Posted Under: DIYism,Guest Contributor,Subculture Inc.
Murketing is pleased to publish this special guest column by Jean Railla, which I believe will be interesting to many crafters and followers of the DIY scene. It was written for her regular column in Craft Magazine, which chose not to publish it out of concern, the magazine told her, that it might be “anti-religious.” (Update 1/25: The magazine says it was a matter of timing and space issues. Whatever the reason, the column addresses issues I think many participants in the crafter/DIY phenomenon are very interested in.) See what you think.
What Would Jesus Sell?
By Jean Railla
What Would Jesus Buy is the suitably ironic title of the documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame), which follows the antics of “Reverend Billy.” As the head of the Church of Stop Shopping Reverend Billy, a character developed by the New York City actor Bill Talen, preaches an anti-corporate theology with an authenticity of feeling and full gospel choir. In the film, Reverend Billy is up to his old antics–exorcising demons at Walmart Headquarters, taking over the Mall of America, and finally crashing Disney Land. His objective? “To save Christmas from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!”
I wonder what Reverend Billy would have thought about the handmade pledge sponsored by Etsy, Craftster, Craft Magazine and others this past holiday season: “I pledge to buy handmade…and request that others do the same for me.”
On the one hand, this sentiment, urging us to buy handmade goods, like fingerless gloves crafted by a seller named Corpseknit on Etsy, or a lavender soap found at Seattle’s new Urban Craft Uprising fair, is in opposition to the very type of consumerism that Reverend Billy is bemoaning. On Etsy we can actually “meet” the producer, read about him or her, see photos. Doing this, we know that when we buy from them, we will be circumventing horrific labor practices like those described by John Bowe in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, which chronicles dehumanizing cases of slavery, environmental damage and other atrocities both in America and abroad. Clearly, supporting Corpseknit, or sellers at any of the dozens of hip craft fairs around the country, is a welcome alternative to mass-production.
But I can’t help thinking: Isn’t shopping, no matter how wonderfully crafty and politically correct still, well, shopping? Can you escape the so-called sin of consumerism by buying handmade? Isn’t the whole point of modern crafting Do It Yourself — not Buy from Someone Who is Doing It Themselves? Not to be a total hypocrite; I shop Etsy and artisan crafters as well as buy the crap from China just like everyone else. It’s just that I see a new trend, which is moving away from crafting and towards consuming. What’s next? “Hip Craft” aisles at Wal-Mart?
Actually, it’s already happening. Scion, a youth-targeted-division of Toyota, which last year marketed its automobiles through West Coast street racer culture (read: Fast and the Furious), recently held a “Craft My Ride” competition, which strove to use modern craft customization to give a DIY patina to their otherwise anonymous econo-boxes. Clearly, this is not a good sign. Crafting is incredibly popular and corporate America is taking note. They are jockeying to figure out how to sell to the growing audience of crafters.
So, where does the craft community stand? Like all other subculture movements before, punk rock, indie rock, skateboarding, zinemaking etal, will crafting become just another consumer product, or is there something more meaningful happening here?
Jean Railla is the founder of Getcrafty.com and author of the craft manifesto Get Crafty. Her ode to food and drink can be found at mealbymeal.blogspot.com. Murketing thanks her for allowing this piece to be published here.