The Human Development Index and the Totalization of Capitalist Progress

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(Not so fast Emma!)

The Human Development Index is used by the United Nations and many scholars in economics, global studies, political science, and other disciplines to measure the development of people and countries across the globe. Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize for his work in creating it, and it is seen as a wonderful tool for social scientists working in the field of development. The index measures three categories; life expectancy, literacy rates, and income, in order to determine if a country or place is very highly developed, highly developed, medium developed, or lowly developed. These three categories are proxies for the general heath of people and the strength of the health care system, the education levels of a country, and the economic standing of people in a country. Fluctuations in this index are used to justify NGO and governmental programs around the world if programs can be tied to the improvement of literacy or health or income.

What is problematic about this index is the way it structures ‘development’ around institutions and measures that are highly valued in the west, but not necessarily by people universally. In the picto-graph above from the HDI’s Wikipedia page, it is clear how western nations are favored by its value system. As a result, countries with poor Human Development Index ratings receive a lot of attention from a variety of groups trying to improve their indexical rating, without ever considering if what they are doing has any value to the people whose community they are changing. While increases in life expectancy are something that everyone might be on board with, the other two are very focused on Western styles of learning and working. The improvement of a community’s literacy rate may actually take away from the resources that would be available to educate people in something more important, like maintaining and archiving oral histories and local traditions, but instead English as a second language teachers will be brought in so that the HDI will go up. Income as well is a very tenuous way to measure quality of life, as giving the poorest people in the country terrible jobs that pay okay will bump up scores, but may keep families apart and lead to health problems.

Overall, the Human Development Index has been used many times by academics and activists as a form of self-satisfaction. It is a way to put labels on how much a community was helped or not by a group of outsiders and officials, and regulates the ways that countries are allowed to grow, always trying to live up to a western standard that has been established as superior and might not even be what many countries would like to achieve. Like Empire, the Human Development Index is a way to conceive of the whole world under a singular framework that draws “medium” and “low” countries to become more like the “very high” west, and a way for westerners to justify thinking very highly of themselves.

Fixity and Flow: Some Final Thoughts

(Aha! I was hoping to be the last blogger!)

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To “round out” our blogging experience for this term, I wanted to share with you all a tidbit of wisdom passed on to me by one of my teachers in my undergrad years. The course itself was Globalization and Communiation, not completely unrelated to this course. On the very first day of class, the professor started off by writing the following message on the board:

“You can’t stand still on a moving train”

At the time, I found this statement to be very confounding. In principle, I understood what he was saying. When  something is moving, remaining still will move you as well, and a desire to remain in the same place will require you to take some sort of action. However, the implications of this statement are still being regularly revealed to me in classes such as these.

In our last class, I gave a conference paper presentation on Language Planning as an active tool of biopower in Quebec. Ten minutes prior to said presentation, I hit the “print” button, and thought, “There. I’m done.”

Oh the foolishness of such a statement! The very next morning, as I fed my news junkie habit, a story popped up discussing the very French Langauge laws I had discussed the night before. This story outlines the details of a group of a Quebec buisnesses (including multinational giant WalMart) who have taken the issue of English-language signage to Quebec’s Superior Court. The court has subsequently ruled that the language laws have overstepped their boundaries, but the practicalities of what a rectification may include has yet to be identified. To counter this decision, French language groups have started a boycott, calling on the people of Quebec to shun the stores involved. As I was passionately giving my speech, the fabric of the very topic I confessed to have a certain degree of knowledge of was changing under my very feet.

You can read the article here: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/04/10/quebec-language-police-dealt-blow-as-court-rules-major-retailers-dont-have-to-change-their-storefront-signs/

What is the point of my retelling of this story? There are so many times, like the end of a class or the end of a blog post, when we think, “Ah. I am done”, breath a sigh of relief and proceed to move on. Yet, just as my professor alluded to all those years ago, we do not live in a world where standing still is an option. All of our blog posts, comments and final papers reflect but a brief slice of time, and time has this strange way of always moving on whether we pay attention to it or not. I think that this course has been one where we were all  challenged to rethink both our positions and positionalities towards the world as a whole in a way that allows us to better understand where we fit in to this amorphous space around us. Ans as such, may we all strive for a time when we don’t say “Ah. I’m done”, but rather, “Ah. I’m only just beginning”.

And so, I sign off. Farewell to all, and to all a good night!

Flows: A CS615 Mini-Conference

Moving Bodies: International and Exchange Students mobilities across Borders

Christine Orlowski, Communication Studies Department, WLU

Student movement within contemporary Western academic spheres constantly flows due to the increased ability to travel abroad for educational purposes. International and exchange students create new communities within academic institutions blurring cultural borders. Forms of transnational student mobility allows engagement with different cultures from a personal perspective situated towards interconnectedness. Studying abroad indicates that students move locations in order to gain knowledge within a global context. I am particularly interested in the intersections between international students and diasporic communities, as students who study abroad interact with and affect different cultures. Identifying factors that contribute to the mobility of international and exchange students while exploring their placelessness (Adey, 2010) reveals contrasts and parallels with their experiences of the home as they move abroad for university and which influences their experiences. This paper looks at student mobilities as they study abroad at different educational institutions, and at how their movements affect and are affected by the cultures they interact with.

Viva La Biopower: Language Planning and the Rise (and Fall?) of Quebec Nationalism
 
Emma Van Weerden, Communication Studies Department, Wilfrid Laurier University
 
In August, 1977, the Charter of the French Language (Charte de la Langue Francaise) was brought into effect. More commonly referred to as Bill 101, this piece of legislature stands as one of the quintessential examples of language planning: the deliberate attempts, most often by a government, to influence the use of language by a certain community. Such language planning commonly linked to nation building, standing at odds with contemporary empire expansion. With language being billed as one of the fundamental aspects of culture, the seemingly innocent synchronization of breath, vocal folds, teeth and tongue very quickly becomes entangled in efforts to create a unified sphere of influence. As such, this conference paper examines language planning and control in Quebec to argue that its successes in maintaining a “Nation within a Nation” can be attributed to the Foucaudian notion of biopower. The paper situates the province of Quebec within academic discourses on the tension between nationalism and notions of empire before examining the position of language and language planning within this scenario. Next, the notion of language planning is examined in the theoretical framework of biopower, with deviation in the form of “foreign language” being examined as a residual threat. The findings of this paper take on special relevance in the aftermath of a Quebec provincial election. With the reigning Parti Quebecois campaigning on the promise of separatism, it appeared that the struggle for an autonomous nation was poised for success. However, an overwhelming Liberal victory makes it evident that the results of this election will speak volumes about the future of the francophone “empire”. 

The Globalized Behaviour of Business

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             The end of our educational journey is soon coming to end. And for those that are stopping at a Master’s degree, will be entering the real world come 5 months. For me, my ‘ideal’ real world would be to find a job within the branding and marketing industry, and have the opportunity to travel across the world for it. Many people do get to experiences these lucky circumstances, like travelling to China or India. But in business, it has become a normative practice of learning cross-cultural behaviours of the environment they are entering, specifically pertaining to the business environment. Business behaviour in a collectivist landscape, such as India, highly differs from our Western-individualistic one.

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          Cultivating a global perspective toward the diversity and multiculturalism should always start with an understanding of a country’s cultural values, social structures, manners and perceptions. From an Eastern perspective, the organizational and managerial culture in countries like China, Japan and India, place focus on the development of long term business relationships, where mutual respect is at its core. A collectivist nation puts the welfare and growth of a corporation ahead of the personal wants and desires of the individual executive. This mirrors Asian pedagogy towards counterfeit culture, where it argues that a single individual should not benefit from something and should be made part of the public domain. From a Western perspective, companies tend to maintain a culture, where open door policies are promoted and informal business environments are welcomed. Part of our Western culture is to promote individualism throughout the business landscape and develop people into being task-oriented and focused on getting things done. Western (i.e American) individualism is characterized by an individual natural right and freedom to autonomy and self-government. This notion has then evolved into the current corporate paradigm of America and as a result, lacks in the cultivation of true cross-cultural business relationships.

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              Demonstrating to potential business partners that you have background knowledge of their customs and are aware of their local cultures shows a high regard of respect to them, which can make it a higher possibility of conducting business. In North America, while it is a very common manner to shake hands with individuals as a means of greeting one another or agreeing to a deal being made, it can be seen as a sign of disrespect in certain Asian countries. Therefore, when wanting to make the first step in a business partnership, in lets say, Japan, it would be a more customary and respectful action to greet the host with a bow, as they would to you. Another interesting custom that I read about within Japanese business culture is the esteem that is held for business card exchanges. In many cases, Westerners will hide business cards in their wallets or pockets and just hand one over to another individual at will. But in Japan, business cards are held in very expensive business-card cases and are sometimes presented to another on a nice platter. The quality and condition of your business card speaks much about how you intend to conduct yourself and business. Therefore, when receiving a business card, thank the other person and offer a quick bow. Here is a link to see other tips on business etiquette in Japan, should you be going.

In the end, what do you all think of this? If you were in a position right now to travel to Asia for business, is this something you would have even thought to initially research? Would it alter your own perception on conducting business with countries and cultures outside of North America?

 

It’s a “Big Brother” World

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I am constantly trying to make connections between themes and perspectives explored in my Global Cultures course and my own life experiences (and maybe bad habits!) Discussions about power and resistance with reference to video games were explored in this week’s class. How do these elements appear and function in reality television?

For those Big Brother fans out there, it is easy to see how themes of power and control are enforced within the game structure. As a group of strangers are restricted to living in a house with several cameras on 24/7, following the instructions of the production team and strategizing with formed alliance members, they are faced with the challenge to avoid weekly evictions. Limited on where they can go and what they can consume the houseguests are under constant surveillance. All rules of the house must be followed in order to ensure the contestants are still in the running for the grand prizes—money and a car. The outside audience is able to watch all the movement inside these quarters through the transmittance of live-feeds.

What role does resistance play in this program?

The houseguests are often seen pushing the boundaries in an attempt to defy the rules of the game. By speaking to other contestants about private conversations held with production, not wearing their personal microphones or by not adhering to given punishments it becomes very apparent that the participants are seeking a bit of self-control and agency. It is at these moments, a Big Brother voice comes over a house intercom and reprimands the individual perpetrator. Every wrong action has a consequence.

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With reference to our conversation about video games, the ability for resistance is still circumscribed by authority in this television program. As Dr. Nick Couldry, a Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, writes about the format of the show, “It polices any differences of interpretation about what that “reality” should be, ruling out behavior excluded by the production choices it makes and ruling in the “positive” selves that it presumes the public wants to see and the contestants want to display.” (“Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture” p. 96)

 What power do viewers have as consumers of this game?

 In discussing the live-feeds component of this show, themes of global flows and consumption of the ‘other’ discussed in this course can be referenced. For the American broadcast of this program, viewers from multiple countries are able to purchase access to these feeds. As these spectators partake in this viewing in the comforts of their home, they are engaging in the instant consumption of the ‘other’. There is a thrill in receiving immediate transmission of these players’ behaviours.

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I am most interested in the interaction process between viewers and the houseguests. Presented with the opportunity to vote on different food items, challenges, and nominations online, the audience is able to partake and enforce power within the game. People are able to control the lives and actions of the participants from different regions. A distant power is exercise through a click of a button.

The format of Big Brother has been adopted in approximately sixty countries. It has developed into a global phenomenon where power and resistance are in conflict.

Would you voluntarily choose to forfeit your self-control to partake in this television experiment?

 

Pirates Invade Global Village

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In the globalizing media world, illegal media piracy is running rampant. But, a new band of pirates has arrived in the village – the TV pirates – and quite possibly they may be pretty good guys. Now, media piracy is illegal and I’m not promoting criminal activity here! What I am suggesting is that the flagrant practice of TV piracy reveals an insight which gives appreciation for positive emerging relationships between global media and global cultures. In ‘capturing’ television for unrestricted viewing by eager national (and increasingly, global) publics, TV pirates are repurposing the medium to the fast-moving and quickly assimilating global media space. Even more, TV piracy is opening doors for a new modality of cultural sharing crossing borders, time and space. It presents interesting possibilities in the future study of global cultural exchange.

Lisa Parks’ perspective helps to appreciate the opportunity. In Falling Apart: Electronics Salvaging and the Global Media Economy, Parks presents a compelling case for more reflective scholarly study of rapidly aging technologies on our hi-tech planet. Her chapter identifies risk and reward in managing cast-off tech hardware at the end of its useful life, and also much to be learned in the mining of old media caught in the tailwinds of the volatile digital era. To demonstrate a global imperative for the residual nature of old media, Parks reviews several examples of repurposing old technologies. This includes the management of: creative capital (re-using e-waste components as junk art); economic capital (avoiding human and environmental damage in disposing of hazardous e-waste); and cultural capital (of which TV content, like the program Junkyard Wars, shows merit to raise awareness for a salvage mindset). She notes, “Junkyard Wars reminds us that ‘television’ itself, as a mode of production and an object of study can and should be constituted in different ways” (p. 45). In connecting television to materialism, Parks concludes television is irreducible and we should “reassemble its parts in new ways that will help us insinuate and materialize it within debates and discussions about new media” (p. 46).

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This brings me to a lovable Disney pirate, Jack Sparrow. In the worlds of fantasy and reality, there are not-so-bad pirates (like Sparrow) and very bad pirates (think of the movie Captain Phillips!). The global media world is no different. New forays of Internet practice and digital applications have given birth to consumer media piracy… which is unauthorized copying and circulation of media products. Media piracy is a growing concern in the entertainment industry that is difficult to contain due to the free range afforded by the Web. It is illegal due to copyright infringement, and particularly jeopardizing economic models for music and motion picture sectors. This is where the bad media pirates roam.

Enter the TV pirate – a slightly different breed. TV pirates are not trying to cheat the media system in quite the same way. Unlike music and cinema, television has long-carried the social imaginary of a ‘free‘ public medium. Consequently, TV pirates are to a large extent reclaiming something they already feel is theirs. As television began a journey into Internet broadcasting over recent decades, TV content was disembodied from the TV set. Legal services for downloading and streaming TV content online (e.g. On Demand, Netflix) were made available to online subscribers for a fee. It changed TV’s fixture from a broadcast apparatus to an abstract of a particular sort of content. It wasn’t long before the convenience of anytime, anywhere viewing precipitated an underground of illegal/unpaid download options – TV pirating. In time, underground services ventured above ground, and today sites like Project Free TV and Let Me Watch This are thriving enterprises (funding themselves through online ads, made viable by massive viewership). These ostensibly illegal sites give instant, free access to all the latest episodes of TV shows without the hassle of personal recording devices.

Yes, TV piracy has some negative impact for television network economies. Many times, though not always, commercials are edited out of pirated programs. Broadcast TV exists on the flow of advertising dollars to media network conglomerates, and if producers fail to demonstrate ongoing return, declining ad revenues potentially compromise long-term sustainability (in terms of production quality, inventory range, and affordability to produce more new, high-quality content).

However, academics are seeing other positive gains. Abigail De Kosnik’s Convergence Culture Consortium paper at MIT, Piracy is the Future of Television, highlights ways in which piracy is preferable to buying legitimate online TV options. TV pirates in the U.S. can download episodes of popular international shows soon after episodes air in home countries. Similarly, TV pirates internationally have access to a healthy menu of U.S. shows, without having to wait months for native networks to buy and broadcast a select few.

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Specifically, De Kosnik notes, “while most legal services for downloading or streaming TV currently make available some British television programs, and iTunes also offers some Japanese television content (through agreements with distribution companies like Anime Network), the vast majority of non-U.S. television shows cannot be accessed legally by television viewers in the U.S. Conversely, TV viewers outside the U.S. cannot legally access U.S. television programs as they air, but must wait, often a year or more, for popular U.S. shows to be broadcast in their own countries” (p. 10).

So, effectively what TV pirating has done is offer portals to make television a global media village. TV pirates are satisfying unprecedented demand for global TV viewing online. It is well-recognized that TV is a site of cultural expression, and piracy unleashes a new interface for global cultural experience. This is where I believe it converges with the salvage opportunity suggested by Lisa Parks. For many TV pirates, they watch not only because shows are free but because piracy creates better TV alternatives – easier, simpler and more feature-rich ways of accessing TV online. De Kosnik’s message is a call to global TV industries to incorporate more of piracy’s benefits in considering new economic models – so we’ll have to see what the future holds.

In the meantime, this case suggests to me that television – as we know it – cannot only be effectively repurposed but, by optimizing forces of global attraction, it creates new possibilities for various global cultures to share in the fruits of each other’s cultural capital – rather than keeping them apart. For the moment, I think that makes the TV pirate a pretty good guy.

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Should illegal TV piracy be reframed from a social harm to a social good?

Popularizing the Residual: Macklemore and the Thrift Shop

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In August of 2012, the name of a new artist began to light up the popular music charts. His name was Macklemore, and by early 2013 his song Thrift Shop had spent four consecutive weeks in the number one spot of American radio charts. I shan’t post the video itself here, as it contains some rather crass language, but this song presents a fascinating case study nonetheless. At nearly 512 million views on YouTube (with no signs of slowing down) this song is likely one of the widely viewed interactions of popular culture with the lowly and long despised thrift shop.

In this week’s reading Falling Apart: Electronic Media Salvaging and the Global Economy by Lisa Parks, the notion of the thrift shop is reintroduced in an academic context. Parks writes, “Contemporary junkyards, thrift stores and garbage have become shrines to structured obsolescence” (35). In this quote, she makes use of a striking metaphor to describe the thrift store: a shrine. Defined as “A place of religious devotion or commemoration”, how does the notion of the thrift store as a shrine alter popular perceptions of this place?

Now, I must add a bit of a disclaimer: I am a self-confessed thrift store-a-holic. I’m not sure what attracts me to these stores more, the thrill of the unknown mixed with a bit of a challenge or the fact that I am incredibly cheap, but either way it has made me the brunt of many a joke from my family and friends.

I seem to have always taken a similar position taken by Macklemore in his video, (but without the profanity, of course) arguing that purchasing from thrift stores is not only cost-effective, but is also more environmentally friendly. Macklemore also presents thrift shopping as a quasi-political action, a way of “sticking it to the man”. In poking fun at overpriced brand name clothing, he writes, “I call that getting swindled…I call that getting tricked by a business”.

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However, Park’s article causes us to reflect on the practice of the thrift shop in another way. We realize that, without a global infrastructure that promotes a practice of structured obsolesce, such places would fail to exist. I would actually take it one step further, and argue that such stores not only facilitates structured obsolescence, but also strengthens and encourages it. Macklemore’s song, ValueVillage ads, and the telephone solicitors asking to pick up clothing for various charities all promote the same message: you are a good person when you donate things. Thrift Shop contains one section where it publicly thanks the people who donate their things, “your grammy, your aunty, your momma, your mammy”.

However, moving past the cozy feel-good vibes, we realize that a surplus is needed in order to give in the first place. Plus, to continue to give, continued consumption is also necessary. Like Parks writes, (pg. 24) we so often forget the “genealogies” behind our consumption patterns.

Even though Parks focuses primarily on the residuals of electronics, there are many other examples of “forgotten” products of consumption that arise from global neoliberal economic consumption patterns.

‘Counterpropriation’: Are they one in the same?

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             I wanted to dedicate this blog post in looking at the distinctions between counterfeiting and appropriation. I thought it would be interesting to look at art as either an example of counterfeiting or appropriation. It is without question that I think artistic freedom is an important element to the health and stabilization of our society, as it allows people to use it as a form of expression and representation. I am no expert in art and I am in no way claiming that I am, but is it fair to assume that artists are an “appropriator of art”? It is without question that many artists can create pieces of original material, but it does not negate from the fact that some works of art are in some capacity an appropriated version of the original. A question that I ask myself is, when an artist appropriates an original version of art into their own imitation and tries to sell it for a profit, is this considered a form of counterfeiting (copying/imitating an original idea for the betterment of your own economic intentions)? Does counterfeiting always have to include a legal aspect to it (i.e. trademark or copyright) or can this definition be associated to the definition of appropriation?

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          There are many debates that surround this argument, regarding whether it is acceptable that the reuse or reproduction of already existing visual art is excluded from being identified as counterfeiting. In the most basic definition, counterfeiting is the idea of imitating something. Of course, my research is geared towards the replication and distribution of already existing brands and goods for means of profit. But I think when talking about art, this can be viewed as a very gray area, because we perceive and understand art as constantly being appropriated, in visual, musical and literary contexts, but we don’t always look at the economic implications it may postulate. In this case, it is important to draw the line between artists that produce for economic or artistic intentions. A common understanding of appropriation is looking at how it recontextualizes or extracts whatever it ‘borrows’ to create a new piece of work. Even when this is accomplished, the original version still exists. The same goes for counterfeit products; when a counterfeit version of a Breitling watch is manufactured, the genuine version still remains accessible to consumers.

Therefore, the main question I pose is, when is the line crossed from being an artist that appropriates to an artist that counterfeits? Or does the line not even exist? To be quite honest, I don’t have an answer to this question, because I think this idea can be spun in so many different ways that creates varying interpretation, but I would really like to hear your thoughts and see what you come up with!

The Black Atlantic and Italian Vogue’s “Rebranding Africa”

Going along with Lauryn‘s and Emma‘s posts, I want to talk about the fashion industry and the problematic appropriation that goes on in high fashion. In an optional reading for our course from two weeks ago, Suzy Menkes talks about the depictions of the continent of Africa in a recent issue of Italian Vogue. She says “Africa is in the news — but not just for the sad and familiar reasons of conflict and suffering. The continent is entering the fashion arena, with the quality of its handwork, artistic creativity and its potential for economic growth bringing Africa literally in vogue”. Menkes and everybody involved in the spread at Vogue magazine have taken it upon themselves to present Africa to western audiences, as if the entire continent is something that can be covered by a 20 page issue with a few photographs. Both Menkes and Vogue criticizes depictions of Africa which are sad and full of suffering, but do not see that a simple reversal of showing happy content Africans also essentializes Africa. In the New York Times spread, the only people who are talking about Africa are Suzy Menkes of the times and the editor of Vogue, Franca Sozzani. On the cover of “The Africa Issue”, a South Korean United Nations secretary is shown sitting at a fancy desk, and he is interviewed and given a number of pages to talk about development statistics in Africa. All of these outsiders are given authoritative voice when talking about Africa, just as African clothes are only valued in the issue when they are high fashion pieces and understood through the European framework of being en vogue. The ‘all black’ or African issues done by Sozzani are meant to celebrate black people, but the limiting of the voices of African fashion makes blackness and Africa into “style tribalist” caricatures, without an articulation of the production and consumption of fashion in Africa. In the March 2014 issue of Vogue (shown below the cover of the “Rebranding Africa issue) we can see how the magazine’s caricaturization of African people and fashion was not a one-time thing.

As a counterpoint, there has been a lot of collaboration recently between black hip-hop artists from the A$AP Mob in New York, and the Odd Future group in California, and high fashion producers like GQ and Dior. A$AP Illz was on the runway for DKNY for New York Fashion Week, A$AP Rocky was featured as a style critic in a NYFW issue of GQ, and Frank Ocean has been featured in GQ as a ‘man of the year’ for his music and his style. The work of GQ to present hip-hop culture to the fashion world might be seen as appropriative, but the collaboration that is done and the voice that is given to the hip-hop stars is a major departure from the “Rebranding” savior complex of Vogue. GQ is more about noticing the ways that hip-hop artists have had an impact on high fashion and vise versa. Hip-hop artists are seen as trend setters in the American and European fashion scene by GQ, and within the A$AP Mob and Odd Future crews there is a diversity to the kinds of looks they go for, from runway fashion of A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean, to the street style of A$AP Ferg, to the skateboard SoCal look of Earl Sweatshirt. Instead of trying to brand all black artists as a simple thing, or taking an authoritative voice towards black fashion, GQ allows for the people they are showcasing to speak for themselves and does not make a caricature out of African-ness as Vogue does.

 

The Ritual of “Style Tribalism”

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How are the elements of commodification and power perpetuated within the fashion industry?

The appropriation of various cultural objects and traditions has been discussed with reference to consumption patterns within my Global Cultures course. This piece was written to contribute and add an additional perspective to this developing conversation.

Focusing on the fashion world, I want to explore themes of ritualization found in the importing and marketing of clothing items into popular styles/trends. The term “style tribalism” is found in the work of Dr. Andrew Ross where he states, “Popular style, at its most socially articulate, appears at the point where commonality ends and communities begin, fractioned off into the geography of difference, even conflict.” (“Tribalism in Effect”)

“Forever 21” has become a hip shopping spot for young adults. With continuous stock replenishments, modern styles and reasonable price tags, this chain of stores increases in popularity daily. The most stylistic trends are captured through mass reproduction on varying garment styles. For example, online consumers are encouraged to “Shop Tribal Print Clothing” where the website has dedicated an entire section to pants, dresses, tops, bathing suits, shorts, leggings and rompers that all display different tribal patterns. It is no secret that the marketing strategies for these items present these prints as foreign culture symbols that have been sewn into the mainstream.

I am  interested in analyzing the advertising and consumption process of fashion through a ritual lens. As new styles/images/objects are imported from foreign cultures, they are stripped from their traditional meaning and are infused onto multiple clothing items. The trend is introduced into market. Sold as a ‘new’ product, and as an opportunity for consumers to develop their own identity and personal style, these fashions are rapidly purchased. This cycle is repeated with the introduction of another foreign object. A detailed and prescribed formula has been established within the fashion industry with reference to the incorporation of ‘new’ styles.

Throughout this entire process, advertisements rely on traditional narratives of the exotic, sexy, popular, ‘cool’ etc. in order to entice shoppers to stop and purchase the product. Often highlighting the beauty of young, slender models in their ads, “Forever 21” works to develop an exclusive fashionable community where consumers can enact different looks. Through this process of ritualized commodification of foreign objects, the concept of “style tribalism” is enacted.

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This cycle can also be seen with the appropriation of unique styles of different independent groups such as biker associations. Stores like “TopShop” have a large inventory of biker jackets that have been stylized for mass consumption. These reproductions serve to create a makeshift community of imposters who are not originally affiliated with biker culture.  Please note, the above image is an advertisement produced by TopShop.

Dr. Simon Cottle, a scholar from Cardiff University, contends that there is a performance element associated with the concept of mediatized rituals. The media is able to strategically use “resonant symbols, dramatic visualization and embedding of emotions into some ritual forms and narratives…” (“Mediatized Rituals: Beyond Manufacturing Consent”) Does the importation and marketing of foreign fashion trends require a performance? Do we become actors in a larger transnational production? If so, what power do consumers have in participating within these fashionable performances?

Lauryn’s discussion about celebrities and their sporting of the traditional Hindu bindi aligns closely with this element of performance with specific reference to identity formation.

Did the top picture catch your attention? Learn more about this image here!