commodification

Dmitriy T.M., Christina W., Kelly V., and George asked us to comment on Vajazzling. Dmitriy, who sent in the video link, said he was too frightened to press play, but I am very brave and now I know what vajazzling really is! It’s hard to know because the term “vajayjay” is, um, who knows what that word means… and the term “vagina” (which actually refers to what is otherwise known as the birth canal) is now used to mean the vulva and, apparently, anything within 12 inches of it.

In any case, the video below, in which a woman documents the vajazzling of her “vagina,” reveals that the term refers to the placing of a field of tiny crystals where your public hair would be. So, you essentially replace your pubic hair with shiny objects.

So, brave souls who pressed play, sociologically analyze away.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Carolyn L., who blogs at Remodel Minority, found these and other mascot costumes at Costume Shop.  They are, from left to right, the “Mexican Costume Mascot”, “Mandarin Man Chinese Costume”, “Native American Chief Costume Mascot,” “Native American Indian Costume”:

The costumes start at $887.   This reminds us that racist mascots are an industry, not just a poor choice.  It would be much more difficult to field a team called the Indians, the Gauchos, or the Orientals if there were no pre-made costumes to buy.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Z at It’s The Thought That Counts asked us to submit for commentary a product called the BeBand on sale at Target.  The Band is designed for pregnant women and women who’ve recently given birth:

(Note the carefully placed rings!  This model is no unwed mother!)

The box says that it will “cover unbuttoned pre-pregnancy jeans,” “hold up too-big maternity pants,” and allow you to “fit into pre-pregnancy pants sooner after giving birth”:

But it’s interesting that that’s the fine print.  The large print emphasizes beauty (“Be Belly Beautiful”) and the product is also sold under the name BellaBand.

Questions:

I’ve never been pregnant, is this a new product?  If so, is it a useful product or an invented need?

Even if this is a useful product, what do you think of the emphasis on beauty on the part of the marketers?

Is this not just another part of a demand for women to be freakin’ gorgeous at every part of their lifecycle?

NEW! (Mar. ’10): Along the same lines, R. Walker told us about a product called Shrinkx Hips:

For the low price of $54.99, “Shrinkx Hips provides constant, even pressure to gently guide hips back to their pre-pregnancy position” (if you wear it for 8 weeks). R.W. said it seems like a torture device, and I rather agree. But hey, apparently it makes you look like that model afterward, so what’s a little pain?

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Way back in June Missives from Marx sent in a link to a story at Dark Roasted Blend about tourism in the rainforest along the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil. One stop was at a small riverside village where tourists are taken to have an “encounter of two different cultures.” Here’s a photo from the post:

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Underneath the photo was the following caption:

A cruise ship arrival is a great event for the small village located on the mouth of Valeria River. The friendly villagers are always happy to welcome all visitors, eager to make contact and get news from foreign lands.

“Friendly villagers” “eager to make contact” and learn about “foreign lands”? It’s an incredibly patronizing description that sounds like it could have been in a travel brochure for the British Empire decades ago.

From the post:

Because of the small space, the visitors are literally poking into the river people’s lives. But they look happy enough to share with us their ways of life: we are being shown their schools, the local market and even the way their houses are made.

They seem to understand that visits like these sustain the little trade they are able to make by selling souvenirs and exquisite crafts. There are very few inhabitants and they are all very proud of their amazonian heritage. Although modern living is slowly making its way through, they dress up with traditional costumes.

Yes, they do understand that the tourist visits sustain their economy. They let people poke into their lives because they need the money. And they dress up in traditional “costumes” (?) because it makes tourists happy and then the tourists give them more money.

The kids, apparently, haven’t learned the etiquette for dealing with tourists. The post has several images of children with labels like “Little Warrior,” with descriptions such as:

They are not used being on display for the large audience and they all look like they would be happier playing, rather than demonstrating their skills. One particular girl attracted the crowds with her beautiful, magnetic eyes. She was demonstrating archery, but her eyes were throwing the real darts.

The poster acknowledges that the children don’t like being on display, but doesn’t think that might mean that a) you shouldn’t then treat them like tourist attractions or b) maybe the adults don’t really like being on display much either but have learned to play along better. I also wonder whether the children are demonstrating “their skills” or whether a kid holding a bow and arrows is part of the play-acting for tourists.

I once went on a river tour outside of Manaus; the one described here sounds almost identical. I felt uneasy about the idea of visiting the village but there wasn’t really a choice (they forced us off the boat at each stop) and my boyfriend at the time was excited, and so we walked around. It was an incredibly creepy experience. The people there were obviously poor, and tourists were walking around gawking at them, feeling entirely comfortable looking right into their yards and houses. I felt terribly awkward; even my boyfriend felt weird and just wanted to leave. I would not say the people looked thrilled to see us. Some did, especially those selling soda at the cantina (part of that “modern world”). But more than one person, mostly children, glared. And it was very clear that they were being nice to us and offering to be in photos with tourists in hopes of making a little money.

The whole thing felt like cultural tourism–hey, Americans/Europeans! Look at these people in their pre-modern villages and traditional “costumes”! Isn’t this a neat cultural encounter? Feel free to roam around and look at anything you want–the jolly villagers are just thrilled to death to have you here!

In another case of this, James T. sent in this video, found at 3quarksdaily:

It’s distressing to see this type of tourism prestened in such a positive light without at least discussing the ethical issues that might arise when relatively wealthy tourists encounter an impoverished group dependent on tourists’ money for some of their livelihood.

Amber W. let us know about the “Consuming Kids” video, which looks at how marketers target kids, both for their own spending power and for their influence over parents’ spending.

See also hyper-consumerism and parenting, girl culture, girls’ shirts encourage materialism, “born to shop” pacifier, kids and their stuff, good parenting through consumption, and more commodification of kids and parenting.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Via Visual Economics. Though often presented as the domain of economists, sociologists have a lot to say about patterns of consumption and their effects. Though patterns of consumption and their effects are often presented as the domain of economists, sociologists have have a lot of interesting things to say about this topic.

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Of course, some have wondered, if sociology sucks, why do economists keep on doing it?

Birdseed sent in this photo he took at a grocery store in Stockholm (which he posted at his blog as well):

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The product is a new beverage, Fanta World Pineapple: Inspired by Jamaica. The two guys in the photo were hired to promote it at the little tiki-style counter. Johan says,

A couple of things leap out at me straight away:

* The continued (post-)colonial association of Jamaica with its plantation produce. The “inspiration” seems limited to the fact that pineapples are grown there for the consumption of the global North. (Canned goods like pineapples still have the charming moniker “kolonialvaror” (colonial merchandise) in Swedish retail jargon.)

* The ridiculous (verging on blackface) stereotypical representation of “Jamaicans” that the kids are suppsed to portray. It seems to have been done with extreme sloppiness – for instance, the Polynesian lava lava (a type of sarong) that they wear has absolutely nothing to do with Jamaica at all, but rather acts to represent an identity-less generalised tropics, dehumanised exotica.

The music was, of course, bad reggae.

I think Johan hits on an important issue here–how often the cultures of non-Westernized countries are mixed together into an undifferentiated image of exoticness–for instance, “tribal” fashion and “traditional” handicrafts often supposedly represent “Africa,” which is a meaningless category given the enormous diversity of cultures, languages, clothing styles, artistic motifs, and so on. But if you put some geometric designs and maybe an elephant on some cloth, it evokes “Africa.”

it’s also interesting that a certain hat shape and dreads have become such easily-identifiable shorthand symbols of Jamaica, and that Fanta is commodifying the idea of Jamaica to sell a product that has no reason to be more “inspired” by Jamaica than anywhere else pineapple is grown–Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. etc. etc.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

As I was digging around the internet for illustrations of mothers of service members claiming to be as tough as their enlisted children (I’ll save that for another post), I found the following “future service member” clothes for children, babies, and even pregnant women:

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And a Marine bib/costume:

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And a couple maternity shirts:

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I have a few thoughts about these.

First, it’s interesting how the shirts (and the many more like them for other family members) enlist family members (and future family members) into military service along with the service member. Each branch of the military is considered a big extended family and members know they are “taken care of” to some extent by each other and by military programs that support the children and partners of those who are serving. Not only does it make practical sense to offer services to families who have a loved one deployed for months and years at a time, but it is also advantageous for the military as families are recognized as a key part of military success. Families are essential and are counted on to provide all kinds of support– from deployment readiness (moving at a moment’s notice etc.), to supplying their loved ones with emotional support, clothes and armor when they are deployed.

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The military is also a profession that is often a viable choice for for many young people, and there are many families from strong military traditions– where multiple generations have served. It makes sense, then, that these families have a certain amount of pride in a career that has been in their families for generations. But, many who go into the military end up in combat situations where their lives and personal safety are put at high risk (especially during wartime). So, the idea of handing down the military as a profession doesn’t seem the same then as handing down pride in a university or in a sports team. Isn’t it much different to put a baby in a “future Badgers fan” outfit?

Finally, the pregnancy shirts make me think of how sociologists Nira Yuval-Davis and Cynthia Enloe talk about gendered and militarized citizenship. For Yuval-Davis, one of the primary ways women can be citizens is through reproduction– literally reproducing the people of the nation. Often reproducing soldiers to secure the nation is a part of pro-natalist policies. And Cynthia Enloe writes about the importance of mothers’ support (what she calls “militarized mothers”) for the continued recruitment and support of soldiers: “Militarizing motherhood often starts with conceptualizing the womb as a recruiting station.”