An elephant is not rope, but some films should never be rewarded

One of the constant signs of how difficult it remains to pull yourself, tooth and nail and mind, out of the doxa of ideology is the near unthinkability of haggling prices now. There are real exceptions: informal economy and black market (from drug trade to stolen goods), used car dealerships, the rise of Craig's List and eBay type used goods trade, which reveal, in the former, the practicality of geographcally proximate non-middle man trade and, in the latter, the fantasy of it being otherwise, of the cognitariat getting the excitement of being a virtuoso expert bidder like so many low-level Sotheby's visitors.

But in the store proper, material or digital, you run into the ice storm of thinking-otherwise coming to a frozen halt.

I used to have the habit of trying to break this habit. Going into big box stores and trying to bargain with the employees about what I'd be willing to pay for a cheaply made shirt. Responses were one of four:

1. Yeah, we don't work that way here. It costs what it says.

2. Why? Is the shirt damaged? Is this a return or exchange? Let me get a manager for you.

3. Wish I could, but I'm not allowed to change prices. They're already set in the computer

The third, which is the most painful in its recognition of the truth of the situation, might be paired with a fourth.

4. Give me a break, man, I'm just trying to put in my shift and get out of here. I don't need this shit.

These are two sides of the same coin, and two sides that I've been on from working in retail, awareness of the absurdity of your situation coupled with the simultaneous wish that everyone else would just act as if it wasn't obscenely arbitrary, as if the need to get a manager or the incapacity to revalue shitty goods, as if they would turn the same blind eye we all turn in waiting for someone else to do the hard work of unraveling the loose threads of the economic order.

This is in turn part of the larger, if not largest, question I've stressed before: how do you strike a totality? Does trying to "undermine" the reification of mass produced objects produce anything other than a head-ache for someone earning minimum wage, if that? But what does the opposite look like if not swatting at the spectral legs of the giant, or, like the fable of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and hence describing the nature of elephant differently, trying to blindly describe what turns out not even to be an elephant at the end of the day, but an infinite series of ropes, pots, pillars, pipes, fans, and walls.

One way to start thinking beyond this is to shift this work of devaluation/haggling at once to the cultural and to the macro. I think a far more productive conversation, beyond telling someone how little sweatshop workers are paid to make those sneakers, might find itself in the realm of the gap between the total economization of culture and if we think those objects are any good. This does happen systemically in the "bargaining" of outmoded cultural trends, etc, but this too often also takes the form of the denigration of certain popular genres (mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc) to automatically determined lower prices than the kind of novel Oprah would throw her weight behind. Instead, we need proper arguments, about whether a Rolling Stones CD from the 90's should even be allowed to cost as much as a CD of Beggar's Banquet.

But as we peons should always be proper pirates, maybe the real work is for the industry to start doing this, to finally say: wow, you spent how much making Good Luck Chuck? Sorry to hear that. We'll give you forty bucks. Really, I just can't go higher than that. I mean, did you watch it? Tell you what, we'll throw in a hot meal. But it was your choice to put Dane Cook in a film. My pity only goes so far...


Steve Taylor said...

Your post reminded me of this

Seb said...

How far apart from each other price and value sit...

Study after study has claimed that pirates - i.e. we who movie-hop, download, file-swap, and stand in the 7-11 for 4 hours reading without buying the magazine - spend above-average sums on various media goods. Why would they do this if they weren't better educated about what they were going to spend their money on?

Of course, the problem goes all the way down (up?) the food chain. The fewer links between producer & consumer, the greater the odds of the consumer having some say in what is sold to them. But as it stands, can you imagine the kind of corporate-ladder hurdles you'd have to clear to convince some dude in Burbank to stop putting Dane Cook in movies? Producers aren't interested in giving the consumer what the consumer wants; they're interested in selling the shit they've already produced.

socialism and/or barbarism said...


indeed, that correlation isn't surprising, particularly since the main pirates seem to be those of us concerned not with saving money per se but with tracking down things not accessible otherwise. Hence the kind of people who also will drop money on some obscure CD-R release from avant-garde Finnish teenage musicians. There also is a sense at times of a particular type of consumer identity, of the one who is canny enough to know what can be found for free and what is "worth really having," as if the material presence of a nice Bava box set compensates for the money unnecessarily spent on that which could be tracked down, ripped, etc.