How often do you consider where your purchases come from and how they got into your greedy little paws? Let’s explore where your money is really going.
WORDS Ally Parker
I’ve got two words for you: Commodity Fetishism.
At the utterance of these slightly provocative words, your brain is probably running through its vast network of links and associations. Maybe you’re imagining bargain hungry shopaholics and shuddering at the memory of being assaulted by a shopper with a shoebox. Perhaps your mind has drifted to those perv-y weirdos who hang around bus stops and sniff at women’s shoes. Thankfully the twists and turns of your temporal lobe have steered you wrong this time. We’re actually about to venture down the super fun path of Marxism. However, this is Marxism in relation to real life: real people and real animals, namely those involved in the beauty industry.
For now, here’s the straight and narrow: Marxist theory posits that the economy in all its bourgeois glory causes us to forget the source of the value behind commodities, i.e. human labour. It mystifies, objectifies and covers it all up behind masks in order to hide the exploitative nature of everyday business. To get fancy, consumer fetishism revolves around the social relationships between people and how they are expressed as, mediated by and transformed into, objectified relationships between things.
A really basic and simple example would be dinner. Go back in time to when you were approximately 10 years old. Mum or Dad would place your dinner down in front of you every night. Maybe you said thank you. Maybe not. Most likely you just began stuffing your face. Rarely, if ever, did you stop, lay down your forkful of peas and potato, and think about the people behind this nightly dinner. Did you think about the trip to Woolies or the chopping of the veggies? About the farmers who grew your potatoes, the animals who suffered through live transport so that you could have a BBQ, even the butcher’s apprentice who grinded up the sausage meat? You didn’t, and you probably still don’t. It’s too much work. You just want to enjoy your dinner. The second that meal is placed in front of you it ceases to be anything other than a commodity to be consumed. A delightful, delicious commodity.
Commodity fetishism is the mistaking of appearance for reality. It’s the mistake of assuming that what sits in front of you is represented accurately, and in its entirety, not masked behind minimum wages, share prices and subsidies.
[quote]“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”
– Denis Diderot[/quote]
Now, the reason I am babbling about commodity fetishism is that something quite significant has occurred. After more than 20 years of activism, the European Union is putting a stop to cosmetic testing on animals. Big yay! The action has been driven by The Body Shop and Cruelty Free International, who together champion for a cruelty free future for beauty products. From now on, if a company wishes to create, develop and market a new cosmetic product (including toothpaste and soap) they cannot have that product tested on animals anywhere in the world if they intend to sell it in Europe. Cosmetic testing on animals is one of the biggies when it comes to masking the processes behind a $9.95 tube of lippy. Here is what is kept shut tight behind the doors of commodity fetishism: animals in appalling conditions and confined spaces, dogs starved then pumped full of cosmetics and hair dye, the not so trendy application of make-up to rabbits causing sickly ‘draize’ eyes and chemical irritant tests on the shorn fur of rabbits and guinea pigs.
Sometimes we get a little caught up in the buy and sell of life and forget the processes and sentient beings that that go on behind the scenes. I encourage you to break through the barrier of ‘value for money’ and think more, and ethically, about your purchases. Don’t let greed take you to the dark side.