class, social science, USA

Wear your (retail) poverty with pride

We just moved, and the previous tenants’ family magazine was waiting on the counter for them. Yesterday I happened to be browsing the magazine to see what was cool and what was hot. And I came upon an image that caused me some amusement. A young White woman walking through a green meadow, in hip summer clothing, with a brown tote bag on her shoulder. The tote bag bore the caption that informed the reader that this particular commodity was $50, and was produced by “H’Oat Couture.”

The fabric bag itself had a third-world produced basic picture of a girl blowing a trumpet, and in Persian it said Baranj Royale (Royal Rice).

At this very moment, I HAVE that bag of rice in my kitchen. I could make a cool $50 out of a FREE sack once I use up the rice. As long as I have hip, wealthy young folks who would be willing to shell out the money. Instead, of course, they could emptying the rice bag in the kitchen, put their cellphone in it, and runn out the door. I suspect that without the H’Oat Couture label, and the signs of having paid retail for the empty rice-bag, a mere bag from the trash would probably not be found in the cool streets.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with wearing an empty rice-bag on your shoulder. It’s coarse-grain fabric, so frankly it would irritate my skin. It’s also a narrow bag that would not be very useful for a practical woman with a toddler by her side. But what is it about this bag that allows a company to charge $50 once they have attached a handle to it?

It’s nice to be wealthy. But it is not so very cool anymore. Being wealthy is (yawn). Being wealthy is not cutting edge. It’s too safe. It doesn’t taste of grit and grime.

But we don’t really need grit and grime, so we won’t be fishing our rice-bag out of the trash. We’ll pay for it once it’s sitting on retail shelves.

The wealthy want to remain wealthy, but they do not want to be *stuck* in that corner. Don’t label them wealthy. They’ll try out other labels, H’Oat labels, and third world products acquired during tourist ventures, in order to acquire a little zap for their image. They’ll do the Dior when they want to, and then they’ll do the rice-bag. They’re exciting.

Consuming poverty and grit makes them acquire some of its danger and some of its reality. (“Cannibal Tours” comes to mind.) Wealthy lifestyles are, the wealthy may be aware, unreal. Removed. Artificially constructed. So in order to bring them down to earth, they buy some earth, labeled RealEarth perhaps (is there a patent out there). Earth from the yard will not do. And they put it on their mantelpiece.

Retail is essential to remove the connotations of TRUE poverty. It is play-acting poverty. It is costume poverty. We know it is cool because it is unreal. Yet it is there, a joke, because we all KNOW they wouldn’t *have* to grab a rice-bag for a purse. You grab a $50 ricebag because your face cream costs $300. The rice-bag itself is a testament to wealth. Wealth *allows* them to fake poverty. The poor are too busy buying fake Luis Vuitton bags on the corner. We live lives of play-acting. Goffman would love it.

9 thoughts on “Wear your (retail) poverty with pride”

  1. Pingback: Talk Islam
  2. sigh. yes. my uncle lives in Kitchener, a small town a few hours away from Toronto and some months ago he told me, chuckling, that one of his young female colleagues there has one of these rice bag-purses.
    kind of mind-boggling, but as you explain it, kind of not, too.

  3. The truly poor don’t buy fake name-brand handbags. That’s middle class, not poor. Most people seem to have no idea what poverty really is.

  4. Ack! The descriptions are nauseating!

    “the Hipster Messenger bag is a fearless ode to bicycle messengers who ply the urban landscapes worldwide”

    for $45? does the bicycle messenger even make $45 in a month? can the bicycle messenger buy rice to feed his family on that salary? does the hipster douchebag 😉 give a sh!t about that?

    Looking at their bags it’s pretty clear that you don’t need more than very basic sewing skills to make something like that on your own. Highway robbery and disgusting in every sense. It’s got “sucker” written all over it. ^_^

  5. While I do admit to being nouveau riche enough for the high end face creams (my “peché mignon”), despite being middle class I find something completely offensive about the silver spoon/paper plate phenomenon. It reminds me of grunge when I was in high school, here were these essentially middle class or upper middle class suburban kids in flannels acting “cool.”

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