Excremental Culture Nears Its Zenith

Thank goodness there is intelligent life out there. Faithful readers have replied to my earlier blog about the Alpine Witch Trials and called me on my market-centric, Americocentric (and probably phallocentric) lack of vision.Yes, at times I do indeed get carried away with the provocateur’s role.Would I really have liked to have seen t-shirts and baseball caps proclaiming the frightful oppression that took place in historic Poschiavo? Probably not.However, my blog writing was motivated by a sense of privilege. I got the tour of the courthouse. I got to hear the historic story first hand. I got to search for more info on what had happened in that place, what had driven those people to do such things. I thought it was fascinating. My sense is that others might find this rich historical detail fascinating, but may not have access to it. I don’t think that point made it into the blog entry very well at all.

What the blog entry did end up sounding like (because of the cheesy, sensationalist, fervent MBA teaching tone that I adopted) was an advocacy of commercialization, and a glowing admiration for everything kitschy. Well, I found something today that makes me want to back down even further from this.

It’s hard to prophesize how we will know that the Zenith of Consumer Culture has been reached. So far, the culture that brought you the Elvis wig, the Coca Cola Museum, the ALF Pez, and edible undies is still churning out deeply meaningful items for those with just a little too much money in their bank accounts.

This reminds me of the story in The Onion about a Chinese Factory Worker who Can’t Believe the Shit He Makes for Americans (not just for Americans, either). The Onion actually has a thing for our penchant to collect what they call “useless crap” or, more candidly, “shit.” They form the topics of some of my favorite stories over the years, including 80 Billion Tons Of Jar Jar Merchandise Now 70 Percent Off and the inimitable Everything in Entire World Now Collectible. I love that one.

We are living on Planet eBay, no doubt about it. And I have a mixed set of emotions about that. The stuff I love to collect gives me great joy, and it serves as an important set of family ties, and helps me keep in touch with a past self who I find it harder to access in other ways. But there is so much stuff out there, and so much of it being produced, and in my own life I know I’ve bought way too many things in the heat of this rock concert, that play, or that travel destination that I’ve just later tossed with a shrug at my own Inner Idiot.

And speaking of excremental culture, here is Exhibit A that we are approaching the Omega Point of the Kitschy Consumer Culture Catastrophe. A Swedish company is making a set of “two taboo-breaking cuddly toys.” One is liquidy and yellow. The other is solidy and brown. You get the picture, right? Yes, they are “Pee & Poo.” What started as a Master of Design project at the School of Design and Crafts in Göteborg University in Sweden by designer Emma Megitt is now a thriving business. According to Emma’s dissertation, “Pee&Poo address the taboo-surrounded subject of bodily functions in an amusing, yet aesthetic manner.” The web-site offers not only the two cuddly toys, but a range of other branded merchandise, including adult socks and shirts, keychains, underwear (um, yuck), and tattoos.

Eschatology finally meets scatology. Getting to the “heart” of consumer culture. Perhaps the anatomical referencing is seen as a back to basics, authentic, natural move by consumers. Refreshing, in a this-is-reality sort of way. Perhaps it is useful for families with kids, like the various books of “poop” are for potty-training. But considered as part of this overall pattern of consumption, I wonder if this begs the question: Exactly What Won’t We Buy?