I’m Afraid of the Five-Blade Razor – Book Review and Commentary

Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough – Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. Allen & Unwin, 2005, 9781741146714 (Aus, US/Kindle)

Three years ago Clive Hamilton half-jokingly referred to the possibility of the five-blade razor. It comes as no surprise that his prediction has come true, and emphasises why Affluenza continues to be an extremely relevant book. Gillette’s razor with five blades and not one, but two, lubricating strips is designed for the closest shave possible. But really, it’s to turn consumer attention away from Schick’s four-bladed ‘Quattro’, which must of course be an inferior razor, not due to the amount of blades, but due to the ‘spacing of the blades’ as their campaigns advertise. One asks – how many blades do we really need?

‘While some choice is beneficial, too much can actually cause a decline in wellbeing. In an experiment in which subjects had to pick a chocolate from a selection of 30, the sense of regret and uncertainty about whether they had chosen the “most delicious” chocolate was greater than that experienced by a group who chose from a selection of only six different types of chocolate.’

The market-based society just does not really know when to stop. Surely Schick will one-up them in a few years with a six-blade, or do a complete marketing turnaround and offer a ‘Renaissance’ blade or some such thing that goes back to ‘classic’ shaving. All the market spin and bull is just designed to suck you into a whirl of mindless, meaninglessness consumption.

Affluenza explores Australian society today – a collection of individuals striving for material gratification. We work more hours than any other developed nation and thus spend less time with family. This is motivated by a pure drive to accumulate more ‘stuff’. Many Australians look to their retirement as the golden years when all the benefits of their success will be reaped. Hamilton calls this ‘deferred happiness syndrome.’ In the meantime any significance or wholesomeness in their life is being pulled like a carpet from under them. And many will not even make their retirement with increasing rates of stress-related diseases and rising levels of depression and suicide caused not only by overwork but the alienating effects and emptiness promoted by a shallow, wasteful cycle of life.

Statistics given by Hamilton and Denniss show that 62% of Australians don’t believe they can buy what they really need, and a high percentage of these come from the richest 20% of households. What this really shows is the permeation of the myth of the Aussie battler, and the disintegration of the ability to determine between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’.

‘Rising the threshold of desire in this way creates an endless cycle of self-deception: like the horizon, our desires always seem to stay ahead of where we are. This cycle of hope and disappointment lies at the heart of consumer capitalism’.

Like the razors, credit cards (in an age where debt is natural) have gone from Gold to Platininum to Black – and even recently, Titanium. The flashing of such a symbol is supposed to produce respect and envy at the owner’s status. Many products and brands are marketed to produce status, but what will become of a culture that looks up to shallow figures who have achieved nothing but wealth? The examples are too obvious to even warrant naming, but the SBS TV Show Decadence emphasised how society and the media in general downplay the achievements of scientists, thinkers, and writers and instead pedestalises pretty faces. Actresses and fashionistas are the new role models, and not for their skills and abilities but for their clothes, vacuous looks, and ability to be perpetually thinner than others. We are given an ideal self to emulate then marketed the goods that will help us achieve this. Even subversity and nihilism are marketed to youth, one example being the ‘Emily the Strange’ clothing range. Every market is researched and captured, everything is commodified.

But of course we are not all passive consumers, dumb and duped by advertising, but what can be emphasised is its inescapability. As the authors argue, it is certainly not money or even ‘affluence’ that is the problem, it is our attachment to it – this is the sickness of affluenza. The capitalist society has evolved into one that is centrally market-based, even through politics and the media (being 70% owned by a right-wing billionaire). A relevant point Hamilton brings up is the marketisation of illness. Society creates ills (eg. obesity) but the ‘cures’ are individualised (‘you’ have to do something about it) and companies profit from the creation of weight loss programs and drugs.

The biggest problem is of course the way that children are socialised within this framework. They are taught brand-love from their earliest years. Parents commodify their own children with label-clothing, often sexualising them too early. Adult ads are targeted at kids to increase the ‘nag factor’. Parents listen to their child’s ideas about what is considered ‘cool’. The toys available today are shocking, with even baby versions having heavy eye make up and pouting red lips. Some parents feel they have no choice in buying them because they don’t want their children to miss out. What kind of a skewed version of reality will young girls grow up with? That the only way to succeed in life, and most importantly, the only way to be happy is to be ‘sexy’?

‘We’re led to believe that money gives us choice, status, and increasingly, an identity. But there’s something hollow about all this. Whose meaning or identity is it? Am I really defined by where I live, what I wear, eat, or drive? Or am I just another willing victim of our sophisticated market?’ (from the SBS show Decadence)

Hamilton and Denniss explore how advertising plays to our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and how the culture contributes to the disposability of relationships. They also look at societally produced waste, obsolescence due to constantly updated technologies, and the damaging effects of youth’s early access to pornography.

While this may all sound incredibly depressing, Affluenza does look at options on how we can ‘downshift’ our lives without dropping out of society. It is not an attack but rather an acknowledgement that something fundamental has to change. It stresses the importance of getting back to involvement with community, giving something back but also to enable yourself to have those essential, rewarding human connections. It looks at people who have really done it and would never look back. It suggests maintaining an awareness of our own consumption patterns. We can regain the control over ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ and feel more fulfilled and enjoy a quality of life without the burden of maintaining a media- or marketing-constructed status-quo.

The SBS show Decadence believes that as a whole we have lost some intangible spirituality which is not necessarily connected to religion. It is the ability to stop and absorb the beauty of the land, the ability to feel transcendence through music, art or love. Not to fulfill a fast and shallow impulse. This basic liberal humanism is opposed to the neo-liberalism that has evolved in a West that forgets about ‘meaning’ unless constructed or manufactured and it will only be achieved through awareness, knowledge, education and even wisdom.

See more:

The Australia Institute website.

Related books:

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy.

Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman.

Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel.

Late Capitalism by Ernest Mandel.

Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism by Timothy Bewes.

No Logo by Naomi Klein.

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz.

Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess by Robert H. Frank.

The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser.

The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza by Oliver James.

Consuming Innocence by Karen Brooks. 

16 thoughts on “I’m Afraid of the Five-Blade Razor – Book Review and Commentary

  1. Lots of thought provoking stuff here, LM. But I wonder if perhaps the argument has been taken too far. Not all evolution is bad. And without a significant contrary argument then it is abuse of the current system without bite. Or an unarguable position to take. A valid hypothesis must be able to be disproved.Some ideas of what that contrary argument could be include environmental concerns about waste, and divisions caused by the dispersion of wealth. Taking the first argument though, isn’t the modernisation of products illustrative of the evolution of society itself? Perhaps even a form of art. Evolution is part of civilisation itself. Art is illustrative of civilisation. Marx saw capitalism (of which consumerism is merely a part, of course) as a step society would go through before socialism (this stage hasn’t been at the fore for that long in the greater scheme of things anyway). But I digress … Back to the metaphor. Is the 5 blade better at its job than the 2 blade? Is the 5 blade for everyone, or just those who can afford it? Would a 2 blade user feel left out because they don’t have a 5 blade?I agree, it is very much up to the consumer to make up their mind about it. But if that is the case, where is the problem? Not with the product, but with the consumer…Perhaps we need a scale… u are allowed x amount of luxury before you must feel guilty about living beyond your needs. But then again, who are we to tell someone how to think and behave.

  2. Two days stubble and a cupboard full of not so frequently reused two-blade razors. Never have two simpler self-observations given me reason to mark myself out to be a budding ‘Renaissance man’. You’ve got my attention right there.OK OK I admit, the logic behind this reflection is obviously a little screwy, but heck it appears that it is better that we collectively recognise that my “individual logic” is screwed rather than the logic of an “entire society”. That would be too much for us to conceive, let alone tackle.As our brooding blogger Meyer reminds us, individuals can be dealt with. They can be readily ‘medicated’, one by one. And over time, aided often by exposure to sitcom inspired vapid socialization, be brought around to consuming themselves sane. “Look love, its ‘brand new’, just like you.” Meyer’s review of Hamilton and Denniss popular Australian social commentary, Affluenza, is a tad more than just a review. Take a look and her blog simultaneously draws on wider sources of influence and empowered energy. On the textual level she openly borrows a few key existentially coded messages from a subversive SBS television program (remember that stuff?). Secondly, running below the surface you soon get a sense that she is drawing on her own wellspring of righteous energy; an energy connected with her finely tuned ethical sense. This ‘ethical energy’ is most noticable when she draws our attention to her reverence for lost value, loss of innocence and self-destructive mindless conformism. Meyer’s review works. It asks you not to simply read, but to mindfully explore the value of liberal humanism versus market-centric neo-liberalism debate. Undertand how this debate is fueled by the hundreds of events that unfold around you everyday. Yes there is a worthy argument to be found between the pages of Affluenza, but it should act only as a reminder. The question that should resonate after reading the book is, what do you do when you encounter injustice, exploitation and meaninglessness in yourself and those around you?I look forward to reading Meyer’s thoughts on the rise of raunch culture.

  3. Anonymous:‘Not all evolution is bad.’I said nothing of evolution, let alone that it is bad. Contemporary society has evolved, yes, from the failure of any other option (socialism/communism/fascism etc.). But does that mean we should just accept ‘our lot’ as it is? You say I am taking the argument too far but then you mention a contrary argument which actually addresses issues from Affluenza eg. environmental concerns about waste, thus it is not contrary at all. Environmental concerns about waste are part of the worry of a society that makes everything obsolete, eg. technology (mobile phones, computers, televisions). From the book: ‘Although nearly two-thirds of Australians say they cannot afford to buy everything they really need, they admit to spending a total of $10.5 billion every year on goods they do not use.’ Most of this is uneaten food.Why also are divisions caused by the dispersion of wealth a ‘contrary’ argument? It is actually rather complimentary – as capitalism rids us of the traditional class structure and replaces it with status defined by income.I think you also forgetten that I am presenting a book review and commentary where I obviously have not presented every single detail of the book, but an overview, or else no one would bother buying the book! It is indeed a positive review of the book and therefore I do not have to present a contrary argument. The wonderful role of a blog is that it does open up a conversation of sorts as we have done here.As you’ll notice I have also provided other reading material (which all look at more than one side of an issue/argument) so that anyone interested may follow it up.‘isn’t the modernisation of products illustrative of the evolution of society itself?’I think you are talking about modernity, or postmodernity (different from the concepts of modernism/postmodernism in art). The point is that products are so rapidly ‘evolving’ these days that people can become swept up in believing they need the latest version of something when what they have functions perfectly well. This can in turn lead to feelings of inadequacy and, if they choose to fork out the money, even debt and guilt. I write about it because I have fought the feelings myself. It fascinates me. I don’t think you are free of it even if you are aware, but at least if you are aware you can recognize where the feelings of inadequacy are coming from and stop them. One example is my refusal to upgrade my monstrous iRiver. It is much larger than an iPod and attracts looks (seriously) but I have decided as long as it has all my music on it and it works then it is performing its function. I actually bought it in the first place because I wanted to find out if there were other MP3 players besides the iPod which floods the market simply because of good marketing. And again, I am not saying we are all suckers and never did in my review, but the power structures of the market-society are powerful. Many people do get a sense of self-worth from ‘status’ which is gained from material wealth…‘Perhaps even a form of art.’I don’t doubt that the people who design iPods and Operating Systems are creatively talented. But is designing a ‘product’ for consumption really the same as a Brett Whitely painting, or a James Joyce novel? Craig has hit upon a word there that didn’t even occur to me, but I think it is a question of ethics. Isn’t it an empty thing to idolize a product. And can you really say the designer of a razor is an ‘artist’? Perhaps a postmdernist may argue this, but I think you can be both accepting of the inevitable progress of market society and use ‘tactics’ against the ‘strategies’ in order to not be swept up in it and maintain a real sense of wellbeing. ‘Evolution is part of civilisation itself. Art is illustrative of civilisation.’ Art is both illustrative and transgressive of civilisation. In fact, some argue that ‘culture’ is separate from ‘civilisation’ (although inextricably tied to it). Art is representative of its context. In a postmodern way some may refer to a product as ‘art’ such as an iPod, as art itself has been commodified (as played upon in artworks from Andy Warhol on). We can be accepting of this, all of this, but still ask – is there a way to recognise something more, something intrinsic, something meaningful? An Andy Warhol print is meaningful because it has humour – it touches on the human condition. While the music in a iPod can have meaning, the iPod itself is just a vessel. It is the communication which matters. Many new technologies give us great new ways of communication eg. social networking and obviously blogging. Despite the complex alienating qualities as well (that could be a whole other article) it does give people a chance to connect with a self that they choose to project to the world. Therefore I have no qualms with advancement of technology but it is still the actual communication that matters, not the medium. The medium gives an opportunity, but arguably it also takes away some (opportunities). ‘Marx saw capitalism (of which consumerism is merely a part, of course) as a step society would go through before socialism (this stage hasn’t been at the fore for that long in the greater scheme of things anyway). But I digress …’ Maybe you should avoid digressing. This suggests that you aren’t really overjoyed with capitalism, you’re stuck with it for now but socialism is more appealing. Do you really believe the result of all this will be a new socialism? I didn’t think so. Perhaps your own fear of your lack of control over society is causing your defense. I hope your awareness will lead to more positive trains of thought. At this point, you also seem to be a little unsure of your overall argument.‘Back to the metaphor. Is the 5 blade better at its job than the 2 blade? Is the 5 blade for everyone, or just those who can afford it? Would a 2 blade user feel left out because they don’t have a 5 blade?’See, you’re confused already. Obviously I have not conducted this study (of which is better). But I’m glad you are thinking about it. A 2 blade user may indeed feel inadequate. The point is that they shouldn’t have to. It is just a ridiculous marketing scheme to make one brand be bought over another. Can it really make that much of a difference? Again, I’m not saying choice is bad, but when does it become ridiculous? If no one ever said anything (and if you google it you’ll see a lot of satire about it) it would just go on and on. And like Hamilton and Denniss found, choice is good – but only to an extent. After that it just brews anxiety.‘I agree, it is very much up to the consumer to make up their mind about it. But if that is the case, where is the problem? Not with the product, but with the consumer…’Of course it comes back to the consumer. But consumers as a collective make up a society. And they may or may not be influenced individually by advertising and the media. The point is that they may be, and if they are being made to feel inadequate, anxious and needing to buy ‘stuff’ just to fulfill these needs, then there is something wrong. Don’t you agree? ‘Perhaps we need a scale… u are allowed x amount of luxury before you must feel guilty about living beyond your needs. But then again, who are we to tell someone how to think and behave.’Then why are you suggesting it at all? A scale is ridiculous. You seem to be just challenging me for the sake of challenging me, I’m not sure why. The fact that you are doing it anonymously just heightens the ambivalence of your argument. If you read the article again, there is absolutely nothing about telling people how to think and behave, in fact I am arguing for the exact opposite of this. I am presenting a book which argues that the society we live in may have subtle ways of doing just that,
    and if you are afraid of that too, then I understand your defensive argument. The only way to regain control is not to be oblivious, but to be aware. You can either accept it, do a marketing degree and perpetuate it, or you can find out that you don’t need some of the things you have been constructed to think you do anyway. Overall, I am happy to have engaged with you on this because your very argument makes me believe I have made you think just a little bit more about it all. I’m sorry if you think my book review has gone too far, perhaps you will choose never to pick up the book. Great. That is your choice. But it is an informed one. Thank you so much for reading my review.Craig:Thank you for reading this post, and it seems, others on the blog also.And thank you for this – ‘…energy connected with her finely tuned ethical sense’. ‘Yes there is a worthy argument to be found between the pages of Affluenza, but it should act only as a reminder. The question that should resonate after reading the book is, what do you do when you encounter injustice, exploitation and meaninglessness in yourself and those around you?’This is a great point you have made. The book, just like a product itself, should not just be accepted as fact straight off the bat. That is just the same as reading a newspaper and believing all the ads. Obviously this reviewer got a lot from it, but one of my points is that people should indeed think critically about their everyday experiences in consumer culture. I believe in its potential to create awareness, but there is no reason why reading a book is separate from any other experience. If people approach everything in this way (as informed, critical thinkers) they regain some control and can extract that kernel of meaning from even the smallest experiences. It seriously makes for a happier existence, and a person on a higher level of self-actualisation has the power to create real social change.

  4. Great post, Angela.A couple of quick points to share.Firstly, if rampant consumerism can be cast as art, the point is worth considering, but my conclusion, for one, may not be to that author’s liking. (And we so much like buying stuff!). In fact, the very notion that rampant consumerism as art as reflection of society can prove the fallacy of any defence of that.As an examination of the points raised in your post, and from the book itself, such a notion could not be more shallow. If that is what reflection itself has become, then we are the better to know that is how people actually might think. And for that it is valuable.Secondly – as something may feed your thoughts a little – it is commonly thought that poverty and suppression are the reasons for people (up)rising, unto even civil war. It is often assumed the uprising are the ‘underclass’. I mention this because your post raises points embraced by the truth of what causes such traumatic societal unrest. It isn’t poverty, nor suppression, nor an underclass which does this – it’s a people who have had the gifts of a fortunate lifestyle, such that they expect there to be more, denied them. The keys to traumatic societal unrest and upheaval are: a sense of richness, or taste of same, by the living; expectancy of more; that that expectancy is for some reason taken away.Western consumption is an end-game. At some point, the resources simply won’t be there. Approaching that point would indicate that the above traumatic events would be cooking.We’re a strange lot, here on earth. We fly blind while everything is hunky dory, and come to our best when facing the clarity from having our backs severely flung against the wall.It is easy to be positive and negative about our behaviour on the whole. For my two bobs, I’m inspired by the extent of mass information in today’s world, and I do believe people have begun waking up. There is good reason to imagine rightfully that humanity’s compass will reset itself.When that happens, over time (as I believe it is already starting), “brands” and corporate power can crumble awfully quickly. May I add a third quick thought? You mention the ‘billionaire’ media owner. In fact, the person’s power is worth (for the purposes of this point) just $1.20.That’s the price – the market value – each person pays when they buy one of his papers. “His” power is in fact the power vested in the individual, which is passed on willingly. Incredible change will occur should every individual realise that very simple principle – they have the power! Instead, people are awash with illusion (as the post points to), based on false assumptions about ‘the powerful’ and ‘power’ as being held by a select few.Not so! With mass information at their fingertips, and the ability to express themselves to a world wide audience (or one becoming that), it’s not too difficult to imagine a world where people really do embrace the truth about power.I guess, a stumbling block is the responsibility which naturally comes with that, and therein I’d add a dose of good faith in our fellow humans. Blog posts like these all contribute to resetting humanity’s compass.cheers, Robert.

  5. Hi Robert,I won’t write another long reply but let me just say that I am very inspired by your optimism and your emphasis on the fact that the power is in the people. I certainly hope that mass information helps to breed a more autonomous public who can fight the opinions and beliefs shaped by the money-makers. 🙂

  6. Dear Angela,Many beliefs of the masses have been born and filtered down through times when mass dissemination of information was absent.It’s a brave new world we are entering.It’s easy to blame the ‘money-makers’ for instilling those beliefs, but in fact these people have often led the way in breaking them! By deed, not word, no less.And money-makers pay the wages, and allow for investment in things like art and literature, either directly or indirectly.I’m not defending consumerism, nor condoning insane hunger for money hoarding. Few people really do get to know the real lifestyles of the financially wealthy – many of them live with real fears, and many are trapped. You mention relationships in the post – this is something the financially wealthy seem to also be getting a grip of. Your parent’s generation would hardly have used the word “relationship” – don’t take this new development for granted! We’re all just now, en masse, learning of the real value of relationship.It’s all shifting; but as you say, we could chew up so many words on this. A quiet feeling of wonderment about how it all works and that it is, and even why, makes that smelling the roses thing very lovely indeed. There’s cause for peace.- Robert

  7. Thanks again Robert for your insightful comments. I do hope that the people of my generation know or learn of the value of relationships, and most importantly the smell of roses… I also hope the money-makers to be continue to invest in art and literature, which help to perpetuate the knowledge of the smell of roses…you know what I mean 🙂

  8. Robert Esquire (& Angela)I noticed you touched on the topic of ‘brands’ in your comment;”… I’m inspired by the extent of mass information in today’s world, and I do believe people have begun waking up. There is good reason to imagine rightfully that humanity’s compass will reset itself.When that happens, over time (as I believe it is already starting), “brands” and corporate power can crumble awfully quickly.”Your combined use of that loaded word Robert, and that evocative image of ‘humanity resetting’ got me thinking. Kalle Lasn’s book Culture Jam drifted into my thoughts, but otherwise your comment seemed to beg an up-to-the-minute example. Building on your idea, may I draw your attention to the phenomenon (not) taking place in the online Social Networking space (facebook, MySpace, Bebo etc). I hope you find this is in some way illustrative of your point. Whilst not seeing ‘brands’ crumble in when it comes to social networks, we can see evidence of them not gaining traction. Business is naturally dumbfounded. Particularly when their smart and expensive ‘desireable brands’ are patently not penetrating Social Networks that are otherwise ostensibly open and transparent.Tellingly, even the few brands that do appear to get a toe hold, are generally surprised to find that they are soon hounded out of the social network space, particularly once they start exercising their ‘brand personalities’ (ie sales scripts).Should you wish to momentarily tiptoe away form LM’s blog, here’s one of my opinion articles that not only touches on this observation, but attempts to counsel the digital “Brand Masters” to back off and carefully and respectfully reconsider their engagement thinking with Social Networks for the good of all concerned;http://www.digitalministry.com.au/component/option,com_myblog/Itemid,41/show,The-Future-of-Social-Network-Applications-.html/ Cheers – Craig

  9. Angela,I want to add a comment to this section of your reply to Robert;”I don’t doubt that the people who design iPods and Operating Systems are creatively talented. But is designing a ‘product’ for consumption really the same as a Brett Whitely painting, or a James Joyce novel? Craig has hit upon a word there that didn’t even occur to me, but I think it is a question of ethics. Isn’t it an empty thing to idolize a product. And can you really say the designer of a razor is an ‘artist’?”To perhaps amplify your point and squarely bring the focus back to a question of ethics I feel compelled to quote Theodore Roszak from his 1978 book ‘Person/Planet’.’Work that produces unnecessary consumer junk or weapons of war is wrong and wasteful. Work that is built upon false needs of unbecoming appetites is wrong and wasteful. Work that deceives or manipulates, that exploits or degrades is wrong and wasteful. Work that wounds the environment or makes the world ugly is wrong and wasteful. There is no way to redeem such work by enriching it or restructuring it, by specializing it or nationalizing it, by making it ‘small’ or decentralized or democratic.’Roszak’s key phrase here is: “false needs of unbecoming appetites”

  10. Craig, your social networking article is very interesting. Everyone I know is most certainly skeptical about brands infiltrating their spaces online. But your suggestions for applications that could be ‘sponsored by’ brands admittedly seemed useful. Most of the people using social networking sites are very switched on to all types of marketing, even guerilla types, and thus are quite resistant to them. Ths spaces are definitely for self-expression and interaction, I think of it too as creating narratives – telling stories about yourself through your interests, friends of choice, pictures and music choices. This way you make connections with like-minded people (at least in their construction of themselves which is obviously also shaped by complex things such as social status etc.). Overall, definitely worth the read, and I know part of your position would be to consult companies and brands recognising the inevitability that people on these sites are consumers and will sometimes want a product (whether or not that desire is initially created by the company in the 1st place is debatable) but at least with an ethical mind like yours it may provide more access to ‘true’ needs? Roszak’s quote is spot on to my point there, but I’ll just point out, that wasn’t in reply to Robert’s post but Ms/Mr Anonymous. :-)Thnaks again!

  11. I find this sooooo interesting… it reminds me of an essay I wrote last year about sexual ambiguity within design and how it basically doesn’t exist, I think the title was something like “Develop a critical and reflexive analysis of the ways in which gender and ambiguity are used in the branding, advertising and marketing of products. Has the notion of female sexual ambiguity become commodified in the same way that the social construction of gender is materially produced?”Anyhoo, it’s really funny that the razor example has been used here because I did exactly the same thing, it’s just such a good example of how ludicrous branding, advertising and marketing has become. I also read Female Chauvinist Pigs when I was writing this essay and I found it a very interesting read, albeit not an entirely “new” way of thinking. I have to say I agreed with pretty much everything said in it.Here’s a little bit of my essay, just in case you’re interested! This is Jen by the way! Also another good book that’s along the same lines as this topic is The Rebel Sell: How Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter and also Material Culture in the Social World by Tim Dant is worth a look too. I have both of them but they’re in Scotland!”The glossy overheated thumping of sexuality in our culture is less about connection than consumption. Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it. Hotness is not the same thing as beauty, which has been valued throughout history. Hot can mean popular. Hot can mean talked about. But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuckable and salable.(Levy, 2005)But whilst we are used to consuming the everyday sexualized identity of the fabricated and socially constructed, ideal male or female sexual body, there is, as will be discussed, a further emerging addition to the sexualization of commodities; ambiguity…We are able to transform ourselves physically through plastic surgery and choose our personal identities by buying products, the advertising of which shows us the person who we want to be, or feel pressured into being. Identity is now as much about who we choose to be as the expression of natural and inherited characteristics. The clear differences between products according to gender are so engrained in our everyday lives from the moment we are born to the point where we don’t even think twice about why we are imposing these rules upon ourselves; the electric shaver or razor for example, has the same purpose and function for both men and women (although used on different parts of the body), but angular, black designs signify the male body whilst the pink, organic curves of the Gillette ‘Venus’ for example, have blatant vaginal connotations.Most female shavers are clearly gendered through colour (white for purity; or colour for fashionability) and form (less monolithic, more curved, and more ‘elegant’). So whereas male electric or battery shavers signify technology and powerfulness (and so masculinity), female shavers connote hygiene, prettiness and fashionability (and thus femininity). The norm is, needless to say, the male shaver: the female shaver, in departing from the norm, reinforces women as ‘different’. (Whiteley, 1993)The fairly recent addition of the Venus Vibrance, a vibrating, hot pink, beautifully curved, soft and sensual sex toy in the form of a razor, with possibly the most obvious sexual undertones ever used in marketing a product that isn’t an actual sex toy without calling it the Penus Vibrance, would suggest that the sexualization of commodities towards the new post-feminist woman is a branding and advertising goldmine. In the world of design we are often reinforcing women as ‘different’ through the constant production of material products that adhere to socially constructed notions of gender i.e. what is masculine and dominant and what is feminine and passive. Of course the Gillette vibrating razor for men surfaced prior to the Venus Vibrance but the vibrating feature was marketed as purely functional for producing a better shave. There was nothing to insinuate that men might use it for masturbation. It certainly wasn’t styled to look like genitalia! Oh yes, men have a vibrating Gillette razor too. It’s called the Mach3 Power Nitro (because men are just that stupid) and it’s black and neon green and full of ridges and cheesy ultramodern design cues, and it’s clearly designed to look like some futuristic race-car gearshift or something, and of course it’s the exact same goddamn razor as the Venus, except the men don’t talk up the gentle sensual Soothing Vibrations™ factor one bit. Oh my no. (Morford, 2004)The Venus Vibrance has, as well as utilized itself as a sexual commodity, introduced ambiguity in its function. Is it a functional razor? Is it a sex toy? It would appear to be both, although it has never been clarified that the intended use of the razor is for masturbation. Many of us may be stupid enough to buy this Gillette marketing ploy but we’re not blind! It is certainly not ambiguous in its intended user however. Its styling, branding and advertising are a hugely exaggerated idea of what is feminine.However, such binary identities of sexual branding are beginning to date, along with the generic colours of pink and blue to materially identify feminine and masculine. The colour pink has essentially been reclaimed by the ‘metrosexual’ male, and obviously the gay community, but in both instances the colour still denotes what is feminine and ultimately inferior. A ‘metrosexual’ man is essentially a man in touch with his ‘feminine’ side that, as a result, has the appearance, to some, of a gay man.In other ways though, it is becoming more difficult to ‘read.’ A man walking down the street in a pink t-shirt, these days, is probably more likely to be straight and borrow his girlfriend’s hair straighteners than be a gay man making a social or political statement and we tend not to look twice at it anymore. The call for unisex beauty products (such as hair straighteners) is loud and clear and would suggest that men want a piece of the beautification action also. However, as with almost every personal electrical item on this planet, there is still always a pink version for the ladies. Of course men can buy pink clothes, but buy a pair of pink hair straighteners? Maybe not…”The topic of consumerism is such a HUGE one, and as a design student can get pretty depressing sometimes… I find myself constantly thinking “Do I really want to add to the tremendous amount of crap in the world??” but luckily design… well good design… is going in a far more ethical direction (which has it’s own problems, such as wankers who make being “green” about being “in fashion”.)Anyway, I could go on and on about this stuff but I won’t! I think this comment is probably long enough!

  12. Jenny 🙂 A fantastic addition to the converstaion! Thanks for sharing those extracts. It is understandable too that as a design student you feel ethically probed by creating ‘stuff’ but I think if every design student had an awareness like yours, perhaps there would be less ‘gendered’ or hegemonic designs… perhaps. I am so glad you have contributed. I have actually just gotten through Ariel Levy’s ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ and will post a review, because this was has provoked so much response. Gender is such an interesting aspect to explore in relation to consumerism.:-)

  13. I have to say that nothing I have ever designed at uni has been gendered in any way. I HATE when someone stands up and presents specifically female or male products because they ALWAYS suck and it’s a total cop-out! It just means they can’t come up with anything even slightly creative, or they’re just saying what they think people want because it’s EVERYWHERE! However, that rarely happens in my class cos what I study is called Design Futures and it’s a whole different way of thinking than the Consumer Product Design course. We tend to look at things in a very different, less commercial way. We look at a lot of experiential and conceptual design as well as sustainable stuff so that kind of makes me feel better about creating more “stuff.” Unfortunately design at university can be very different to the real world because you don’t have marketing coming in and bastardising everything!

  14. Pingback: Another Voice for Nam Le « Swimanog

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