Pre-Class Blog Post
February 28, 2011
All of these articles really highlight the idea of performance of ideologies, class, and personal morals and values through clothing. Specifically, these articles look at class mobility as portrayed through clothing. This blog post will attempt to tie this week’s readings together under the idea of how fashion and consumerism regulate power discourses, what is considered “natural” (and perhaps “normal”), and can have a large role in producing and inventing different identities and statuses. Although these articles somewhat reinforce what we discussed last week with the Zoot Suit Riots, and African-American Dandyism, this week’s articles take a new look at consumerism by expanding the definition of fashion to include that which is outside of clothing. Marianne Conroy’s article on discount shopping malls really highlights this idea by discussing how one of the biggest lures of shopping malls is “the possibility […] that consumers might impersonate a class lifestyle beyond their means while maintaining their budgets” (75). This, combined with the fact that many outlet malls are outside of easily-accessible areas and require extra work to get to, reinforces the importance of being able to maintain a lifestyle that allows one to take a day trip to the mall. It was most interesting how she described this as an active process, rather than the kind of distraction pull that shopping normally has (which would be a passive process of consumerism). I kind of relate the pull of the outlet mall to the common notion of “retail therapy”. In this sense, the mall serves as a distraction and gives a sense of upward mobility through affordable designer brands, but also recognizes that this is an active, constantly changing process of consumerism. That is, therapy in itself is an active process that makes us feel better, but also something that one needs to continually put effort towards in order to reap the full benefits. Even terms such as “upward mobility” give a sense of an active, continually changing process of self-definition and discovery through clothing. This is what the outlet mall capitalizes on, and what draws so many consumers. In the same sense, discount shopping requires work (it’s not just a short trip or an hour shopping), and thus an active process, but it is also a distraction from an everyday lifestyle that might not necessarily afford the luxuries of full-priced designer brand items. Because of this, the once unattainable becomes part of the everyday. And isn’t this the ultimate marker of luxury, stability, and economic security? As Conroy acknowledges, “women are charged with the special responsibility of maintaining the virtual reality of middle-class lifestyle through consumption”, the contested “American Dream” to which the outlet mall allows them access (76). Along the same lines, Katherine Zane discusses the need to show upward mobility, but through a different type of consumerism: plastic surgery. In the sense that a major marker of status is how the eyes are shaped, being able to change the shape of eyes might also allow opportunity to change status. As Zane discusses, “facial alteration can mark changes of social status, such as graduation, coming of age, or full-time employment” (269). So this is kind of like actively going to the outlet mall to seek out signifiers that allow for class and status mobility that was previously discussed. Importantly, the article really highlights how “power and status ascriptions both inscribe and prescribe the body as it is inflected by the dynamics of power relations…”, further discussing what we have talked about previously in class as certain fashions being available to certain people (269). Kobena Mercer takes this idea a step further when she discusses the controversy over the “nature” of black hairstyles during times of political and social change. Because these styles came out at a certain time period, they are instead “stylistically cultivated and politically constructed” (108). Similarly, the Asian eye surgeries, although sometimes depicted as a natural (therefore normal?) ideology or event, might also been seen as socially constructed wants.
1) How does the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” relate to Conroy’s article? And if outlet malls make the once unattainable now accessible in the everyday, does that mean that the push towards more excessive consumerism will constantly grow, and eventually be beyond the means of the economic middle-class? Then what?
2) Does eyelid surgery relate to other types of plastic surgeries? Which ones and why?
3) Plastic surgery seems to also be an ultimate form of status and power. How is this manifested in society? Why might it seems this way?