Archives for the month of: October, 2013

I needed to get some groceries, so I went to Trader Joe’s and decided to make a haul out of it.  Now, it’s important to note that TJ’s is not your typical supermarket or grocery store, especially the one by Union Square that always has a line to the door.  That being said, let me share a bit about my experience before I head into the goods.

As soon as I walked in, I saw the person holding the “Grand Finale” sign that marks that end of the check out. I found this interesting because it’s as if they’re marketing themselves as a show or performance; I liked that. It didn’t happen this visit, but a couple of other times I’ve come in before, the person at the end of the check-out line who notifies you which register to go to tends to make a jingle and rhyme for your register number which adds to the whole performance feel.  Another thing I noticed was that it was super crowded, which is good for business I guess but I wasn’t too fond of that (it puts pressure on me when I’m looking for something in the aisles). However, I think the main thing that stuck out as I was going through the store was pumpkin everything. They are most definitely taking this season seriously.

This is just a sample:

I like to go to Trader Joe’s because they tend to have things that you wouldn’t normally see somewhere else and a great example of that would be the Cookie & Cocoa Swirl Speculoos.

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For those of you who haven’t tried speculoos, it’s like a cookie peanut butter. I first had it at a Wafels & Dinges truck, but if you’re craving it in the middle of the night, this is a great alternative to have in your home. Put it on waffles, cookies, toast…pretty much anything. Eating it straight from the jar works, too. Anyway, this mix of speculoos and chocolate was listed as one of its new products; I like speculoos and I like chocolate, so why not?  See, this right here shows some of my high cultural capital because I was able to look at it, judge its value to me based on the fact that I like both flavors separately so I would probably like them together, and also the fact that I thought about it in terms of what I can do with it to enhance other foods rather than just consume it by itself.

Another purchase I made that exemplifies my cultural capital is the Romaine Salad.

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I bought some Lean Cuisine Salad Additions the other day, but haven’t had any actual lettuce to add to it. This will obviously work. But I also like the fact that it’s chopped and “Ready to use” as advertised on the bag. All I really have to do it just add it, no chopping or washing, or extra work involved. I think everyone can value this product for its convenience (Another point for cultural capital, yay!)

In addition to the salad, I also got Roasted Garlic & Herb Butter.

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So I picked this up mainly because it intrigued me due to the fact that it already had garlic and herbs mixed in (again, convenience). After I picked it up, I realized I could just boil some pasta and add this to make a simple meal (and that’s exactly what I did). As I’m writing this up, I also realized I could spread it on bread and put it in the oven to make some garlic bread, too. However, unlike the Speculoos, this isn’t something I would eat on its own.

This is another treasure from Trader Joe’s I found and I’m in love with: the Cinnamon Sugar Grinder.

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For anyone who loves cinnamon and sugar as much as I do, this is a must-have and it was only $1.99! I’m pretty sure cinnamon alone elsewhere is like $5 minimum and it’ll probably be one of those tiny one ounce containers. Here is something more than triple the size, with sugar, and the added bonus of a grinder (which I personally find fun to use). TJ’s recommends it on toast; I personally like to put it in my oatmeal.  Here you got a bit of my taste, I tend to lean towards sweet and am a big fan of cinnamon; but you also saw how I was able to make value judgments between price and content as well as taste. I not only value this product because it appeals to my taste, but also because it appeals to my wallet as opposed to a pricey one ounce container of McCormick’s cinnamon that might appeal to my taste, but not so much to my wallet (You should get this by now: cultural capital!).

I also got a pound of 80/20 Ground Beef.

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I love this stuff, so clearly I don’t live a vegetarian lifestyle. Make burgers, meatballs, just cook it up and add it to some pasta, nachos, or tacos, depending on what kind of food mood you’re in. American, Italian, Mexican? Take your pick. Also, $2.69 for a pound for 80/20 which is pretty good, I find to be pretty reasonable especially in the city. I mean, other places might have it for cheaper, but it probably looks ten times more gross than it should, and I can barely handle staring at this one. So here’s something you learned about my lifestyle based on the choices I made regarding this product: I’m not a vegetarian, you may classify me as a foodie, and I’m a price-conscious shopper.

We now get to the actual food part. Say hello to Blueberry Waffles!

Photo Oct 08, 4 36 34 PMLove blueberries and love waffles, so blueberry waffles are an extreme yes for me. AND I GOT THE LAST BOX. SUCCESS. Seems like I’m not the only one who has a sore spot for the waffles with the blueberries. So this is different from the other purchases so far because the others serve mainly as additions to meals or snacks. You don’t add a waffle to speculoos, you had speculoos to the waffle.  Also, because of that, some of the other things require me to actually go through the process of making something and cooking. I could have gotten waffle/pancake mix and go through the process of actually mixing and cooking for this every time, but instead I chose the easy way and decided to just get frozen waffles that you just pop in the toaster. Less time-consuming.

And of course, you can’t have waffles (or pancakes for that matter) without Syrup:

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Let me admit something. This is the first time I bought a syrup that was not Aunt Jemima and I was very hesitant to do so because my experience with other syrups has been less than satisfying, actually downright horrifying. But I figured I would try it out for $1.99, and so far everything else “Trader Joe’s” brand seems to be great, people are buying it, so it can’t be too bad. Here, you see I was willing to substitute a brand syrup I’ve grown comfortable with for one I’m unfamiliar with not only because of price but because the brand also seems to be of quality.  This is branding at work.

Okay, so I felt guilty not getting anything of the pumpkin kind because there was just so much all over: Pumpkin bars, Pumpkin waffle/pancake mix, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin pop tarts, just pumpkin everything. I, however, am not a big fan of pumpkin, although I do love pumpkin pie, so when I saw this I had to get it:

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They’re so cute! And I love the alliteration: “Petite Pumpkin Pies, Perfectly Produced” It’s fun and cute, which is perfect because the little pies seem fun and cute. A+ for TJ’s marketing. I would say this goes along with their branding because they’re appealing to people’s fun and like for cute, I mean that’s the main reason I got these. Aside from the fact that I just felt like if I didn’t leave out of there with something pumpkin, I would have probably made them feel like failures with as much pumpkin things they had advertised throughout the store. Branding is about generating meaning, and this box specifically associates itself with fun, cute, and the fall season because everybody knows pumpkin seems to be the flavor of the season (Pumpkin Spice Lattes, anyone?). It’s almost as if you’re joining or participating in a community celebrating the season if you get something pumpkin-flavored.

And finally, I got a frozen bag of Ricotta & Spinach-Filled Ravioli for the days I’m too lazy to cook.

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Doesn’t that look delicious? Also, it was $3.99 and I figure it’s probably cheaper to buy a frozen bag than to get all the ingredients. But then again, buying the ingredients might make more so maybe it comes out even. Either way, I think the fact that I spoke about buying ingredients to make a meal earlier and then get a frozen, already-made meal, can be used to show omnivorousness. In the traditional sense, omnivores are those who take part in both sides of the consumption spectrum. You know, you have highbrow: going to the opera; and you have low-brow: going to the movies. Omnivores may go to the opera one week, and go to the movies the next; or better yet: watch an opera at the movies. Here you have me, who won’t mind working on a gourmet meal in the kitchen or eating out at a five-star restaurant, but also won’t mind just getting a frozen entree and heating it up.

So that’s my Trader Joe’s Food Haul and all for less than $25. Pretty decent.

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I want to elaborate a bit more on their branding and their brand community. As can be seen by the previous picture, they’re big on recycling. They even have a raffle for those who reuse their bags. So this not only encourages recycling, but appeals to those big on helping the environment. It also helps them because when people reuse their bags, they use less of their resources. It’s win for everyone pretty much.  Also, if you noticed, everything I purchased was Trader Joe’s brand, which is not usually the case when you shop at a normal supermarket.  When you go to a normal supermarket, you may be inclined to get their brand products because it’s cheaper, but you tend to stay loyal to the name brands you know because of quality. Trader Joe’s kind of eliminates that completely by not offering name brand products. In fact, the only brands I recognized were a few beer boxes and the Ricola cough drops. While some would find this a bit disconcerting, as I did the first time I entered TJ’s, once people see how crowded the lines are and the fact that people are actually shopping there settles nerves. Also, the employees are extremely helpful and fun, and customer service is key to good branding I think.  Obviously, the prices are a big thing as well, especially in the city where everything tends to be over-priced.  I like Trader Joe’s because it’s not just cheap, but cheap and great quality and I’m pretty sure that appeals to most who shop there.  Also, something else I found interesting was that some items they only sell organic. For example, the canned pumpkin. They only had Organic Canned Pumpkin (apparently “Dogs love it, too!”) so that appeals to people who are health conscious and tend to buy only organic products because they’re able to get organic groceries for a reasonable price.  Overall, I see Trader Joe’s as a melting pot of a bunch of different grocery-shopper consumers. You have appeal for the price-conscious consumer, appeal for the health-conscious consumer, appeal for the environment-conscious consumer, pet-loving consumer; it pretty much appeals to the masses as well as niche groups, so kudos to Trader Joe’s for their branding efforts.

 

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Never realized I said um so much…

This past weekend, I made an excursion to the M2M Asian Convenience Store located on the corner of East 11th St. and 3rd Ave. for a grocery store haul. M2M, which is open from “Morning to Midnight” (sometimes past midnight) seven days of the week, is a great one stop shop for all your Asian food needs. As it brands itself as a convenience store, it attaches this meaning to itself and communicates it to consumers through various means: its exterior print posters and digital signs touting its extended hours and the message “Asian Convenience Store”; the range of items it carries; and its fast-serve, in-store, mini food counter. To give a more detailed description, M2M carries a plethora of Asian goods (mainly Korean and Japanese) from drinks, snacks, condiments, packaged foods, dry/frozen foods, pre-made foods, and produce to kitchen tools/gadgets, and also sells Western products and basic items like toilet paper and detergent. The small food corner serves up made-to-order Japanese favorites like udon, soba, sushi, rolls, donburi, and teriyaki bowls, which can be eaten at the tables inside or ordered as takeout.

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Bourdieu posits that consumers draw from three resources to reproduce social classes: “. . . economic capital (financial resources) . . . social capital (relationships, organizational affiliations, networks), [and] cultural capital [which is] a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge, and practices” (Holt 3). I found economic capital and cultural capital to be relevant to my haul experience. The affordable prices of the items in M2M should appeal to LCC consumers (consumers with low cultural capital resources) who, according to Holt, “. . . are acculturated in materially constrained environments . . .” and prefer items that are reasonably priced (getting a freshly made six piece roll for $5 in NYC is kind of a bargain) (8,10). An LCC consumer at M2M can be, for instance, someone with constrained economic capital such as an NYU college student who wants a cheap, quick meal or snack. Likewise, M2M should appeal to HCC consumers (consumers with high cultural capital resources) who are materially frugal and spend carefully, have racially inclusive tastes and enjoy experiencing eclectic, exotic foods, and favor casual atmospheres (11,13). An HCC consumer at M2M can be, for instance, someone without constrained economic capital such as a non-Asian upper class professional who enjoys being exposed to Asian cuisines and increasing his/her cultural capital by learning about and cooking it in his/her free time.

There is another M2M on Waverly Place between Greene St. and Mercer St., but what is great about this one is that it is located two blocks from my apartment. When I cook authentic Korean food and need special, traditional Korean food items, which are not available in the more popular surrounding grocery stores (like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods), M2M is conveniently there a doorstop away at my disposal.

However, there are still other options such as: Han Ah Reum, a Korean grocery store in Koreatown which has a large selection of Korean food items and brands; Sunrise Mart, a Japanese mart on East 9th St. and 3rd Ave.; and New York Mart, a Chinese market in Chinatown which has a wide variety of Asian produce and packaged traditional Chinese food items. The prices at Han Ah Reum and M2M are around the same, and if Han Ah Reum was within closer walking distance, I would shop there for its larger selection of Korean food items. I don’t bother shopping at Sunrise Mart because it prices steeply and carries very little Korean food items. New York Mart has the widest selection of Asian produce at the lowest prices, which is where I do most of my produce shopping. However, I avoid their made in China packaged food items with the concern that they have been denatured or are of low quality. Therefore, due to proximity, available options, preferences, and varying produce prices, I rely on M2M mainly for packaged traditional Korean food items essential for my cooking (but I know I can also buy fresh produce there – at a higher price – if I ever really need it at that moment). Because there are very few stores where I can purchase the packaged traditional Korean food items I need, if M2M has it, I will buy it regardless of the price. In other words, the “bargain” factor (getting a good value for the item’s price) appreciated by LCCs does not apply to my buying practices at M2M. However, I am still careful about my spending and am materially frugal as I buy only the items I need in the right quantities if they are at the “right value”, and this, coupled with my unconstrained financial/economic capital makes me an HCC consumer at M2M and other grocery stores. And since I buy groceries from other stores, namely Trader Joe’s for its organic produce and New York Mart for its diverse and low priced Asian produce, I am an omnivorous and mestizo consumer, meaning that I have an eclectic collection of tastes and  consume from different cultural categories. I am a health-conscious grocery consumer who purchases Korean, Asian, American, and organic (when I can) food items at lower/middle and middle class markets.

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Now Eastward ho to the packaged traditional Korean food items I selected. (Note: These haul items were not purchased because I already had them at home. But do not fret that my selections are ingenuine – these are all items that I like to have in stock and would purchase if I ran out.)

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The first item is fermented soybean paste (된장 – pronounced doenjang) which is a thick, salty, savory, and slightly tangy paste made from soybeans and a few other ingredients like rice, sugar, and salt. Fermented soybean paste, which ranges in color from light to dark brown, is an essential flavoring ingredient, seasoning, and dipping condiment in many Korean stews, soups, side dishes, and rice wraps. This stuff is very pungent and many non-Koreans consider it an acquired taste which I can understand. As you can see in the picture, M2M had two brands: on the left is Choripdongi (초립동이) and on the right is Haechandeul (해찬들). Without hesitation I was drawn to the Haechandeul brand, because it is a major Korean food brand and that is what my mother used to buy before buying homemade doenjang from a grandma at church, but I digress. Ideally, I would like to get my hands on this homemade doenjang if I could since I think homemade food is always higher in quality, but that is not so feasible when living on the opposite coast. Also, I have never heard of the other brand so I feel more comfortable going with a familiar brand that I have used before. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with the Choripdongi doenjang. My preference here is illustrative of branding, in which brands come to carry more weight or meaning than the products. Branding is the cultural meaning that gets attached to a product or entity by producers, for strategic ends. It is about generating meaning around a product. And it more often than not creates an exchange value (how much we are willing to pay for something) that exceeds the item’s use value (the needs the item satisfies). The Choripdongi doenjang and Haechandeul doenjang have the same use value and may in fact be almost identical, but for me, the Haechandeul brand carries a significant meaning which is why I choose and put my trust in it.  I have come to associate Haechandeul with authentic Korean cuisine and by using its food products, I am instilled with the faith that I can replicate some of my mother’s authentic Korean dishes as a college student with rare access to home cooking. The Haechandeul doenjang has a higher exchange value than the Choripdongi doenjang in my book.

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The second item is dried anchovies (멸치 pronounced myul chee), another extremely important ingredient in Korean cuisine. Like doenjang, dried anchovies can be incorporated into side dishes to be eaten with rice. However, its greater use is in making an umami rich anchovy stock which serves as the base for a countless number of stews and soups. Dried anchovies come in different sizes – small, medium, and large; the small anchovies are often used in side dishes and the medium and large (which are two to three inches long) are used to make a flavorful stock. The first step in making anchovy stock is to degut a handful of anchovies by opening their stomachs. Skipping this step will make for a slightly sour stock. Also, the heads should be left on, as they impart flavor as well. Then you put the anchovies in a large pot of water (this is just the ratio I use all the time) and leave them to soak, anywhere from half an hour to several hours. Next, you bring the pot to a boil with the lid off so as to let any fishy aromas escape. After ten minutes, the anchovies need to be strained out and the stock should be brought down to a gentle boil for twenty more minutes. These are the general steps, but people seem to have their own, slightly different way of making it. For instance, some people leave the heads out and do not presoak, but this results in a less flavorful stock. Also, a thick type of seaweed (다시마, pronounced dashima) can be added to heighten the umami flavor. People who are not familiar with Korean cooking would most likely have no idea what dried anchovies are used for if they came across it in grocery store. However, my knowledge of how to (and how not to) consume them,  skills/experience/practice cooking with them, and taste for them (knowing that they create great flavor) gives me high cultural capital in regards to Korean cuisine compared to those who are unfamiliar with dried anchovies.

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The third item is dried seaweed (미역 pronounced mee yuk). As you can see in the picture, I am holding two different brands. M2M carried only one Korean brand, Ottogi (오뚜기), on the left, and several Japanese brands (one is shown on the right). As with Haechandeul, Ottogi is a brand I am familiar with and would choose since my mother uses some of their food products. However, in the case of seaweed (and any sea algae/seafood for that matter, which includes those dried anchovies above [the left two are Korean brands and the right two are Japanese brands]), I would choose a Korean brand over a Japanese brand even if I was not familiar with the Korean brand. The logic behind my preference is due to my high cultural capital related knowledge of the Japanese tsunami a few years back which resulted in radioactive leakage into Japanese ocean waters. And as with the dried anchovies, my knowledge, skills/experience/practice, and taste surrounding dried seaweed lend me high cultural capital in the field of Korean cuisine. This high cultural capital is manifested in the form of a secondary consumption, which de Certeau describes as a production in the the act of consumption. In other words, I would not just eat the dried seaweed straight out of the package (which goes for the other items I chose), because they are not very palatable as is. They are meant to be consumed after being cooked or changed in some way. For instance, with the dried seaweed “raw material”, I would make Korean seaweed soup. Making this involves soaking the seaweed to return it to its “living” form, then combining and cooking it with other ingredients to produce a delicious soup.

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The fourth item is Korean rice cakes, which are chewy pillows of goodness made by steaming glutinous rice and/or rice flour and then pounding, shaping, and slicing them. As you can see in the picture, the oval shaped rice cakes are made from brown rice, whereas the cylindrical rice cakes are made from white rice. Both taste almost the same, but since I like to make healthy food choices, I will get the brown rice kind when I can. My knowledge regarding healthy, packaged traditional Korean food options also lends me high cultural capital in the field of Korean cuisine.

The oval shaped rice cakes are associated with Korean Lunar New Year (설날, pronounced Seollal) because rice cake soup (떡국, pronounced ddukguk) is traditionally eaten on that day. The cylindrical shaped rice cakes are used to make one of my most favorite Korean dishes, 떡볶이 (pronounced ddukkboki), which consists of rice cakes simmered in a thick, spicy, and slightly sweet, red pepper paste sauce. It is a very popular street food in South Korea and is a comfort food that is enjoyed by children and adults alike. I chose these two items because they recall fond memories of the ritualistic practice of eating rice cake soup with my family on Korean New Year’s and growing up with ddukboki as a special after school snack prepared lovingly by my mother. These sentimental meanings do not intrinsically reside in the rice cakes themselves, but have been created by me. Those who do not partake in traditional Korean holidays or Korean culture most likely would not attach nostalgic meanings to Korean rice cakes, but maybe rather simple meanings such as “tasty Korean food”. For me, Korean rice cakes, do not just undergo a secondary production into rice cake soup or ddukkboki, but they also result in a secondary      (re)production of my Korean (American) identity. Because the memories and meanings I have attached to Korean rice cakes are powerful, the dishes they appear in remind me strongly of my Korean roots.

The majority of Asian goods that M2M carries have been deterritorialized, meaning that they have been taken out of their Asian countries (mainly Korea and Japan) transplanted in an American context. I think that there are two general groups of regular M2M customers. One group consists of LCCs who are not familiar with Asian foods and cuisines and also HCCs who practice combinatorial inventiveness (mixing and matching objects in eclectic and unique ways). This group would most likely appropriate M2M’s products, or add their own meanings to them. For instance, an LCC consumer might unknowingly (due to a lack of knowledge about Asian foods) consume foods items “incorrectly” while thinking that they are consuming it correclty. And an HCC consumer with a good knowledge of Asian foods and cuisines might purposefully create multi-cultural fusion dishes. The second group of regular consumers includes HCCs who have a knowledge of a specific or several Asian cuisine(s)/Asian foods, and are interested in creating authentic dishes. This group would most likely assimilate to M2M’s products, or adapt to their existing meanings (which are made by their producers and communities and cultures that use them). I fit into this latter group, because I consciously buy these traditional Korean food items and use/assimilate to them in their traditional, intended ways to create authentic Korean dishes. This consumption practice is one means by which I connect with and reaffirm my Korean (American) identity.

My reasons for shopping at M2M and the items I typically buy there relate to my habitus, tastes, and lifestyle. According to Bourdieu, habitus is defined as our dispositions or natural inclinations. It is the set of tastes, knowledges, and habits we possess. Though it seems to come from within us, it is in fact shaped during childhood by external factors such as the family (Lury 91). My habitus is what structures my affinity for Korean cuisine and drives me to buy these packaged traditional Korean food items. My taste for, knowledge about, and habit of eating Korean food was shaped during childhood through my continual exposure to Korean food while living under my parents. Although Bourdieu would argue that habitus operates unconsciously, Featherstone would argue in a more updated line of thought that it is consciously shaped through consumption. As I have mentioned, I consciously consume traditional Korean foods because doing so is a way for me to maintain my Korean (American) identity, which I value. And this consumption shapes and reproduces my habitus in a cyclical cycle. Bourdieu also argues that habitus is importantly linked to class position (92). Class position or social class is defined by Weber as “. . . groupings based not only on economic position, but also on noneconomic criteria such as morals, culture, and lifestyle . . .” (Holt 2).  Our tastes, or partialities, are dictated by social class position; they are socially patterned (Lury 90). This means that my habitus and taste for Korean foods such as the items in my haul are derived from social classes such as Korean culture and Korean-American culture. Lifestyle is defined as the set of choices we make to establish cultural identity. Holt writes: “The manifestation of the structuring capabilities of the habitus as tastes and consumption practices across many categories of goods and activities results in the construction of a distinctive set of consumption patterns, a lifestyle (“manifested preferences”) that both expresses and serves to reproduce the habitus” (Holt 4). My habitus structures my taste for and consumption of Korean foods, which give rise to a lifestyle in which I consume and cook traditional Korean foods as one way to connect with my Korean roots; and this lifestyle in turn reproduces my habitus.

My consumption of these haul items would not be a form of conspicuous consumption, which is defined as spending or consuming in a way other people can see in order to improve status. I go grocery shopping by myself and cook inside my apartment. I cook Korean foods more for personal reasons like connecting with my Korean roots and do not feel the need to showcase my “skills” to others. My habitus, social class, taste, and lifestyle in regards to Korean foods and my Korean (American) identity align me within an imagined community of non-Korean and Korean people who have a knowledge of, taste for, and skills/experience/practice cooking with Korean foods. As Korean cuisine increasingly becomes popular, this imagined community will grow, and though the members will never meet or come into contact with everyone in the community, they will remain united through their common appreciation.

Unfortunately my video will not load anywhere online because it’s too large/long. I will keep trying to find a way to get it somewhere.

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The luxury brand Oscar de la Renta is known for high-quality pieces embedded with history and the fashion know-how to allow the ODLR customer insight, and perhaps even pertinence, into the upper stratum of society. My goal in conducting the ODLR haul was to consider the implications of a college student owning luxury products and the way that this translates in the hierarchy of consumer culture and brand communities.

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The first product I chose is a small tube of perfume called Esprit D’Oscar. Interestingly, while Oscar himself is Dominican and the brand is decidedly an American fashion staple, the French named perfume provides an added layer of exoticism which enticed me to purchase said object. In considering the ritual dimensions of consumption as depicted by Celia Lury, rituals such as the daily grooming of using perfume “make visible public definitions of what is judged valuable by general consensus.” Therefore, by purchasing into the ODLR brand in even a small way, I am exhibiting my support of the brand on a daily basis. As ODLR becomes more of a lifestyle luxury brand (they have expanded into children’s wear, beauty, home wears, etc.), we might consider the ways that this perfume contributes to my personal habitus. It might feel natural for me, for example, to put on perfume every day because my mother and grandmother have always done so and in my experience, a more expensive or coveted perfume is a sign that a woman takes care of herself. Perfume brands itself to be the marker of a transition from girl to woman and there is the common conception that all women should have a signature sent. In choosing to make mine the Oscar fragrance, I am commodifying my place in society, expecting to have risen in the ladder because of my higher cultural capital choice.

 

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The second item I chose was a pair of Oscar de la Renta booties from the Fall/Winter 2012 runway show. They were purchased at a sample sale for a fraction of their intended cost, as were the other two garments that follow. While a brand community might defy geographical borders, it is difficult to conceptualize the idea of all purchasers of a brand becoming a community, especially in the luxury sector. Myself, a college student of limited means but with a great interest in fashion, is not necessarily placed in the upper tier of the ODLR brand community solely because I own a few pieces of the product. My purchases into the brand thus far have been distinctly entry-level as I am the aspirational customer of such a luxury brand, not a member of the typical client base. Although I might mention the brand often on social media, and even interact with the ODLR social media outlets, I do not feel as though I am in the same category as the Oscar customer who walks into Saks Fifth Avenue, is on first-name basis with the sales people, and leaves with a $10,000 bill. These shoes represent my foothold in the brand, the small part of it that when I say, “these shoes are Oscar de la Renta,” provides me with a certain credibility; they are not, however, indicative of my general shopping habits, as much as I would like them to be.

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Interestingly enough, I own a pair of Oscar de la Renta sweatpants. They are great quality and were a discard from a Resort collection several years ago, making them the only pair of these pants in existence. As mentioned before, I purchased these pants at a sample sale but being that they were my first Oscar purchase, they remain my favorite. Lury delineates a concept called the “consumer attitude” which indicates that people view life as a series of problems that can be solved through purchasing. Undoubtedly, these pants represent such an attitude. Before I bought these pants, I put them on hold for several weeks, trying to decide if I should spend the $75 on sweatpants that it would cost to obtain the garment. Compared to the average ODLR price point of $900 for pants, it could have been a no brainer but, as mentioned, this seemed exorbitant for my financial situation as a college student. Ultimately, I bought the pants because for those weeks I would think every day about owning them- about owning a part of the brand that I admire more than any other. I chose to purchase them because I would picture myself wearing them and imagine nothing but happiness; as unrealistic as it sounds, I only saw happiness when I imagined my ownership of this piece. Another aspect of this purchase was the idea that I could own such a fashion-forward ODLR piece. I am fascinated by the concept of increasing omnivorousness and feel that this example defines such a quality in consumerism today. In a study conducted in 1992, it was found that this process was evidenced through “status-group politics” or the appropriation of “high-brow” culture by “lower” class and vice versa. The conceptualization of status-group politics in fashion today is paramount in understanding the existence of high fashion street-wear and typically low cultural capital factors, like hip hop, on the runways. The idea of luxury sweatpants is the sort of dichotomy that we are presented with as the gap between high cultural capital and low cultural capital lessons and the lines between the two are blurred.

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The final ODLR piece I chose was this jade velvet pencil skirt, also a runway sample from F/W 12. If it is true that to maintain high cultural capital one must consume creatively and intellectually, I see this skirt as HCC purchase. Social scarcity is found in the uniqueness of a skirt that has been worn by a famous model, walked down the runway and immortalized for posterity in the form of publication in Vogue and WWD. I have to admit that all of this occurred to me in my decision to purchase the skirt. As Oscar himself becomes older and closer to abdicating his fashion throne at the company, he has worked to make the brand a beacon of exclusivity. His most recent fashion show’s guest list was cut by more than half of the usual amount. It is absolutely a status symbol to understand the history behind the garments one purchases and this is why I maintain such a connection to my pieces, whether purchased on sale or not. While I might not fit in directly with the typical Oscar customer, owning his clothing allows me to propel myself up the ladder of my own social group which some might consider more significant than pertaining to the greater brand community. If nothing else, it is high cultural capital, and the individualism, eclecticism and authenticity that define it, at work. 

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-Sophie

So for my haul project, I’ve decided to analyze Apple’s Mac App Store as a site of both consumption and production. Everyday, over fifty million apps are downloaded from the Mac App Store, and over its lifetime a total of  fifty billion plus apps have been download. The App Store is also distinct from most brick-and-mortar stores in that it easily enables new sellers to bring their product online (though often with a substantial cut of the profits for Apple). However, Apple also serves as a barrier between many would-be apps and the market, effectively constraining what consumers have access to consume. Despite this, there are thousands of various apps catered to a wide range of consumers and lifestyles. And consumers have an outlet for production and the creation of collective intelligence in their reviews, feedback, and consumption of products, which ultimately have an impact on the product’s position in the store.

Categories of the App Store

One of the key determinants of consumption is, obviously, what consumer products are being offered for consumption. In the Mac App Store, all apps are categorized into either one or more of 21 different categories. We can see from this screen shot the different sorts of categories available on the store: business, finance, productivity, utilities, etc.

There are multiple products that, like tools in a hardware store, empower consumers as producers. This includes apps in categories such as developer tools, entertainment, graphics & design, lifestyle, music, photography, productivity, utilities, and video.

However, I noticed that most of these empowerment tools involved largely cultural and informational production: photo editing apps, writing apps, etc. For photographers, graphic designers, and musicians especially, there are a large range of specialized apps and tools. But there are no specialized apps for plumbing, for instance, or agriculture. Clearly this store is not meant for certain segments of consumers.

These are also tools that are especially useful for workers in the new service-information industry, making themselves differentiated with résumés, portfolios, organizational skills, etc. The self-finance, productivity, and utility tools also harken to the modern rise of self-employment, and the 24/7 laborer for whom work does not end with their shift.

In contrast to sections on business and finance, there is no section on politics, community organizing, and other such collective endeavors. Admittedly, many tools from other categories can be implemented in the pursuit of collective action, but it’s still an omission which has implications in how people think about their apps. Many people would never consider using graphic design skills to print flyers calling for a boycott of sweatshop products, or a personal organizer to help organize their local unions.

Top Paid Apps

Here we have the page for the Top Paid, Top Free, and (not shown in the image) Top Grossing apps on the market. A feature of many online stores, this is a site where consumers in their consumption are simultaneously involved in production. The list of bestsellers, highest rated apps, and these top lists are the direct result of consumer activity – and it forms a key component of the store.

This is a democratization of digital store fronts happening all across the internet, and less so in brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers collectively determine with their feedback and purchases what apps and products deserve to be highlighted and recognized, and which deserve to be forgotten and ignored.

Reviews of the Things To-Do App

This is the product page of a to-do app called Things, and specifically, this is the customer ratings and customer reviews section. It is here that most of the consumers’ production is made, in the writing of reviews and the assigning of ratings. In addition, particular reviews can be assessed by readers as either helpful or unhelpful, and the store automatically brings to the top those reviews that have been marked as most helpful.

Together, the aggregate consumer opinion serves as its own cultural intermediary between the product and other would-be consumers. The rise of the Mac App Store is similar to how Featherstone described the rise of new institutions for the recording, preserving, and analyzing of cultural products, along with an increase in the number of cultural intermediaries.

And eschewing the typical view of cultural intermediaries, the new aggregate intermediary doesn’t require substantial economic capital, nor any form of credentialed cultural capital in order to evaluate products. However, that is not to say the Mac App Store has no hierarchical intermediaries. Indeed, as can be seen from the categories, Apple plays a significant role as a mediator between consumer and product.

Editors’ Choice Page

Here is a prime example of traditional cultural intermediaries: the Editors’ Choice Page. Apple’s app store editors maintain this page, a curated list of Editors’ Choice apps, and in doing so serve as a cultural intermediary – determining that these apps are the “the most innovative and entertaining” and “the best debuts” amongst the latest releases. As Apple employees (and also being a permanent special page featured on the App Store), they also have a type of credentialed cultural capital as described by Holt.

Personally, I don’t find this page particularly helpful, especially in the absence of any commentary (on the store, anyway) as to why the particular app was chosen as an editors’ choice. However, many people probably place much weight in the evaluations of Apple’s representatives, and thus traffic will be diverted from competitor apps to these editors’ choices.

Editors’ choice apps are also frequently featured on the main banner scroll in the App Store’s home page (not viewed here), ensuring substantial amounts of views and a larger advertisement than most other apps are afforded.

Big Name Games Page

This is another special page designed specifically for “big name games,” and it demonstrates the power that major brands wield. Almost all of the apps featured are major brand names – BioShock, Lego, Lord of the Rings, Total War, Batman, Angry Birds, Star Wars, Grand Theft Auto, Sid Meier, Roller Coaster Tycoon, etc. Although brands are already invested with much power, this page essentially solidifies their dominance.

The loyalty of customers to their video game titles is also highlighted in the customer reviews. Several titles have over a hundred reviews, with some larger names (such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) with more than a thousand reviews – and all the while maintaining average ratings of 4/5 or higher.

Game Center Page

This special page features the Game Center, one of Apple’s projects to create a social experience around their gaming apps. Although perhaps not their most successful endeavor, it is nonetheless an attempt to create a new element of habitus for their consumers. The aim is to make gaming a social experience, so whenever you play a game on an Apple product, ideally it will be connected to the game center. This is a considerable shift in most habits of traditional gamers, though it may be more amenable to the new wave of social network gamers (see: Farmville).

It is also an integration of what is described in Lury’s work as sociality: the creation (or at least attempted creation) of relations between people through their consumer products (in particular, their Apple-approved games). Related to this is the idea of the imagined community, which these multiplayer gamers will certainly be a part of when interacting with one another via the Game Center.

Better Together Page

Another effort to push Apple’s own features, services, and products, the Better Together special page highlights applications which sync with both the Mac and Apple’s mobile products: the iPhone and iPad. The use of apps that operate seamlessly across the Apple line of products creates what some call an “ecosystem” of Apple products and applications. There are similar ecosystems for Android and Google products, and Windows. So in a way, this page is an effort to push Apple’s own brand of ecosystem, and demonstrate to shoppers the opportunities they have with Apple’s other products.

In pushing for an ecosystem of products and apps, however, Apple is also attempting to build a branded habitus for its customers. Our preferences in phone, tablet, computer, and applications all form our habitus: what Bourdieu describes as our set of tastes, habits, and knowledge which determine our supposedly internally produced preferences. But as this page demonstrates, brands like Apple, Google, and Windows are constantly competing to influence the habitus of consumers.

Get Stuff Done Page

Finally, I include here an example of a special page which caters to a particular lifestyle. In this case, the page features “apps for productive people” – singled out here as a particular base of consumers (though, evidently large enough to warrant a special page). There are many such special pages (such as the few shown below), catering to groups of consumers such as photographers, designers, developers, and students. Here, there are multiple different productivity apps featured, with several of them competing against one another. But what matters here isn’t which particular app is consumed, but that the consumer puts the app to productive purposes: prioritizing, organizing, etc; the markers of this particular lifestyle-class.

These lifestyle pages also capitalize on certain imagined communities, for instance, the imagined community of photographers. These lifestyle communities aren’t given much of a forum in the app store – that’s mostly relegated to communities around individual apps – but are nonetheless united in their common consumption of particular apps, their occupations, education, etc.

For this haul, I decided to focus on a strange sort of ‘brand community’ that focuses a little outside of a singular named brand. Among fans of ‘nerdy’ tv shows, video games, or movies, the biggest way to identify yourself as a fan is by using merchandise. This sort of geek ‘brand community’ lead me to study a website called ThinkGeek for this haul.

ThinkGeek is a unique company because it combines geek culture and the geek brand community into a superstore of purchasing.  Nerd culture and geekery is often considered childish. ThinkGeek offers a range of products that are not only geared towards adults, but show a great variation within this brand community for high cultural capital and low cultural capital objects. Because geekery is considered invalid as a community (and often isn’t marketed to or branded correctly), displaying geek-related objects is a form of counterculture and it’s own community of defying societal norms.  Holt said “Our lifestyles are not just about what we consume, but how we consume it”, and the display of this sort of merchandise as a way into this sort of ‘brand community’ is just that description.

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This is a bathrobe modeled after the Star Trek uniforms, which comes in every color from command yellow to science blue. Detail has been paid to even display rank and insignia correctly.  While this product is functional, it is a great example of a HCC ideal; it’s expensive and personalized for an object that could be functional without all the bells and whistles.  By using money to make this sort of product ‘exclusive’, it creates a hierarchy within the community and gives you a heightened cultural capital.

On the other hand, some products are extremely functional and contain more hidden nerdery, such as…

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This lamp is USB powered, but also glows in the dark to provide light wherever you need it. This item is extremely functional, especially for smaller spaces (many small apartments and homes have inconveniently placed outlets, or very few of them, making a USB or battery lamp ideal).

Some products, however, show an upper-class swing just in terms of laziness, such as…

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Titled the “Anti-Laundering Kit”, this expensive pack of geeky t-shirts implies that it’s easier to buy new objects than it is to reuse old ones, giving a large HCC presence to laziness. This company wants to make a lifestyle out of their product, and this promotes the idea of always needing to buy more of their product, instead of going anywhere else. Other brands may have t-shirts, but this one promotes the geek stereotypical style; the idea of geek laziness, and better things to do (like video games or comics) than taking care of yourself. The company wants to present itself as a figure to take care of others, and make them feel at home with the products and brand as a whole.

My favorite example of needless items just for the HCC ideal, however, is this replica toy they offer:

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This toy is modeled after a machine from a popular video game series, Portal.  This is simply a toy version, and only lights up and can be decorated. For over $100, it isn’t at all functional but only shows off a level in the community that can be achieved through money. By being of a high class, the cultural capital gained can be displayed through money, and status can quite literally be bought.

 

 

 

For my haul video I selected four articles of clothing from Lulu Lemon. The four items are a pair of leggings, a sweatband, a sweatshirt and a tank top.  I will first describe the items and explain why I purchased them, followed by an analysis of all four products in terms of the vocabulary discussed in class.

1. My first product that I will be discussing is the “Run Inspire Crop.”  These are athletic leggings designed for running or other intense cardio sports.  They are black leggings with green and white polka dot detailing on the waistband and bottom section.  I purchased this pair of leggings because it was the best option for spinning, which is my exercise of choice and also indicative of my lifestyle.

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2. My second product is a neon yellow racerback tank.  This tank is not specific to any sport but is acceptable to wear for yoga, running or any other sport.  Once again, I selected this shirt to wear during spinning.  I picked the neon yellow color because I thought that it was unique and different; a quality that is common amongst High Cultural Capital Individuals.

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3. My third product is a grey cropped hoodie with slight tie-dye detailing.  I purchased this item on sale.  I purchased this item because I wanted a jacket to wear to and from spin class.  I picked grey because it is a neutral color and would match with some of my more colorful lulu lemon outfits such as the shirt I just mentioned.

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4. My final product that I will be discussing is a neon yellow and white striped sweatband.  I also purchased this product to wear during spin class.  I bought it to color-coordinate with my neon yellow racerback tank top and because I wanted a unique style.

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Lulu Lemon is an excellent example of how companies target consumers based on lifestyle choices.  The company has changed the way consumers view both the act of exercising as well as exercise apparel.  Furthermore, Lulu Lemon was born out of the owner’s inspirational experiences performing yoga; a sport that combines spirituality and athleticism.  This combination of exercise as a spiritual experience as well as for health purposes has translated into how lulu lemon markets their clothing.  Lulu Lemon’s philosophy seems to go hand in hand with several qualities of High Cultural Capital individuals.  Cultural Capital is defined as “sedimented knowledge and competence required to make distinctions and value judgments.”   Furthermore, having cultural capital gives one access to that cultural class.  The products I have selected from lulu lemon are typical products purchased by a High Cultural Capital individual.  Aside from the high price of the products, one way in which these items show High Cultural Capital consumption is that there is a value on formal aesthetics rather than material aesthetics.  For instance, some of the clothes such as the sweatband are not necessarily made out of the best moisture absorbent material, but I selected the sweatband based on the aesthetic qualities.  In addition, the products are also indicative of high cultural capital because they stress individuality, aesthetics, and emphasize leisure as self-actualization.  Furthermore, the products toy with the idea of use value versus exchange value.  Specifically, while the leggings and the other pieces of apparel probably have the same use value as exercise gear from a non-famous brand, consumers are willing to pay the higher price because they are lulu lemon branded clothes.  What makes these products and lulu lemon, as a brand unique is that they target a specific lifestyle; in my case, the products I selected fit within my lifestyle framework of spinning.  Furthermore, by buying the lulu lemon products I’m buying into a lifestyle, community, identity and culture.  This concept is similar to what de Certeau claimed when he said, “secondary production hidden in the process of its [an object’s] utilization.” These products play into Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism and the ritual acts of consumption.  Commodity fetishism is “ over-investing emotionally in the importance of a commodity.”  Exercising is no longer just about the act of getting in shape and staying healthy; there is now commodity fetishism with athletic attire because consumers today have placed extraordinary value on their appearance.  These products represent more than just work out gear, they represent “looking good and feeling good.”  Therefore, the act of consuming stylish exercise apparel has become part of the ritualized routine of getting prepared to exercise.  Furthermore, these products also play into the concept of aestheticization of everyday life.   Specifically, these upscale exercise products give aesthetic appeal to otherwise mundane everyday life activities such as going to the gym.  Overall, these products represent the ideal version of a healthy and fabulous lifestyle and the belief that consumption is the pathway to achieving one’s ideal cultural identity. 

 

 

 

For my Haul experiment, I ate at a Vegan restaurant to soak in the food and ethos of Veganism. (Note: I’m not Vegan. Not even close.) I got carrot juice, a salad and a Mexican bowl (pictured). The food itself is less important than the ethos of Vegan culture. Based on my experience, I’ll explore what that ethos can mean for some people who subscribe to Veganism.

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Many Vegans choose the diet for its health benefits, which evidence an overall lifestyle that places a large emphasis on health and wellness. This most likely includes a focus on fitness, such as yoga or running. Another popular reason for being Vegan is a moral opposition to consuming animals or financing the meat industry: the activist reasoning. Individuals who subscribe to either reasoning/ lifestyle are traditionally politically and culturally liberal. Thus, we see the structure of an “imagined community (Canclini).” Veganism is an element of the lifestyle of individuals in the same network, whether that network is health and wellness, animal rights activism or something else. Veganism is a behavior characteristic of broader subcultures.

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Veganism as part of an “imagined community” relates to Douglas and Isherwood’s statement “commodities are good for thinking.” Being a Vegan represents something beyond just a dietary choice. It’s a branding of social consciousness and, in some cases, self-righteousness. It is an encoding one transmits that others decode to be more aware of how you govern your life – that of a health or socially conscious person.

This encoding also relates to Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption” because there is often an economic barrier to entry to being a Vegan. Sometimes people use Veganism as a guise to assert their status, in that they have the luxury of exercising that level of health without the necessity to rely on lower-cost food items.

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This can be further examined by considering Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus. Veganism was once an element of the sub-cultural wave of the ‘new-age’ culture of holistic health. At this point, however, the holistic lifestyle has been regurgitated and repurposed through so much media and education that it is a fixture of mainstream culture. For example, publicly traded corporations such as Lululemon have succeeded by branding themselves as a lifestyle company aligned with this group. We see the commoditization of the holistic lifestyle here. Young people today were not alive during the rise of ‘new-age’ holistic health culture (circa Dr. Andrew Weil, 1970s) so the lifestyle Veganism is a part of has been socialized into their sensibilities, taste and consciousness; their habitus. It could be argued that, as a result of this mainstream socialization, Veganism is losing its “cultural capital” as it becomes even more widespread and common place.

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(Pricey to maintain for most.)

   For this blog post, I chose beauty items (all purchased from Sephora) that literally shape my lifestyle and create this concept of “aethetisization” of my everyday life.  These products all contribute to personal branding and allow me to appear as the person I want to be or I think I am.  As we discussed in class, the process of “aesthetisizing” is essentially adding intangible value to an object or a concept that can usually stand on its own.  

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  The first product I have here is the “Skin Renewal Mist” from Amore Pacific.  I use this religiously as if it were my job.  This mist claims to “provide immediate and long lasting hydration and skin radiance,” which, even if it didn’t, I wouldn’t doubt for a second in my mind.  Why? Recently, this brand has been gaining immense popularity for caring enough to grow and harvest its own green tea in Jeju Islands and channeling these ingredients into high-performing skincare products (not to mention, the gorgeous Sienna Miller being the endorser).  This brand has been so extremely fetishized through ad campaigns and publicity, that I wouldn’t for a second question the effectiveness of this mist.  Even just reading the ingredients and looking at the bottle makes me feel like my skin is getting more hydrated and vibrant. Having been an Amore Pacific customer for a while now, I can seriously testify to the emotional investment I have for this brand.  If I run out of this mist or any other product, I HAVE to purchase a new one the day of or I freak out and feel like my lifestyle has been suddenly shaken.  I can honestly just go out to a CVS or Duane Reade and buy the same product from a different company (for cheaper too!) but that factor of reliability/trust and emotion I have given whole-heartedly to Amore Pacific doesn’t allow me to purchase anything else.  And this kind of desperation is where I can say that the exchange value way exceeds the use value of this product. I know, so pathetic.

 

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  The next product is a tinted sunscreen and a “Face Treatment Oil” both by Clarins.  I wanted to combine the commentary for these two essentials because I never usually use one without the other.  First off, I don’t really wear make up that often because I’m lazy and also because I have really sensitive skin so I need to be careful of what I apply on my face/body.  However, I do wear it has become my lifestyle to wear sunscreen everyday, regardless if its rainy and gloomy, and even apply it several times throughout the day if I feel that I have sweated it off, etc.  Clarins is a brand that I have used throughout my past and for that I have it has won my trust so I though I would purchase a highly popularized tinted sunscreen so that I could kill two birds with one stone and also use it for coverage.  The face oil is a product that I bought intentionally to use with the sunscreen.  Knowing that I have drier skin, I thought adding a drop or two of the face oil into the sunscreen would be more appropriate and comfortable for my skin, which is an example of combinational inventiveness.  As Holt says, it is important to highlight the difference between objectified cultural capital and embodied cultural capital, which emphasizes the “how” in using an object versus just having the object.  By combining the two products, I feel as though I have personalized these mass cultural objects that are now unique to me.  Also I think that in this particular case, I have shown HCC qualities because I had researched beforehand and known the traditional uses of each product, which in turn allowed me to be a connoisseur and showcase my personal style of application.  

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   The last and final beauty product I chose is a Nars “Yu” Satin lip pencil.  I mentioned above that I don’t ever really wear make up and as you can see, I ironically purchased a bright pink lip pencil which is totally out of character.  Looking back at the time of my purchase, I guess this was me unconsciously being an omnivorous consumer.  I think the idea of adding something colorful to my beauty product collection was exciting to me.  And the overwhelming shelves of all different sorts of products at Sephora, almost always never let you leave without shopping for something you don’t need, yet again.  However, this omnivorous purchase inevitably led me to only apply a smidge of the pink and combine it with a nude lip shine/chapstick that I was more comfortable with.  My use of combinational inventiveness, again, gives me the option to still be myself even with a product that is out of character.  Everything can be customized to your own liking if you have the certain knowledge of not only the product or service, etc., but most importantly of yourself.  Understanding your own preferences and likings will help create consumer identity that will be unique to only you.  

Haul Video at Target

This week, I went on a shopping trip to the Urban Outfitters east village location. I was on a mission to find a comfortable flannel button down, and although I didn’t find it, I did come across a couple other items that I really liked.

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The first item was an off-white, flowy shawl. I was drawn to it because it reminded me of something a “flower child” or “hippie” would have worn in the 1960s or 70s. Or, at least what I know about that era in time. I was born many years after the period that this piece is channeling, so my understanding of that culture is very mediated and, as a result, romanticized. Urban Outfitters knows this, because the majority of their customers were born around the same time I was, and they have played up the nostalgia factor to make consumers like me feel as though we are embracing a particular moment in history. This shawl was no doubt designed with the “hippie” culture in mind, but more specifically, a media-curated version of that culture.

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The next item I found was a black faux-leather mesh skirt. This really stuck out to me, more than almost anything else in the store, because it is so far out of my comfort zone when it comes to fashion. My set of tastes is usually very feminine and quirky, so purchasing an item like this was very much a departure from my consumer identity. Including a darker, edgier product in my repertoire was an omnivorous move for me as a consumer, because it came from a different cultural category than my other purchase. The creme-colored, cotton, embroidered shawl conveys a much different cultural meaning than the black, pleather mini skirt. In purchasing the latter, I was trying to show my eclecticism as a consumer.

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I absolutely love dresses, and lately I’ve been trying to mix things up a bit with regard to my personal style, so this item was a great find! This was a very deliberate purchase on my part, in the sense that I bought it for the sole purpose of being an eclectic consumer. I like the idea of mixing different styles and putting seemingly opposite pieces together – for instance, one of my favorite looks is a girly dress paired with a vintage leather jacket. In buying this flannel, plaid dress I was exhibiting high cultural capital, in the sense that I valued the individuality and exoticism of the item over anything else. I made the purchase with the intention of exhibiting combinational inventiveness when it comes to style, which is very typical of an HCC consumer.

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This floral, loose fitting shirt (dress?) was definitely my favorite item from the shopping trip, probably because it best fits my usual style. It is cut really nicely, and fits very comfortably, which I always appreciate. I also really like that it is a versatile piece, something I can wear on a number of different occasions. I also must mention the floral pattern, which I can rarely say no to! This was definitely a low cultural capital purchase, because I chose the item primarily for its comfort and practicality. This was also a less conscious purchase than the previous ones; this felt like a very natural pick for me, because it fit so well with my personal style and habitus.

It is very interesting to think about these purchases, and my shopping excursion, as a collective entity. All of these items, but particularly the first two, are very indicative of the store’s brand image. Urban Outfitters definitely positions itself as an individualistic, eccentric brand. Many of their items, such as the mesh skirt and the embroidered shawl, are essentially appropriations of glamorized sub-cultures. The store likes to take counter-culture fashion, like the “punk” and “hippie” looks, and bring it into the mainstream culture.


-Madeline

 

My haul video for CCI. Enjoy!

 

Here are some additional notes about my haul  that was left out in the video:

(4:45) Habitus is a set of tastes, knowledges, and habits an individual possesses and feels very natural to us.  We do things out of habit and do not know where the source is from, but just live it.  We often inherit a set of tastes growing up in our childhoods by families and groups so deeply that it seems like it comes from within, but it actually comes from outside.  In my video I talk about the habitus of dressing more conservatively because of the values my grandmother instilled in me.  As an independent adult, I still make decisions to follow that part of my habitus because it is so deeply imbedded in me and the decisions I make of choosing what to wear everyday.

(14:30) I’d also like to mention that someone with LCC, like juicystar07, chose items from Forever 21 that are made with cheaper quality material and are less fashionable, conservative pieces.  Her pieces were kind of typical and ordinary whereas mine were more unique and fashion-forward.  Forever 21 is a large store and has so many items that the distinction between HCC and LCC choices can be clear.  My goal while shopping at Forever 21 is to find items that are of a higher quality (whether that be the structure of the piece or the thickness/durability of the fabric) and design that someone wouldn’t be able to tell it was from there.  Many times my peers are surprised when I say I got an item from Forever 21 because what I choose doesn’t imply that.  However, the items juicystar07 got I think anyone could clearly notice those were bought at Forever.  I do recognize, though, that I am still shopping at Forever and the items I purchase can only be of a certain level of HCC because the prices and manufacturing is not up to par compared to Nordstrom or TopShop, for example.

Lastly, all of the clothes that I bought I would feel comfortable wearing in many situations: job interviews, class, out to dinner or to a bar.  Versatility is important for HCC whereas for LCC have clothes for specific occasions like church clothes, work clothes and lounge clothes.  HCC want to look presentable at all times and choose clothes to wear as part of the constant expression of their identity on an individual basis.

When it comes to crafts, there is one store that truly dominates the market, and that is Michaels Arts & Crafts. Now sure Jo-Ann Fabrics tries to compete, but Michaels dynamic store captivates its consumers through layout, product options, and the overall experience of becoming and staying a Michaels’ customer.

 

Michaels Arts & Crafts turns the “hidden” secondary production, that de Certeau found in the process of a consumer object’s utilization, into an explicit philosophy that is encouraged in the store’s consumption process. Take for example the Styrofoam products. The cones, spheres, and other geometric pieces serve minimal utility value in their purchase. They need to be transformed by the consumer. These Styrofoam pieces become a template and the raw materials for the individual purchaser’s reality. From a child’s school project, to an architect or designer’s model, to an entrepreneur’s artisan craft business, the Styrofoam only gains value and meaning in its repurposing and in the consumer’s production.

 styrofoam

The section of yarn and stitching is an undecipherable abyss to the novice consumer. But to the participatory consumer, the passion of knitting, sewing, embroidering, and other needle based hobbies allows to not only enter into an imagined community (Canclini), that bonds them to other participants, but also to a literal community that Michaels helps facilitate. The store puts out project ideas that encourage consumers to buy products and create a finished project that the collective of consumers could all do simultaneously. Also, Michaels hosts knit nights and classes to not just teach the technique but to foster the lifestyle of knitting as a communal hobby.

 yarn

Michaels’ products require the consumer to invest their emotions and turn the simple use value into a personal, meaningful exchange value. The jewelry department capitalizes on this idea of commodity fetishism. It would be cheaper and faster to buy a bracelet from Claire’s at the local mall, but when spending the money and investing the time in the tools, materials, storage, and other products from Michaels’ jewelry section, the consumer transforms the consumption process into a personalized experience. Whether they are making the jewelry to profit from or just crafting jewelry to fit their own fashion needs, the Michaels’ jewelry department encourages consumers to become their own producers and inject their personal tastes and their emotional investments into their jewelry making.

jewelry

Veblen’s idea of “conspicuous consumption” is rejected in Michaels’ bridal section. The glamour and conspicuousness that shows like David Tutera’s My Fair Wedding perpetuate is replaced with a more homey, self-sufficient, and artisan-like bridal décor. The Michaels’ bridal section does not boast flashy, pricey extravagant products, but rather encourages economical resourcing and crafted personalization. The consumer (the bride) is encouraged to activate her combinational inventiveness. She can purchase invitations from the bridal section, add a personal touch with stickers or stamps, and then wrap them in her own choice and mixture of ribbons, twine, and finishing.

 bridal

 ribbons  stickers

In contrast, the baking department at Michaels looks to encourage its customers to consume conspicuously. From buying and displaying the “Ultimate Cake Decorating Set” to utilizing the decorative pearls and edible glitter, Michaels provides a variety of consumer goods to bring the world baking into the crafty consumers kitchen. The baking section looks to entice its consumer to buy these products to produce skilled baked goods that allow for the consumer to display their knowledge and expertise in the precision of baking. The baking depart also allows the consumer to creatively express their culture and lifestyle in a deliberate outward fashion.

baking accessories  baking

Reflecting Bourdieu’s ideas of taste as a tool to distinguish between classes, Michaels paint department literally delineates between skill levels and the taste and style of the art products one must consume. Ranging from Academic, to Artist, to Professional, these categories are how the Michaels company tells their consumers how they should view their skill sets and in turn how they should view their consumption habits. This distinction can become problematic by wrongfully separating consumers into categories that are too broad to not accurately describe a craft-centric consumer’s eclectic knowledge and varied skill level throughout Michaels’ departments.

artist

Within the stores baking and scrapbooking department, Michaels utilizes cultural intermediaries to bring the established prestige and creativity of their respective industries into their brand and to subtly establish a hierarchy within their products. Food Network star Duff Goldman lends himself to baking products that are both functional and playful. Duff Goldman brings an edginess to cake decorating, and Michaels looks to transform that into their brand ideology. Michaels looks to turn cake decorating in an accessible, manageable, and interactive event that allows their consumer to express their creativity and feel the desire to try and thus buy more products. Similarly, Martha Stewart lends her name to an entire line of scrapbooking products. Her elite status and craft empire gives the Michaels’ consumers the inspiration needed to become the Martha of their own life. These cultural intermediaries elevate their products to a culturally elite good that consumers will buy in order to feel and achieve a higher a higher cultural capital and social prestige.

 Duff  martha stewart

While Michaels prides their brand on allowing consumers to craft their own lifestyle and create their own meaning from their store’s goods, there is one element that seems to counter their DIY, personalization mission. Their custom floral department prepares floral arrangements and centerpieces that enable consumers to passively disregard the consumer’s production element that exists throughout the rest of Michaels. But this one department can hardly compete with the glue guns, the duct tape, the glassware, the woodcrafts, and even just stickers and stamps that allow the consumers to create and produce new products, meanings, and creativity from within the craft store. Michaels Arts & Crafts looks to unite the lifestyles of crafting consumers and create an environment in which the consumer is celebrated and is given the ability and power to command their consumption and present their taste and identity through their production and experience of crafts.

       custom floral

Field Trip to Best Buy

Hope all of you guys had fun on your field trips! If you click on the photo, it should take you to the rest of the pictures from our Best Buy trip.

Image

Hi ya’ll! If you want to check out more of the stealthy and slightly blurry photos that my group took at Think Coffee, click on the dropbox link below:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/scqcrq4g8n718ri/FahQRICrBZ

 

See you in class!