Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Radio Shack Hates You

Almost to a one, [investigative journalists a]re suspicious (paranoid?) about corporate power, dubious about the intentions of governments, and convinced that at this very moment a secret meeting is being held somewhere in which a hateful conspiracy against the masses is being hatched.

Jack Shafer, Investigating the Investigators
It turns out that one of these hateful conspiracies against the masses, particularly the world's poorest people, is Western consumer culture. Who knew? The creative minds behind The Story of Stuff did. Showing that they have the chops to rise to the top of investigative journalism, they reveal the shocking fact that Radio Shack's retail prices don't even cover the rent on their stores, let alone the cost of transporting the goods to the stores. Through the ruthless exploitation of poor workers in the Third World, Radio Shack makes enough money that it can remain profitable while selling products at a loss - thus subsidizing not only consumers, but Radio Shack's landlords, shipping firms and employees. (Which makes one wonder why they bother selling products at all...)

And the CPUs and heat sinks in desktop computers haven't gotten larger because they're more powerful - it's so you can't upgrade your computer by simply replacing the CPU. Instead, you have to throw out the whole box, and get a new one. Because the arcane technique of buying a new motherboard that has the correct socket type for the new CPU you just bought is a closely guarded secret - that THEY don't want you to know!

To be fair, the basic premise behind The Story of Stuff is more or less dead on - American consumer culture isn't sustainable indefinitely. But the examples that the video points to can be dodgy at best, and completely predicated on the ignorance or lack of critical thinking on the part of the audience at worst. At a certain intersection of population, standard of living and resource availability, NO culture is sustainable indefinitely. And the idea that Americans consume at such a high rate is due to Madison Avenue, or the manipulation of some shadowy cabal of people in a smokey room somewhere seems designed to do nothing more than absolve us of the responsibility for the choices that brought us here.

Bad presentation often kills important points. And this point is too important to treat so lightly, in the name of favoring indoctrination over education.


twif said...

people shop at radio shack?

also, the folks who are going swap out motherboards probably built their own box. the majority of people just shouldn't try it. most consumers these days are buying laptops anyway.

seems like it's running over old ideas. i mean, capitalism doesn't work so well if people aren't buying stuff. companies used to just stiff american workers in regards to wages and working condiitons; now they do it to people in other countries. is this news to anyone?

i suppose part of (okay, most of) the reason i cannot muster the approriate sort of outrage is the same one that keeps me from feeding the starving, blind orphans in africa. or donating to any other such charity. namely, i honestly don't give a fuck about these people. perhaps this makes me a bad person (i'm sure some will think so), but there are limits to the amount of actual, honest emotion i can have. and it's used up on wife, son, family-at-large and friends. personally, i feel you can't have any genuine emotion for people you've never met; nothing beyond a basic empathy. claim more than that, and it's bullshit for the sake of image. again, probably a moral shortcomine of sorts on my part, but there it is.

Keifus said...

That was one annoying fucking video. Even while I basically agree with her, I wanted to throttle that obnoxious woman. Predicated on the lack of critical thinking of her audience is just right.

I might make a quibble with you that while you could make an abstract argument that no society is ultimately sustainable, etc., I think the limits or consequences of ours are a little more salient in some modestly distant future. (I also think Madison Avenue has a lot to answer for.)

Aaron said...

"I think the limits or consequences of ours are a little more salient in some modestly distant future."

True, true... My point was that our lifestyle isn't bad in and of itself, and its unsustainability isn't a result of some underlying moral decadence. Put enough people on the globe and strict veganism will become unsustainable.

And you're right to point out that Madison Avenue has a lot of things to answer for - but mind control isn't one of them. We're guilty here, too.