On Saturday August 27, thousands of left-winged pinkos and apolitical gawkers gathered in downtown Toronto to mourn the loss of Jack Layton, don paper moustaches, and witness the rare spectacle of a state funeral. There were two processions: The state’s official ceremony, steeped in borrowed Royal tradition, lead the way to Roy Thompson hall. Behind it, the people’s procession carried a celebratory and almost carnivalesque atmosphere.
We find in this divisive spectacle two ideologies vying for supremacy.
Now that his legacy is up for grabs, Layton is being spun into some kind of watered-down New Liberal. While in the past he was portrayed as the Leftist Enemy (under the spooky banner of ‘socialism’), now he is being sold as a ‘good guy’ with “always a twinkle in his eyes”. The message here is: forget about who he was, what he did, and his politics, celebrate the mere ‘person’ of Jack once he has been abstracted from all the (real, living) political content that made him who he actually was (i.e. what he fought for, what “he gave his life for”). In other words, we are encouraged to celebrate a fiction of Jack Layton instead of his truth.
Above: This clip featuring columnist and broadcaster Darcus Howe has been going viral over the past week.
When you first viewed this clip, you may, like me, have said something akin to “Speak, brother.” You may also have felt ideology becoming palpable before your eyes—this is a verbal battle between incompatible realities. Darcus Howe and the BBC newsreader, Fiona Armstrong, become not people, but caricatures of the ideologies they represent. Armstrong, a white woman, sits in the chaste BBC studio in front of a greenscreen, untouchable by the chaos of the street or the violence of the rioters. Howe, a black man, stands in front of a burning building as firefighters behind him try to put out the blaze.
In this confrontation, Armstong becomes the mouthpiece of the dominant ideology. She reads lines off of a teleprompter and when she looks away she forgets Howe’s name, calling him Marcus Dowe. The worldview she presents is simple: if Howe was not “shocked” by the riots, he condones them. When he refuses to cooperate, she tries to reduce him to the role of “rioter.” At every step, she tries to disarm the reality Howe is thrusting before her by slotting it into the BBC’s predetermined story. Unfortunately for her, all these tactics and more won’t work, because Darcus Howe didn’t get the memo.
Armed with ironic signage and a small group of allies, we took our protest to the beating heart of consumerism in Toronto—Yonge and Dundas Square. On the back of our placards were functional, oversized QR codes, scannable by smart-phones, and linking to the same resource of cultural de-mystification that we used in our last action.
We repeated and exaggerated the dogma of television and the political vanguards of consumer nations: It is our patriotic duty to shop, to accumulate debt, to stockpile things we don’t need, and to therefore enable the economy to grow infinitely and forever. We are free, because we are free to consume, etc. etc. Through our overzealous consumer rhetoric, we hoped to render common arguments for conspicuous consumption transparent.
Costco is wayyyyy more interesting than you thought it was.
Church of Consumerism by Sebastian Bartnicki
One of the most spectacularly successful recent developments in the consumer landscape has been Costco, the wholesale warehouse open to the public. Costco wholesale centres now have over 58 million members, with sales of $76.3 billion dollars (USD) in 2010. Costco is the fourth largest retailer in the USA, seventh in the world, and has continued to thrive during the recession while other companies have suffered.  This colossus relies entirely on word of mouth for advertising, which can only work as well as it does because of the very real devotion of its customers. Shopper Joe Davila tells us: “This is the best place in the world. It’s like going to church on Sunday. You can’t get anything better than this. This is a religious experience.” 
When a wholesale warehouse is extolled as a religious experience by a middle class shopper, we should not just shake our heads and say, “Silly person…” On the contrary, we need to take Mr. Davila seriously – Costco is a religious experience, or works very much like one. If Costco can create such devoted customers without the seductive advertising, elaborate product packaging, exclusive brands, and ‘retail experiences’ that we have all come to expect, it’s worthwhile to understand how it does so. Costco is far more complex, and far more subtle than the description ‘wholesale warehouse’ suggests. This essay is an exploration of how Costco represents itself, how it functions, and what it may mean for consumerism in North America.
This post comes with two steps. Step one is to watch the above video made by Spanish revolutionaries.
Step two is to watch the video below. Listen very closely.
The song is called Uprising, the single from the album The Resistance, by Muse. It may, at first, seem like a protest anthem or kernel of revolutionary culture, especially with lyrics like, “Rise up and take the power back/ It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack/ You know that their time’s coming to an end/ We have to unify and watch our flag ascend.” Thankfully, the Top of the Pops Christmas Special exists to remind us it’s yet more mindless entertainment designed to make money.