeshi factory which has recently collapsed is irrelevant. And the omission of the clothes’ prices leads one to think that perhaps Joey simply assumes everyone can relate to a shopping spree through a largely upscale series of stores.

It’s interesting to note that about halfway through the video, Joey says he feels “stupid” making the video, but he enthusiastically continues anyway. It’s difficult to discern, however, why he thinks making the video is stupid. He does mention that he has never done a haul video before, and is uncertain what to do – implying there is some correct form of haul video, and perhaps betraying that he has little capital in the haul video culture.

Of course, that doesn’t deter him. In the fashion of many other vloggers and Youtube celebrities, he cuts the video frequently and overlays his voice onto other footage (mostly of him posing and flexing his muscles) to – what I can only assume – capture people’s rapidly diminishing attention span. His personality is quite lively, and he has quirks and habits of speaking that appear to be hallmarks of his channel, his personal brand – possibly even his lifestyle.

Perhaps it’s his exuberant personality, the quality of the camera, and the muscles Joey makes – but I have to wonder, in the absence of any content in this haul video about the clothes (other than how they fit and appear on Joey), why nearly 300,000 people have watched this video.

While reading Holt’s extensive case study on Cultural Capital and American Consumption, I was particularly interested in his concluding thoughts on materialism as a class practice. Holt asserts that materialism is a dominant ideology among economic elites in modern capitalist societies. The cultural elites, however, tend to reject materialism and develop tastes and practices in opposition to materialist behavior. Holt cited these differences throughout his case study, specifically when analyzing consumer subjectivity and the comparison of consumption practices between LCCs and HCCs. He found that LCCs tend to value abundance and luxury, opposed to HCCs who value metaphysical aspects of life. For example, Kathryn (HCC) prefers to decorate her home with artisanal objects that are personally meaningful, rather than mass-produced goods. “Things that matter to me are things that remind me of things, rather than things that have their own intrinsic value,” Kathryn explained. To the contrary, Holt cited many instances in which LCCs consume based on intrinsic value, such as the purchasing of new and large homes, opposed to smaller homes with charm and history.

In Holt’s assessment of materialism as a class practice, he argues that HCC idealists believe that those who indulge in material consumption do so to acquire prestige and high status. However, Holt believes the rejection of materialism has led to their own set of exclusionary practices in which they “invert materialism to affirm their societal position,” (20). There is a clear irony that Holt is addressing in this claim. While attempting to reject a status-centered ideology, idealists are in fact creating their own exclusionary social boundaries. I agree that HCCs may inadvertently create restricted practices, however to describe them as “inveterate status seekers,” seems to be a sweeping statement that is not applicable to all HCCs.

In exploring the importance of authenticity, Holt mentions Charles, who has a strong aversion to mass culture and is therefore completely ignorant to it. Charles exemplifies some ‘selfish’ aspects, such as redirecting several questions towards his own creations and those of his friends. However, is Charles’ ignorance of mass culture an attempt to acquire a type of higher status? While Charles’ lifestyle is not one I can understand or relate with, it seems as if someone so removed from mass culture would have no interest in prioritizing his status within a social hierarchy, regardless of his or her economic or cultural capital. Therefore, although Charles is ‘inverting materialism,’ is it fair to say he is doing so in order to affirm his societal position?

 To the contrary, it is certainly noteworthy that many of the HCCs were acutely aware (and occasionally defensive) when they relayed information that might jeopardize their perceived cultural capital. This was evident when Rebecca professed that she was not as knowledgeable in regards to food and cooking. Her defensiveness proves that while she might not be actively “seeking” a higher status, HCCs can be just as conscious of their social status as the ‘materialistic’ LCCs. Therefore, Holt’s claims are legitimate in equivocating LCCs and HCCs desire for a certain status. However, while LCCs measure their societal position based on the inherent value of goods, HCCs understand “status” based on knowledge, skills, and experience. 

For the most part, the haul video that I watched today seems like any one of the million of others on Youtube, but I found a certain inclusion particularly interesting. In fact, the last three minutes or so of the video got me to rethink my entire perspective on the author and potentially the overall significance of the haul video.

The title of the upload is “HAUL: h&m, f21, vs and nyu bookstore,” by seungpil69. Guess which part sparked my interest?

You can start from the beginning of the haul, check out the last few minutes by skipping to 7:33, or just jump ahead to my reflection:

If you skipped the video, basically, seungpil69 is a girl that lives outside of Manhattan, has come into the city for the day, and went shopping at a variety of places—the last of which is the NYU Bookstore on Broadway. The author begins talking about her NYU purchases towards the end of the video. She first notes that her viewers “may not be interested” in her last segment on bookstore purchases, especially since she doesn’t go to NYU and hasn’t even applied to college. Despite NYU being her dream school, our friend may not have good enough grades to get admitted 😦

The author’s mom had an idea though: purchase NYU gear as a motivation to get grades up and get into the NYU mindset! Seungpil69 doesn’t just get one shirt and call it a day; our friend purchases a shirt, a pennant (which interestingly says ‘alumni’ on it), and 2 sweaters.  These purchases rival other purchases from her haul in quantity and price.

There are a few directions to take this discussion, but in the light of last week’s classes, I want to examine the haul video from the lens of cultural capital.

Now this reading might tell us that seungpil69 is trying to attain or maintain high cultural capital (HCC): she wants viewers to see that she’s both hip and also somewhat thrifty, since she’s shopping at stores like H&M and Forever 21. If lots of people watch her video, they will be able to see her embodied CC through the good purchasing decisions she makes, reaffirming her talents as a cultural intermediary.

The author seems hesitant to share the NYU part of the haul because the cultural capital in this regard is only objectified. Just because the author bought the swag doesn’t grant her the socially rare knowledge and practices of an NYU student. She has the capital but she is still learning “how to use it,” how to really become an NYU student.

In the same way that seungpil69 wants us to give her feedback about her h&m, f21, and vs purchases, she also wants our encouragement in her endeavour to get accepted to her dream school. The viewer/subscriber becomes a friend that helps the author achieve HCC in various fields of life.

Seungpil69, if you’re out there reading this, our Consumption, Culture, and Identity class here at NYU is rooting for you! Good luck girl.

Also, look into our Steinhardt school and the Media, Culture, and Communications program. It’s obviously the best major.

xoxoxo,

Senior and Sentimental

After briefly discussing haul videos in class, I was excited to research this thriving and complex empire that was intertwined with the idea of prosumption.  ma3130 in his blog post, Haul Videos: A New Dimension of Use-Value, implicitly discussed this very role of prosumption, highlighting how the creators of haul videos are actively engaging with these products by creating new value, which they in turn use to gain cultural and social capital. As I searched through the overwhelming plethora of videos, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a grocery haul that illustrated and revealed these same ideas that I couldn’t wait to analyze.

Whole Foods Grocery Run is a haul video by Elle Fowler, an established beauty and style YouTube guru/blogger who has over 500k subscribers. Elle has hundreds of videos covering everything “girl”, ranging from shopping hauls and makeup tutorials, to basic vlogs updating subscribers on her daily life. Elle’s subscribers and fans not only count on her for advice and tips but they are also dutifully invested and interested in her life. Elle has reached “celeb status” based on the identity she has established, which she carefully curates and grows while continuing to relate and help her fans.

Understanding the relationship that the subscribers have with Elle, due to her identity and social capital, illustrates the reasoning and success of the Whole Foods haul. The video raked in over 300,000 views elucidating the fact that her fans are sincerely curious and trust her opinion even regarding food and drink. Elle began the video clarifying that though beauty is one her main passions and focus; her healthy lifestyle is also an important element of her identity. Ultimately, Elle’s decision to create a grocery haul displays the dominating role and inherent connection between identity, lifestyle and consumption. Her fans are attracted to her “beauty expert” identity that compels them to learn about her other consumption practices that define her lifestyle. Elle, is as Featherstone states, one of  “the new heroes of consumer culture that make lifestyle a life project” (Lury, 95).

“Lifestyle”, as we discussed in class, is a sort of narrative that we’re creating about ourselves based on our decisions. Our lifestyle and our identities are shaped and enhanced by our consumption practices, through which we are attaching, creating, and producing meaning. Elle’s  lifestyle choices to be fashion forward and eat a healthy, balanced diet coupled with her decisions to shop at Whole Foods develop her identity as a modern and knowledgeable role model. Like many other “YouTubers” she is without undoubtedly a cultural intermediary for beauty and fashion, (bringing brands closer to the consumer by diminishing the stress and intimidation of style) but she is also transforming herself into an intermediary for food and health as she starts to promote her whole way of living, her lifestyle.

Interestingly, as Elle clearly recognized her primary role as a beauty intermediary, she decided to go grocery shopping with her friend, a certified nutrition coach. Elle is already seen as a connoisseur of beauty and fashion, but by adding her friend’s presence in the case of her grocery haul, Elle increased her credibility and is able to talk about the groceries she bought with a little more expertise. This element was very necessary as to be a cultural intermediary it is essential that cultural capital and social capital exist with expertise to establish trust and interest.

Ultimately, Elle is a very effective vlogger. She doesn’t make a single appearance in the haul as only her voice narrates her purchases. As she shares and describes her purchases, the viewer truly gets to know her (and like her) and witness her lifestyle.  The first purchase Elle shared was her eco-friendly grocery bag that as she stated, “it spoke to me”, demonstrating the personal and dynamic nature of consumption that makes it so intriguing to her subscribers.  Consequently, all of Elle’s purchases in the video are all healthy and sophisticated, much like the store she bought them from and the identity she hopes to demonstrate. Her decision to buy kale with lemon vinaigrette, La Croix, Kombucha, and cranberry tuna along with her choice to shop at Whole Foods, maintain and define her identity and lifestyle. Lastly, as Elle discusses her bought items with a focus on aesthetics, for example mentioning the “pretty pink” color drinks, we’re reminded not to forget her role /identity as a fabulous beauty and fashion guru.

According to Featherstone, habitus is not only unconsciously handed down to us through specifications of culture and social status, but is also shaped and maintained through conscious choices. Due to modernization, we do not have fixed social group of people who are bound with a specific habitus, and Featherstone claims that such “end of the deterministic relationship between society and culture heralds the triumph of signifying culture” (56). He redefines lifestyles and consumption as an “autonomous playful space beyond determination,” in which we can select the things and the ways we consume to signify ourselves in a desirable way (56). This point brings back an interesting post written by ericcsmt13 about logos and how we often identify ourselves with “monograms and logos” that we “sport.” In his discussion of logos, he also highlights that there is a “connection that exists dependent on a common connection of consumed product, goods or services.” Certainly, in the modern society, we establish connections beyond social hierarchies through consumption and lifestyle, and logos play a major role in signifying our consumption culture and lifestyle. This connection around logos, however, is often interfered by the fake market, which produces imitation brand products that use designer logos on inauthentic goods.

I grew up in Beijing, where fake goods are prevalent at local markets and malls. Naturally, I grew up wearing a bit of fake goods because these markets offered low cost options compared to department stores with overpriced products, and as a foreigner living in Beijing, I had not much knowledge of shopping options other than these two. For me, however, I wasn’t exactly wearing “fake” goods. At markets, they did not only sell imitation products; they generally had cheap, low quality goods that were not branded. I had no regard to the logos at all, and it was more about picking the right design amongst a wide variety of designs, and it was much later when I realized a lot of the clothes I was wearing were fake “Hollister” and fake “Seven jeans for all mankind.” For the tourists, and many grown ups in Beijing, however, these markets did not just offer affordable goods; they offered affordable “Louis Vuitton,” “Chanel,” and “Tiffany and Co.” It allowed people to be a part of the “new petit bourgeois,” which Featherstone claims is a “pretender, aspiring to more than he is, who adopts an investment orientation to life” (65). The fake goods with designer logos allow people to “pretend” that they are immersed in whatever lifestyle that the authentic goods that they imitate are associated with. Whether it can be said that they would have truly achieved their desired lifestyles through low cost but fake options of luxury designer brand goods remains a question.

I found a haul video on fake goods, and this Fake fashion haul video spotlights a case in which consumption of fake designer goods does not necessarily connect the consumer with other consumers who identify themselves with the same brand logos.

 

The uploader shellbarbie shows us several scarves and sunglasses she bought from a website that sells imitation goods. These products branded with Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Rayban logos are of similar style to the original products, but the price ranges from 10 to 30 Australian dollars, (which are about the same in US dollars). She declares that she doesn’t “buy anything over 80 bucks” because she thinks it is a “waste of money,” so obviously she does not match the economic capital with the people who would identify with the brand logos. She also seems to lack the cultural capital associated with the brands because she simply evaluates the items with infinite remarks of “cool” and “cute,” and she also admits that she is not a “designer product person,” that she doesn’t appreciate the brand narratives that some other people who would identify with these logos. This case seems to be relevant to Featherstone’s statement that a new petit bourgeois “is always in danger of knowing too much or too little, in contrast to the ease and confidence which the bourgeois displays in using symbolic capital acquired ‘naturally’ and unconsciously, which produces a sense of confidence in the appropriateness of his tastes” (65).

Now the fake market in Beijing is a little different. because the issue of artistic property emerged to be a more serious problem as China became more involved in the global economy, they no longer have real fake goods. By that I mean, they still have fake goods, but they are nothing more than a logo now. They no longer produce identical duplicates of the designer goods, so all they do now is manufacture a product in a similar style to whatever brand, and simply attach a logo to it. When I went to Beijing, I saw a man shopping for a bag, and when he said “Hm, I like this simple design, but I really am not a fan of Ferragamo,” the shop owner took out 4 other bags of the same design, just branded with different logos. Perhaps the this can be seen as the result of the bourgeois attempt to resist the pretenders’ movement of cultural democratization and maintain their social status.

The fact that Scott Robeson frequents farm conventions pretty much sums up why he considers himself a ‘logo whore’ for sporting Armani Exchange.  His HAUL, which consisted of tacky shirts, less than fabulous hoodie, iPhone adapter, gym shorts and toilet, yes I said toilet water from Abercrombie and Fitch.  This is what he considers a  ‘crazy-fun’ anniversary shopping spree at a mall?  Maybe when your man works on a farm, but not by my standards.  Note to self:  If my man buys me that shit for our anniversary, let this serve as a reminder to dump him so that I don’t waste another year on him.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s glamorous by twink-who-lives-near-a-farm-standards.  Hell, at least there’s even a mall nearby.  His entire HAUL selection, including the adapter, brought to mind one of my favorite comments from Michelle Visage of RuPaul’s Drag Race, “It’s just rather pedestrian.”

No matter how many times I watch HAPPY 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY – Mini GAY shopping Haul, I still can’t find value in it.  Then again, I could see how it could appeal to internet trolls who slobber all over themselves when Scott mentions his skinny figure and “white, pasty skin.”  Overall, I found it less informative and more of a video diary that rambles on and on and on.  Not to mention, he uses the forum to interject his pseudo stand-up comedy routine.  With the exception of mentioning the varying fits of Express shirts, which he didn’t even purchase nor showcase, most of this video was him loving himself a bit too much.

The presentation was sloppy, unprofessional and without a script nor flow.  Who does a video and doesn’t even take off their coat?  The premise of a HAUL video is to engage people so that they view you as an authority on the products you’ve purchased.  The video could have used critical and informative reviews, in addition to engagement with the viewer as to why these items were purchased.  For example, most of the clothing he bought were summer T-shirts and shorts, which means by the looks of the coat he was wearing, they were out of season and on sale.  His video would have been more constructive as a HAUL about buying summer clothes out of season to put away for the following summer.  Showcasing the value savings would have been fun and his comedy could have played off of his thriftiness, making it more entertaining and structured.

In regards to the fragrance, he didn’t give the price point nor a general description of what the fragrance smells like.  This info is readily available from many websites and including it would have provided an enticing reason for viewers to purchase it; other than a server at a restaurant wanting to taste you when you have it on.

I highly doubt Scott has picked up any cultural capital along the way, however, I’m sure he has an abundance of internet stalkers.  If in fact he has obtained cultural capital, it is not evident in his lack of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge and practices (Holt)  He displays no authentic understanding of any of his products by offering no value, description nor reason to purchase them.  While Scott’s disposition would probably never be that of snob or cultural intermediary, the sloppiness in his vocabulary and presentation doesn’t even support the conspicuous consumption that he strives for in this video.

By way of thrift haul videos,  Grav3yardgirl has managed to construct a unique style through consumption objects, which has enabled her to procure High Cultural Capital.  Holt would say that as a HCC, Grav3yardgirl attempts to produce individual subjectivity through authenticity and connoisseurship. As a means of establishing authenticity the HCC finds subjectivity in authentic goods as opposed to those that are mass produced. Grav3yardgirl’s ability to find unique goods in the least expected places, thrift stores, validates her credibility and elevates her to the status of a cultural intermediary.

 

Her achievement of decommodified authenticity, which is evident in her video, helps empower her as a cultural intermediary. An example of decommodified authenticity is when Grav3yardgirl finds a Vera Wang dress for $1.75.  A LCC would probably do anything in their power to preserve the Wang dress, and restore it so that it is most similar to those that are mass produced. However, Grav3yardgirl plans on cutting the dress up and making it into a Halloween costume. Although the dress is by Vera Wang, the preference to transform it into an authentic object marks the difference between HCCs and LCCs, according to Holt.

 

By reconfiguring this mass consumer object, Grav3yardgirl establishes herself as a connoisseur. Connoisseurship requires an idiosyncratic approach, understanding, evaluation, and appreciation of consumption objects. Furthermore her personal style is expressed through her particular practice, even with the objects that are widely consumed.  Designer finds contribute to the eclecticism that adds dimension to Grav3yardgirl’s role as a connoisseur.

 

With nearly, a million subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views per video posted, it is clear that Grav3yardgirl has successfully  been able to use her authenticity and connoisseurship to continue a career as a cultural intermediary. The consumption objects that she discusses are merely resources for detailed and opinionated conversations about goods in different categories, which is obviously an enjoyable experience for viewers.

 

 

The whole point of buying luxury goods, most of the time, is to show them off. You pick up your Louis Vuitton and head to the hair salon so all of the other patrons can get a glimpse of the trademarked monogrammed pattern. Of course, you can’t go anywhere without your Burberry coat with the traditional Burberry plaid that says, “Hey! Look at me! I have nice things!” Why else would someone buy something, right? The saying goes that women don’t dress to impress men, they dress to impress other women (and for themselves).

This could not be any truer for the category of consumers that we have deemed ‘snobs.’ These people only willing consume highbrow culture and goods. They will steer clear of stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and even middle-tier retailers such as American Eagle and perhaps even J. Crew. Those are all beneath them. Of course, this often comes with a hefty price tag. With exclusivity comes a way that keeps it exclusive. Many times, this is not actually taste. More often than not, the thing that keeps certain brands exclusive is the price they charge. This price, determined by what a consumer is willing to pay, is the exchange value. Based upon this, it seems that although many consumers who are ‘snobs’ don’t love spending the money to attain highbrow goods, it is a necessity for them to remain snobs. In order to remain part of the elite group, they have to make these brands and their goods so sought after that the exchange value rises, allowing only themselves to actually purchase the goods. It seems to be a cycle.

 

 

In line with this, I have analyzed a haul video posted by a woman whose username is “sony elenty.” She has a couple hundred videos, and this one in particular she “wanted to get this done before [she] took off [her] makeup.” Sonya is a snob by Bordieu’s definition. Everything she has ‘hauled’ is top-of-the-line designer brands. From Tori Burch to Jimmy Choo, she has not purchased anything a consumer of today would not consider highbrow. One of the most telling signs that she is a snob, and she does it intentionally, is that she brings up brand logos a lot. When discussing her first purchase, a Tori Burch wallet, she emphasizes the places where the iconic gold Tori Burch logo can be seen. She does the same with the makeup bag she purchase from Tori Burch as well, contrasting that logo placement to that of the Louis Vuitton logo patterned leather. She emphasizes the brand of each purchase, and for her Jimmy Choo boots, she even point the camera directly inside the boot to show the viewer the label on the inner heel. In fact, I would go so far as to say the items she purchased have little or no design element to them. The Tori Burch wallet is plain black with the typical layout of change purse in the middle with card holders on either side, and the makeup bag is plain black patent leather with a huge black patent leather logo stitched onto the front. The logo is the design element. Thus, she may e buying for the design element as you and I would be, but the design element she seeks is a brand logo denoting worth.

Many people may view Sonya as a cultural intermediary, and perhaps she is. She takes highbrow fashion, selects particular pieces, and displays and presents these choices to the lesser people who may be on YouTube. However, I cannot be sure. I cannot be sure she possesses any cultural capital beyond owning the items. Sonya does not go into how we could use the items, or what we could pair them with. She may understand, but I cannot assume she has the cultural capital to lend us her expertise. In that respect, is she a cultural intermediary, or is she just a consumer? She has curated these pieces for us, however, is she translating for us what highbrow fashion is? I am not completely sure. It seems to me that just because a consumer has chosen to have a particular taste and to display that, does not necessarily mean she is translating highbrow culture and fashion for those of us who are not ‘snobs.’ She has clearly defined her own consumer identity, but I am not sure that it much more than her doing just that: defining her own identity.

Not only this, but as we have discussed in previous classes, Sonya has used shopping as an outlet. She has turned shopping into a producer. In the very beginning of the video, Sonya says that she took to the stores because she took a “nasty spill.” She claims she doesn’t really want to get into the details, yet dives into them anyways. Her friend, while trying to break her fall down stairs, “busted her lip,” (“…so no, [she] didn’t get anything done!”) and she also “scraped [her] knee and totally scraped [her] shin up.” This, of course, puts her in a bad mood, and she take to the retailers to make her feel better. This shopping venture now turns into the producer. It is able to produce pleasure for Sonya when she was feeling down because she fell. Yet another problem that can be fixed, and we should fix, with “retail therapy.”

In this week’s reading, Adam Arvidsson introduces the idea of consumption as immaterial labor.  I found his discussion of this topic to be a great platform to discuss the concept of haul videos in general.  In various topics we have discussed in class so far, the concept of the role of the audience has been extremely relevant.  As Arvidsson states, “Historians have argued that modern consumers should not be understood as the passive victims of producer interests, but that they have actively engaged in the social construction of the value of consumer goods” (p.242).  Furthermore, Arvidsson also states that, “consumption produces a common in the form of a community, a shared identity or even a short lived ‘experience’ that adds dimensions of use-value to the object” (p. 242).  While it is easy to blame the producer for the growing obsession with consumer culture amongst citizens today, analyzing haul videos changes this perspective.  When a consumer makes a haul video, he or she is certainly not being “passive,” but instead is actively participating in generating a new use-value of the object.  They use the act of creating videos and showing off their purchases as well as their expertise on knowing about exclusive sales and deals to achieve a kind of a level of status and cultural capital.  They create a different use-value for the commodities than was intended by the producer.  As Arvidsson says, the creation of a community revolving around these commodities adds another “dimension of use-value to the object”  (p. 242).  For instance, when the consumer purchases clothing and then creates a haul video based on the purchase, the use value of the object changes to become a tool for the person to obtain a following of viewers and therefore achieve credentialed cultural capital.

Overall, the production of haul videos is a way that individuals seek to generate a sense of community but also to manufacture an image in the social media domain.  Furthermore, the haul video creators are successful in their attempts to create a new dimension of use-value of the objects that they purchase.

Recently posted on YouTube, “Back to School Supplies Haul + Giveaway!!!” by StilaBabe09 is one of thousands of haul videos posted on the internet. In this particular video, the hostess (Meredith) displays and talks about several back-to-school items that are available at nationwide stores such as Target and Office Depot. One interesting aspect of this haul video (as opposed to many others), is the “giveaway” portion of her presentation. Many aspiring haul bloggers use giveaways to spark interest or draw interest to their blog or channel. In this case, Meredith purchased several of her favorite or recommended items to raffle off to her devoted followers and new viewers.

There are several techniques that StilaBabe09 uses to draw attention to her video while also attempting to define herself as a credible source. She is able to get across to her audience by displaying an enthusiastic and friendly demeanor, as well as using her ability to effectively articulate information on the items that she has chosen to discuss. The setting and the way she projects her personality allow her to be very relatable to her audience. By filming her review in an intimate location (what appears to be a bedroom) and by talking in a very personal and conversational manner, Meredith associates herself with her audience (as opposed to coming across as a cultural intermediary or “snob”). The physical way in which she presents herself (fashionable, well-groomed, and confident) is also a key factor to developing and maintaining her integrity as a fashion/beauty/product analyst. These traits give her presentation an air of familiarity as well as a very positive sense to it.

Another way she gives her video a sense of authenticity is by utilizing cultural capital. By using her knowledge of cultural trends and tastes, she gives an evaluation of both the aesthetic and practical qualities of different items. By understanding what the majority of consumers in her society are attracted to, she can effectively promote certain products that are available to the public. In this video, she also chooses to review items that are more affordable and more easily available to consumers throughout the nation, instead of focusing on items that only the more economically elite could afford or products that can only be purchased in a specific region.

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With Paris Fashion Week in full swing, the industry, and by extension consumer culture, is being saturated with the next big trend and the next popular silhouette. It seems, with the increasing presence of in-the-moment Instagram photos and live streaming of fashion shows online, that the cultural capital achieved in maintaining current knowledge about fashion is becoming more of a even, horizontal field than a vertical one. Any average person today can see all of the shows minutes after the clothes descend the runway and have hundreds of media outlets online providing opinions on the collections. How, then, do we evaluate cultural capital in an increasingly equalized social society? Does such knowledge remain “socially rare and distinctive,” as Bourdieu would imply, if everyone else has access to too? 

In examining these principles, one might consider the dichotomy in cultural capital created between two such individuals as Anna Wintour and The Man Repeller (Leandra Medine). Wintour is the epitome of high fashion media; as the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, she dictates taste to everyone from New York socialites to housewives in the mid-west. While Wintour herself exhibits all aspects of high cultural capital (credentialed, objectified and embodied), her followers do not necessarily display such an intricate understanding of the art of fashion. The outreach of Vogue may extend itself to those interested in fashion and not necessarily those who comprehend it.

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The Man Repeller is a well known fashion blogger who wears clothes that would typically be considered horrific to men or that are just plain outrageous and strange, albeit almost exclusively luxury designer pieces. The Man Repeller’s followers tend to be strictly the fashion-conscious and those interested in extending their knowledge of the industry as they have a vested interest within it. Leandra sits front row at major fashion shows and collaborates with famous brands; that said, it is still considered interesting and different to read her blog. Thus, if our understanding of high cultural capital is achieved through creative and intellectual consumption, it would appear that Leandra Medine holds higher cultural capital than Anna Wintour herself.

A noteworthy occurrence during PFW this year was the Rick Owens fashion show; the famously extreme designer employed U.S. step team members, almost all of racial minority and athletic body type, to perform a routine in lieu of the typical model march down the catwalk. Infusing decidedly American hip-hop culture into the posh world of Paris fashion week was a bold move and caused a stir heard throughout all channels of media, social and otherwise.

 In considering the move towards onmivorousness in consumer culture, it is interesting to note the specific changes that are evidenced in Rich Owens’ show. The concept considered “status-group politics” is most apparent; the appropriation of “low-brow” culture, in this case signified by step dancing and a more average body type, into “high-brow” culture has, here, created an amalgamation of groups along the social hierarchy. It may even allow embodied cultural capital to exist among those who would not normally hold such capital in the high culture sphere. “Style at fashion week has transcended the boundaries of a runway en masse and flooded the sidewalks,” states the Man Repeller blog. So, whether step dancing on the runway or couture in the streets, lines between high and low culture are blurred and are only becoming less clear. 

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The haul video I decided to use is almost a year old, but I chose it because of its Black Friday theme.  Black Friday is the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and is basically a day dedicated to great deals for shoppers; I can’t think of a better example of our consumer culture in play.

 

Betheny explains that she and her parents left to the mall around 1 a.m and finished shopping around 5:30 a.m, and from the footage we see at the beginning of the video, the mall was pretty packed.  The fact that people are willing to trek through crowds and chaos in hopes of getting discount prices shows just how heavily involved our society is with consumption.  Black Friday creates another kind of hardcore “imagined community” of consumers all over the country who are ready to line up at midnight in front of stores and wait for hours just to shop.

The stores Betheny visited consisted of: Sephora, Foreign Exchange, American Eagle, Victoria Secret, Abercrombie, Forever 21, and Bath & Body Works. However, the store visits I’d like to focus on are Sephora, Foreign Exchange, Victoria Secret, Abercrombie, and Forever 21. When discussing her purchases at these stores, she makes sure to focus on the deals she got. For example, in Sephora she talks about a skin care set she got for $10 that is usually $25, a $10 bronzer that usually costs her around $20 or $30, and two magnetic design nail polishes she got for $10 total but usually cost $20 each. She saved about $70 in just Sephora alone. She also made sure to point out that she bought these items as Christmas gifts for other people, so aside from getting meanings due to their great prices, these objects are also getting meaning attached to them through gift rituals.

During her discussion of Foreign Exchange, she talks about how they were also throwing a great buy one get one free sale for the entire store, but she also gives us insight to her taste.  She loves the color of her new suede shoes with the studs on the toe and think they are the “perfect fall and winter shoes,” and she loves the “slouchy” sweater and “how it flows seems really pretty to [her].” We also get to see some her culture capital in this segment as she discusses how she would probably match the lace jeans with a “comfy sweater” and the skulls and cross tank top with a cardigan or jacket, and how she discusses the “cold-shoulder” (as she likes to call it) sweater and blouse she bought. Instead of seeing just a pair of jeans or just a tanktop, she saw an outfit, and the fact that she used the term “cold-shoulder” to describe the tops she bought I feel adds to her culture capital just because had it been me, I would’ve just called it “a sweater with the shoulders cut out.”

In Victoria Secret, she also finds good deals, but they also gave her a free tote bag with a body kit inside after spending $60, and she notes how it’s good quality and that usually things stores hand out for free usually aren’t, which reinforces the idea that prices can give identity or meaning to an object.

I feel that her visit to Abercrombie is important because she makes that statement, “I never really go there because it’s so expensive,” but because everything was 50% off, she was able to purchase a sweater and a pair of pajama shorts for $60 instead of the $120 it would have originally cost her for just those two items.  This made me think about conspicuous consumption and how lifestyle choices such as where we shop can reflect on who we are.  Typically with conspicuous consumption, people will more than likely be required to spend more money than they are used to, trying to obtain that level of acceptance.  However, big sales such as those that happen on Black Friday give people access to that same opportunity without having to spend as much.  In turn, the way their lifestyle is reflected may change. For example, if a person like Betheny, who never usually shops at Abercrombie, buys an outfit on one of their sale days and wears it out another day, people will see she is wearing clothes from Abercrombie and think she probably shops there regularly; they don’t know that it was a big Black Friday special and that’s probably the only reason she went in.

Similar to this, is her visit to Forever 21, where she talks about a pair of $29 boots she got that reminded her of boots she saw at Steve Madden but never got because they cost $150.  She points out the difference in style, but decides for $29 she could care less.  She makes the same point about the following pair of boots, saying how they look like they would be from an expensive store, but they were just $29 as well.

Overall, I think the key things to get from this haul video is that price most definitely gives identity or meaning to an object, and not just in the sense where “Oh, it’s more expensive, so therefore it must be better quality,” but also in the sense where people can be like, “Woah, that’s such a great deal! I have to get it!” Also, how big sales like those on Black Friday and cause a misrepresentation of our lifestyle and economic status just because people don’t know the context in which the items were obtained. If they walk into your home and see you have a 60″ plasma tv, the thought that you got it on sale may cross their mind, or maybe they just might think that the lifestyle you have supports that kind of purchase, not knowing that you got the tv for half-price.

For this week’s blog post, I decided to watch and critique a “haul video” from the Internet. I searched on Youtube and found a video entitled “Haul: Spring Shopping Collection Video: H&M, Zara, and Le Fashion Truck“, posted by a user named “yummiebitez”. The video featured a fairly attractive young woman from Los Angeles, as she referenced a number of times throughout the video, showing her audience the purchases she had made at the stores previously mentioned. What I found most interesting about this video, and about “haul videos” in general, was how much I learned about this stranger’s life from watching her 17-minute video. By the end of the video I knew where she lived, how much money she spent shopping, her employment status, and even her clothing sizes. This video was a very public demonstration of her identity as a consumer, and gave a lot of insight into her lifestyle choices.

The star of the video, Yummiebitez, was definitely engaging in conspicuous consumption. By the very act of creating and posting this video, she was publicly exhibiting her spending habits. Not only was she very clear about what brands she had purchased, but she always made a point of showing her audience how much money she had spent. With every item of clothing or accessory, she would hold up the price tag to the camera so that everyone could see the dollar amount. Furthermore, she was not shy about sharing the fact that she had money to spend. She spoke on multiple occasions about her job, and made it very obvious that she was a working professional.

Throughout this haul video, Yummietbitez made sure to situate herself aesthetically as well as socioeconomically. Upon bringing out her first purchase, which was a loose, silky white blouse, she declared that she was “very into” flowy shirts at that time. Later in the video she showed us a pair of bright pink pants, which she described as her “boldest” purchase and “out of the ordinary” for her usual style. I thought this was very important because it gave her viewers a clear sense of her tastes as a consumer. It was also very interesting to me that every time she brought out a new piece of clothing, she would tell the audience which size she had purchased. To me, this showed that she was very intent on creating a certain identity for her audience to see.

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Last week, we talked a lot about cultural intermediaries, and how it’s their job to bridge the gap between cultural industries to consumers. This topic struck a chord with me because it reminded me of a new television show that’s been causing some strife around my friend community. Recently, Syfy Network launched a show called Heroes of Cosplay, in which they follow long-time costumer and cosplayer Yaya Han and her entourage as they make costumes and enter them in contests across the nation. Yaya has said multiple times in interviews that she wants to be an “ambassador of cosplay”, making the attempt to be a cultural intermediary for people outside of the cosplaying world. Cosplay, for those not acquainted, is a practice of creating and wearing costumes of just about anything at all- comic book superheroes, video game characters, movie characters and sometimes even things from books. Some people have built full Iron Man suits just to wear to conventions and get photos to emulate the characters they love.

Usually, this would be viewed favorably, from someone large in the industry trying to bring it a bigger viewer base. But what happens when a cultural intermediary doesn’t have a good grasp on their cultural capital?

If you google Heroes of Cosplay, the second link (right underneath Syfy’s official website) is an article titled “7 Reasons Why Heroes of Cosplay is Terrible”, and the rest of the results aren’t much better. The searches are peppered with “SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay Show Accused of Copyright Infringement”,  a petition to change the show to be about actual cosplayers, and “Heroes of Cosplay and the Pain it’s Causing in my Head”. While the linked arguments are not necessary reading, they do extrapolate on the topic- and the damage- this show has done to the community it’s trying to represent. As said by Brian Hanson in the first linked article;

“While Yaya Han has certainly earned her place as a cosplay aficionado, and I certainly understand why she is chosen and paid by various companies to dress up as their characters, she was not appointed as any sort of “Ambassador of Cosplay” by some senior cosplay authority. She doesn’t speak for cosplay as a whole any more than I do.”

Being one of the first major representations into the cosplay community, Yaya Han had a chance as a cultural intermediary to bring further understanding into cosplay as a hobby, as the show’s description tried to make it out to be; the ideas behind balancing this hobby with real life, how it affects your relationships, what talents you learn and how it improves your life. Instead, it’s turned into a drama-mongering reality show. As mentioned in the last linked article, the author describes the show’s tone:

“The show that was supposed to be about cosplay in general (you know the daily life, balancing the hobby with real life like family, etc.) has decided to turn it into a grown up mash of unbelievability and overly sensitive drama where there should not be drama. In summary, think of “Big Bang Theory” meets “Toddlers and Tiaras” meets “Say Yes to the Dress”. ”

The cultural capital that Yaya Han has built up in cosplaying focuses around competition- which she has gone on to try to represent the entirety of cosplay on the small portion she has built up her capital in.  There’s multiple sources of proof on the editing and cutting the producers of Heroes Of Cosplay have done to make the show into a straight heroes/villains split, most notably this Facebook post by Amy Schley, depicting her run-in with the actresses and the way they were abused in the filming and editing portion.

Typically, when a cultural intermediary fails, it’s easy to see where they missed; most cultural intermediaries lie in large pop culture circles, and compete with one another. Where one fails, another is there to pick up the slack. Cosplay has never had a large intermediary such as this one, and the influence it’s having on pop culture and the general population is staggering to the way I as a cosplayer and others in the cosplay community are viewed. Suddenly, instead of making costumes for the love of the craft or the want to enjoy the buildup of personal skills, we are all wig-ripping, life-destroying, competition-driven monsters. (I will say, however, some people do cosplay for the sake of competition; it does not make them wrong. People cosplay for different reasons. What makes Yaya Han and Heroes of Cosplay wrong is the view that EVERYONE cosplays for competitions, and the outlandish ideal presented that people could cosplay for anything else).

Cosplay has been a large part of my life for years; I was introduced to it 8 years ago and I’ve been personally participating for over 5 years now. I have met some of my best friends through cosplay and been privy to some amazing opportunities because of my hobby. But this show does not represent us- and this cultural intermediary has no one to keep her in check.  Her cultivated capital is limited, and it injures the hobby as a whole that only a piece of the cultural capital is represented.

In this case, Yaya Han and Heroes of Cosplay have absolutely been ‘lost in translation’ when it comes to the act of being an ‘ambassador’ of such a new culture.

(And for those of you wondering what a proper cultural intermediary between the nerdy and pop culture; check out Marvel’s superhero movies and how they relate back to comic book culture. It’s a great place to start.)

    In “Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore,” Peterson and Kern discuss the phenomenon of an emerging class of omnivorous “highbrows.” When Americans were not particularly obsessed with consuming, there was a time where products and services were bought only out of necessity and function rather than entertainment.  Around the 30s, it was fairly simple to categorize those who were snobs and those who didn’t have the resources to afford these kinds of luxuries.  I would think that omnivores, as Peterson and Kern describe them, would have been nonexistent back in the day because there were limited chances to expand one’s cultural capital with lacking technological and social advancements.  I feel that there would have been almost to no opportunities for one to access a particular class without the right knowledge, skills, or tastes. 

    Fast forwarding to our generation where technological, social and economic advancements have far exceeded our expectations, the space where highbrows and those of “lesser” cultures can meet and mingle has been broadened.  Omnivorous consumption is a on a high making social class distinctions a lot hazier to the gazer.  As Peterson and Kern say, omnivores consume things from all cultural categories and this practice of consuming can also make you gain high cultural capital, regardless of low or high economic means.  And I think this is possible through cultural intermediaries who effectively translate from the cultural industries to consumers.  We often rely on cultural intermediaries for our consumer habits.  I think this is very much true especially in our society today where we are willing to try new things as long as they have good reviews (online, magazines, papers).  Needless to say, consumers of my generation and younger are avid users of the Internet.  Online reviews of restaurants, stores, bars, spas, clinics, home services, etc. are becoming essential to consumers.  For example, “yelping” a certain restaurant before you go and reading numerous reviews on rude customer service but amazing food may bring you here once but maybe not for another visit.  It has become extremely important for stores to have a good reputation on sites like Yelp because it’s basically their lifeline.  Having access to these kinds of customer reviews and comments can really attract consumers from all hierarchies of society.  If there are raving reviews on a really hip and cool bar in Brooklyn that serves great Irish beer, it may attract a high society “snob” who loves to drink Irish beer.  ImageImage

    I think the reason why we are gearing towards an omnivorous culture is because “older cohorts of highbrows with more snob-like tastes are being displaced by younger, more omnivorous cohorts” (902) as Peterson and Kern puts it.  As mentioned above, all these societal and lifestyle advancements that have been made in our lifetime have created more open-minded consumers willing to consumer more and a variety of cultural objects.  

 

The foods we eat and have access to are one significant marker of social class. Throughout history, it has not been uncommon for the upper classes to enjoy “fine” and “precious” foods that are often economically and socially unattainable for the lower classes. One food item that was a marker of class in ancient Korea was white rice. This precious commodity was largely consumed by royals and nobles (the upper classes), while those below including peasants (the lower classes) mostly subsisted on whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and millet. White rice was the superior foundational grain for all meals for its greater aesthetic appeal and palatability. However, due to the labor intensive nature of manually removing the bran from brown rice to yield white rice, it was expensive and remained a predominantly upper class staple.

This inequality in a specific kind of food item consumption certainly relates to a discussion of habitus, which is defined as our dispositions or natural inclinations. According to Bourdieu, habitus “. . . does not simply refer to knowledge, or even competence or sense of style, but is also embodied . . .”, meaning that it is also revealed in our “ways of eating”, or our food preferences and what we choose to eat (Lury 91). Habitus is connected to our family, group, and class position and “. . . operates according to . . . the logic of practice, [which] is organized by a system of classification . . .” and “. . . operates with dichotomous distinctions like high/low . . . distinguished/vulgar and good/bad” (92). This means that in ancient Korea, one way in which the upper class and lower class individual’s habitus differed was through the foods consumed, such as the types of grains eaten. Through the logic of practice, the upper classes compared white rice and other inferior grains using dichotomous distinctions. For the royals and nobles, white rice was considered to be refined, high-class, and an appetizing delicacy while other grains were contrastingly labeled as being less sophisticated, low-class, and less palatable. This system of classification, “. . . [operating] below the level of consciousness . . .”, cultivated the upper class’s taste for white rice (92). The perpetuation of this specific upper class habitus – the preferred taste for and privileged, unbarred access to and consumption of white rice – was one element that contributed to the upper class’s class reproduction. At the same time, the lower classes understood white rice to be a precious commodity, and their limited access to it was one factor that disassociated them from the upper classes.

In her post, “Divide and Conquer (and Consume)”,  sef333 similarly writes about the logic of practice and dichotomous distinctions, or in her words, “dichotomies of consumption” (she uses the example of feminine products). She explains how one dichotomy of consumption is luxury/bargain, which describes how the quantified price/exchange value for commodities affects consumer’s buying decisions – that is, consumers are divided based on whether they can afford the luxury or bargain version of an item. Putting this dichotomy in the context of my post, it can be said that in ancient Korea, white rice was the luxury grain whereas other grains were the bargain carbohydrates. For reasons explained above, white rice was more expensive than other grains and therefore more accessible to those who could financially afford it, making it a largely upper-class food item.  Sef333 also questions if “. . . these divides create polar dichotomies of consumption . . .”, to which I would answer no. Though white rice was an upper-class commodity in ancient Korea, that is not to say the lower classes never had access to it. For example, lower class families could have saved their money from time to time and purchased white rice to eat on special occasions. And what is interesting is that brown rice and other whole grains that the lower classes consumed are now more highly valued than white rice for their higher nutritional content and health benefits. Maybe if the royals and nobles of ancient Korea had known this, they would have consumed grains in an omnivorous manner, and the upper classes and lower classes would not have been on (somewhat strict) polar ends of grain type consumption.

Out of all of the haul videos posted on YouTube, I chose “New in My Closet! Spring Haul & Styling Tips (Forever21, JCrew and MORE)” because it was exemplary of many of the themes we discussed in class. To summarize, Tiffany brings us into the intimate space of her closet to share what she has recently purchased at Forever21, JCrew and other stores for the spring season. What sets this video apart from most of the other fashion haul videos is that Tiffany gives tips on what to wear with each piece not by just saying what she would pair with it, but rather showing the viewer a nearly completed outfit. For someone in need of styling tips, this model of a haul video is probably most helpful. Other haul videos tend to just show what was recently purchased, but not how to wear them as a whole look. For those who like Tiffany’s style, she could be considered a cultural intermediary: a translator from cultural industries to consumers. In this case, the cultural industry would be fashion and style.

I think Tiffany is a skilled, practical stylist because she relates to the average girl. She is an omnivorous consumer and relays those values to her viewers. From the title alone, you know she is omnivorous because she shops at all different kinds of stores, not just “highbrow culture” ones. She consumes from all cultural categories: Forever21 to BCBG and JCrew to Club Monaco. She also mentions great sales and deals for particular items. Her target audience most likely cannot afford to buy only designer brand items, so she mixes different brands with each outfit. At the same time, however, she has a certain level of cultural capital (access to a particular cultural class, knowledge of culture, skills, tastes, behaviors; ability to aesthetically evaluate cultural objects on their own terms.) Some viewers might not have the economic ability to shop at the stores she does at all. However, she has the knowledge to pass down tips to everyone no matter where they shop so that they can have her similar style.

Lastly, Tiffany did a great job with varying her outfits. She showed us dressy pieces, more casual outfits, shoes and jewelry. She had a great variety of color, prints, and fabrics. Not every viewer will like everything she showed (I thought those wedges were horrible), but each viewer can find at least one piece or outfit that they like. Towards the end of the video, she declares her personal style as a mixture of sweetness and tough, edginess. Her style and wardrobe pieces may seem to be “her own,” but Bourdieu states that tastes are indeed dictated by the social position one is in. For example, she stresses how valuable the print shorts she bought from JCrew are to her because it is difficult for her to find shorts that fit right. However, someone who has a different cultural capital may think those shorts are too conservative as they are too long or too loose.

Tiffany is able to sustain a certain level of cultural capital because she knows the right way to wear her clothes, repeat outfits and add variations. She has embodied cultural capital (Holt) and returned the knowledge to the viewer.

YouTube maven Mamrie Hart has over 300,000 subscribers on two different channels. Her career started on her channel “You Deserve a Drink” where she makes cocktails and incorporates a drinking game every time she makes a celebrity pun. Her satirical and witty personality and success on that channel allowed her to launch “Mametown”. On this channel and, in particular, her video “Ten Dollar Haul, Yall” she displays her cultural capital as a smart, crafty comedienne who finds value, appreciation, and ironic sophistication in items from a dollar store. She remixes Peterson and Kern’s notion of cultural capital as the ability to aesthetically evaluate cultural objects on their own terms. She treats the dollar store as its own environment for exploration and adventurous consumption. She looks for value and unique qualities within the dollar store items to bring out their “usefulness” and expression for individuality and resourceful spending.

Before even exploring what she bought at the dollar store, she divulges that she is “rocking a hoodie, long johns, and a Biggie-Smalls shirt” and that her audience does not even know how “street” she is. She is already playing on the irony that she is wearing a shirt, from Forever 21, with a Hip-Hop legend on it. This juxtaposition and Mamrie’s acknowledgement of it allows her to convince the audience that she does not take herself too seriously, yet also that she appreciates the oddity and eclecticism of style. The first item from her haul is a pack of Googly Eyes, which is “so much fun, for $1.29”. She encourages the viewers to treat themselves, as spending more than a dollar at the dollar store would be worth it. Splurging for the nice Googly Eyes not only shows Mamrie’s appreciation for a valued product, but also how it is an opportunity to use the product for a greater variety of uses (crafts, as eyes when you want to nap in class). Other items in the haul include a cat play glove that is Christmas themed, a light up sword that won’t turn on, and a party popper. She also hauls a wind-up chicken toy that exposes the geographic based lifestyle of the dollar store. Mamrie explains, “You know you live in Brooklyn when your wind up chickens are hipsters.” She goes on to question the chicken as to whether it is late to its job as a coffee shop barista, whether it is going to a passion pit concert, or whether it likes the show Girls. With this list of hypotheticals, albeit directed at a toy chicken, Mamrie demonstrates her understanding of the hipster lifestyle, while simultaneously distancing herself from it as she talks about the lifestyle in jest with a sarcastic tone.

She posted a second Ten Dollar Haul video, specifically directed at getting ready for a “Hawt Date”. This video is obviously gendered, as her first two haul items are a cosmetic kit and a southern belle hat. She explores the cosmetic kit as a consumption object that gives the woman the power to be “super pretty” but also prepare for heartache. In referencing the tiny pack of tissues included, “These are great in case you get stood up.” The versatility she finds within this dollar store cosmetic kit allows Mamrie to reveal her appreciation of consumption conceptions of beauty but also rejecting them by sarcastically mocking the packaging and presentation of the kit. Mamrie demonstrates how consumers construct their lifestyles not just through purchases but through the ways we consume. She explains how the southern belle hat allows the opportunity to “transform yourself into Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women.” Constructing her own narrative, Mamrie consumes the hat in a particular way and embodies her consumption by knowing how to manipulate the dollar store purchases into fashionable, playful commodities. The rest of this “Hawt Date” video has Mamrie hauling a picture frame to give as a gift on a date (even using the photo already in the frame), a romantic movie (The Great Rupert) to “give yourself the chance to snuggle in,” and a bok choy bath stopper in which “nothing says ‘we about to do it’ like a dark leafy green”. Mamrie Hart establishes her brand on YouTube as an atypical beauty vlogger. She is not going to deliver conventional lifestyle tips or popular culture endorsements. Rather, she uses pop culture as a reference point in her sarcastic and witty cocktail and haul videos. She plays on established lifestyles and repurposes the expected conventions of consumption to create unique haul videos. These videos help to distinguish her YouTube brand as one with distinctive tastes, skills (the ability to find deals and steals at a dollar store), knowledges (the cultural knowledge she exhibits and her acuteness to consumption practices/groups), and practices that elevate her to Holt’s understanding of a high cultural capital producer and consumer.

In Lury’s chapter 4, she talks about consumption being dichotomous. While we did not discuss this in class, the concept really resonated with me and stuck in my mind while doing other activities. Since I spend way too much time online, I, at some point, discovered an article on Jezebel talking about how the “middle-class” tampon no longer exists. In it, the author explains that due to the current economic climate and patterns of consumption, there are now two kinds of products; luxury and bargain. While I am certain there are exceptions to this rule, this point seemed fairly potent.

I immediately thought of two kinds of “women’s products” when I read this article. There is the “bargain” tiny o.b. brand ones that have no real packaging and can be bought in packs of a bajillion* (*number slightly exaggerated). There are also the “new, luxury” products by Kotex that come in “cool, fancy” packaging and the maximum quantity purchased in one package is a lot smaller than that of the bargain brand. I’m not sure what the demographic split is on these consumers because I am almost certain that those that could afford the luxury tampons, simply choose the other brand however I do find it amusing that such a split has been not only created but also exaggerated.

In class we talked about how the decision to live a certain lifestyle is not as free as expected due to financial constraints among others. This tied in to Lury’s note on the dichotomies of consumption as well. In this respect I thought of Wednesday’s class discussion where we discussed High Cultural Capitol Consumption and that those who consume in this manner prefer socially scarce commodities. The HCC consumers are part of another dichotomy, then. They consume based on knowledge that will cause them to gain CC while others consume based on factors irrelevant of CC. I am curious as to what other dichotomies cultural capital is a factor in. Sometimes it is not luxury versus bargain or differentiating knowledge that divides consumers, but instead means of production, or even the means of consumption that divide. There are people who prefer American Apparel to Urban Outfitters, not because they represent a different aesthetic or price point, but because one is factory made in the United States and the other has some products that are mass produced in unsafe conditions across the world. What I find even more interesting than this dichotomy is the consumption of “cheaper” clothing. At one point, thrift shopping became very popular. However, if you truly want cheap and speedy clothing, it is actually much cheaper to consume from places like Target, Kohls or Kmart. So even within the divide that the Jezebel article points out, luxury versus bargain, there are further dichotomies; fair production versus mass production, or trendy cheap versus speedy cheap. My question from this would be, do these divides create polar dichotomies of consumption or multiply the options to create a scale?

 

-Sophie

 Versus    

The September 19th issue of The New York Times, ran a report called, “U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People,” echoing our discussions of Post-Fordism in America. The article discusses the declining trend of outsourcing for textile production and the resurgence of factories in the southern United States—like those of American Giant and Parkdale Mills. The report discusses the economic shift from the angles of the business owner, the consumer, and the factory workers employed by the textile companies.

manufacturing jobs

Some business owners, Marx’s capitalists, now claim that using domestic labor leads to lower transportation costs and quicker turnaround. “Most striking,” the article states, “labor costs — the reason all these companies fled in the first place — aren’t that much higher than overseas because the factories that survived the outsourcing wave have largely turned to automation and are employing far fewer workers.”

According to the report, one of the driving factors pushing businesses hands to open shop in the U.S. was the complication of “monitoring worker safety in places like Bangladesh, where hundreds of textile workers have died in recent years in fires and other disasters… a huge challenge.” In this case we see the capitalist more concerned with the bottom-line than working to secure basic conditions for hard workers–it’s easier to just pack up and head home. The emotional and human dimension of the issues at play here are stripped in a capitalist logic of profit, not to Marx’s surprise.

While jobs are indeed coming back to they U.S., they are coming back in mostly different forms than the production jobs that had been an important part of the American labor force in the 20th century, and in far fewer numbers.

The lucky people that can land the highly sought after jobs at American textile factories look like Donna McKoy, a North Carolina woman featured in the article. McKoy lost her job at a textile factory when jobs were outsourced to China in the early 2000s, but after deciding to get an associates degree, McKoy is now back working in a textile factory. Not surprisingly, her role mainly supports the machinery carrying out the physical production. “On a typical 12-hour shift,” the article claims, “two of the 11 people on her team fix the spinning machines about 4,000 times, with robots’ help. She earns $47,000 a year and says the perks are good, like health care, an in-house nurse and monthly management classes for supervisors. She recently bought a three-bedroom house and owns a car.”

Many of the facts here illustrate Post-Fordism quite clearly in that production technologies have taken the place of the assembly line worker and that the contemporary worker is highly specialized. However in a reversal of Post-Ford theory, we may be seeing a decline in reliance on global labor markets.

dictatorshipoftheconsumer

I was reading Madeline’s post about the power of user-generated production, and something in the post struck a chord with me: users today are more powerful than ever. Like Yelp, a great deal of this century’s largest websites and services – Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Reddit, Wikipedia, etc. – depend on a process of collective production, wherein the services and web content are produced live by users, their interactions with one another, and the aggregation thereof. Even services whose content are not produced by users often integrate elements of user feedback, such as reviews and comments in online marketplaces and newspapers. In many cases, it is the user provided information on a website (such as Amazon) which will dictate what item, restaurant, or article appears highlighted to the reader.

This gives consumers – or rather, consumers in aggregate – considerable sway over what is considered part of the popular culture, what is considered a good or bad product, worth paying attention to or not, overpriced or cheap, so on and so forth. We evaluate quality by numbers, and we vote with clicks – views, likes, shares, retweets, upvotes, and stars. What trends on Twitter, Youtube, and Reddit now becomes the opening segment on cable news. The collective evaluations on Yelp shift the flow of money from 1-starred to 5-starred establishments. And the toilsome labor of countless editors – both anonymous and user-named – produces the great public work that is Wikipedia – a product of users, by users, for users.

The argument is brought up, however, that these collective expressions by the consumers are really the tools of businesses to advance their own agenda. Every application nowadays insists that you grant it permission to rent your Facebook profile as an advertisement for itself, and websites (especially news sites) have made their content increasingly share-able across various social networks to garner as many valuable page views as they can. To “Like” a page on Facebook is akin to subscribing for a series of ads. And of course, Yelp, IMDB, and other review and rating aggregation sites put out of work otherwise professional critics and provide no compensation for the free labor provided by the user-reviewers.

But who did the critics really work for, other than a small set of media elite and their consideration of whose tastes and preferences were worth rubber stamping with a critic’s column? Now the process of determining which movies and restaurants are “the best” is conducted democratically by the aggregation of the people’s  opinions – being informed by one’s cultural equals, rather than one’s cultural superiors. Meanwhile on the social networks, businesses will certainly make their own Pages and Twitter accounts to promote their brand. But the concept of social media is so wound up with marketing campaigns aimed by businesses at consumers, it’s easy to forget that social media is also being leveraged to great effect for customer service, and accommodating the demands of consumers. And while customer feedback on Facebook Pages and Twitter Feeds may superficially appear to be free market analysis for businesses, there’s a substantial difference between collecting the results of a prepared survey to assess (often ineffectively) customer “satisfaction” or  market trends, and reacting to the fiery Tweet of a scorned airline passenger whose words are rapidly gaining traction with other would-be customers.

Indeed, the direction of human culture has never more been held in the hands of the consumer. Where once consumers sought to assimilate into a prescribed television culture, television now seeks to emulate  consumers’ user-created digital culture. The power of people in numbers has carried over onto crowdsourcing platforms such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, where consumers control entirely whether a new product, business, service, or project will even launch. Consumer attitudes have forced manufacturers and businesses into offering healthier, more environmentally friendly products; and even plays a political role in influencing businesses’ stances on issues such as gay marriage (as in the case of General Mills and others). And as mentioned before, news agendas are more and more informed by what’s generating attention on social media – the hub of consumer cultural production.

But while it may be comforting to think of culture as becoming more and more democratic, and consumers as attaining more and more self-determination, it’s important to remember that the large group is always outmaneuvered by the small. The very breadth and diversity of consumer culture – which used to be held at bay by cultural boundaries designated by the elite – threatens to render consumers impotent, while the narrow and directed will of industry lobbyists claim the most policy changes in Washington. In order to achieve substantial, long-lasting improvements – such as reducing carbon emissions and global warming – consumers need to speak with one voice, act as one body. One person compelling himself to recycle alone will accomplish nothing to combat climate change, but a large association of people agitating for recycling at an institutional (even societal) level can accomplish a much greater change.

To truly establish a dictatorship of the consumer, it is first necessary for consumers to be organized and trained to quickly react and push back against the movements of producers, manufacturers, and business owners. And the most effective way for this to be done is to have a committee of men and women, representing various consumer interests, to helm a larger effort at organizing the masses of consumers into one, united movement. But alas, that is a subject for another time.