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28-05-2005
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kit
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Could be some relevant points here :-



An anagram for evil

Angus Macqueen on Amaranta Wright's depressing story of global markets and multinationals' greed, Ripped and Torn

Saturday May 28, 2005
The Guardian




Ripped and Torn: Levi's, Latin America and the Blue Jean Dream
by Amaranta Wright

Levi Jeans's most recent television advertisement is a tale of sultry latin youth on dark street corners, gangs and a Romeo and Juliet couple liberated from their threatening surroundings by love and wearing the right denim. It is a classic corporate attempt to invest the label with the dangerous allure of the ghetto, while stripping the scene of any political significance. These deprived kids are hardly Levi's target consumers. As I read this vibrant book, I wondered how much of the ad could be blamed on Amaranta Wright.


For almost a year Levi's employed her to travel Latin America and report back to headquarters in San Francisco on the pulse of youth across the continent. She danced from country to country plucking the wisdoms and clichés of the young to be turned into bullet points for Levi's advertisers and marketing gurus. Her reports were aimed at binding these new consumers to the brand in a cut-throat world of competition and counterfeits.

She was clearly a perfect Levi's girl: fearless, funny, independent and very bright. As she discovered while introducing a group of youngsters from a Venezualan slum to the internet, such adjectives fit very well into the corporation's self-image. She found herself on Levi's website, which talks of their blue jeans as a world of "engagement and compassion", "frontier independence, democratic idealism and social change", and "empathy, originality, integrity and courage". She writes: "I felt sick."

Ripped and Torn is certainly not the book Levi's would have wanted Wright to produce at the end of the job. The year's travel transformed her, turning into a rite of passage during which she explored her own past, and her relationship to this alluring but tragic continent. The result is a passionate, fresh polemic, as much about globalisation and the individual as about Latin America. It is also a polemic desperately searching for a modern language to describe its age-old dilemmas of class and exploitation.

Wright is an Anglo-Argentine, brought up in the UK by parents who had escaped with the advent of the rightwing dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s. Childhood was punctuated by Crouch End dinner parties, "stroking the long black silky hair of mysterious Amazons as they left bespectacled Anglo-intellectuals in awe of their passionate intelligence". She retained a sense of a world far from repressed north London, where feelings were purer, and instincts reigned unchecked by obsessions with exams and ballet classes.

Oxford she saw as a training ground for "imperialist mercenaries", turned into "specialists in objective analysis in the true British tradition of self-interest". This is what Levi's must have thought it was buying into. But there is not much objectivity here. Instead her year becomes a voyage of discovery, from the slums of Caracas via Cuba to the drug-fuelled high life of Colombia, where "glittery threads balance on silicone breasts, stiletto heels push buttocks up to pert perfection and low-cut elastic jeans (mostly white) streamline the Amazon curves".

The book's power comes from the sense that she dives straight in, that she wears the glad rags, pops the pills, dances the dances and loves the people she meets. She is also fearless. Her search takes us to places and people that most (locals and foreigners alike) don't dare visit: the shanty towns that rise up on every side of Latin American cities.

She enters the gang-controlled barrios of Medellin and Cali, towns where drug money has provided a healthy consumer base for a Levi's franchise to flourish. The nostalgic talk is of how the drug barons invested in their communities, while the violence that accompanied the cocaine trade is placed in the context of a civil war that stretches back generations. The young people sense that the big multinationals may bring jobs and the pretence of a liberated lifestyle, but in reality are exploiting cheap labour and long hours. Wright quickly learns that it is not the "people" the corporation is interested in; just those who can afford to consume.

That richer minority has, of course, bought into the global market, into the brands and image of the "west". She argues it has less of a relationship with its own country than with some global identity, where capital flows across borders and productivity and markets rule. These people are "plasticos" lying beside hotel swimming pools, horrified when Wright brings slum kids into their sacred space, until she loudly and falsely praises the boys on the success of their last rap album. Suddenly in the twisted logic of modern taste and celebrity, the despised become the admired and sexy. Gradually she feels a traitor to the people she befriends, for using their personal lives and feelings in the service of a money-making machine.

She is good on the double standards of the "developed world". Why is it that Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco, which in the US and in Europe have been forced to carry health warnings on their packaging, continue to advertise in the rest of the world just as they did a generation ago? Local governments cannot resist their blandishments, but the hypocrisy of profit knows few bounds. It is the same when union leaders at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colombia get murdered by paramilitaries because they are planning to organise strikes. In the shadow world of global companies and complex tax and legal arrangements, Coca-Cola claims no responsibility because it does not own the plant. Equally, BP claims no knowledge of the fact that in order to keep the oil flowing along its pipes, someone pays all sides of the Colombian civil war not to blow them up. Everyone knows this, except of course the press and legal departments of the company itself.

Wright rejects the way in which multinationals are not only destroying the concept of the nation state but undermining any genuine personal identity, all the while wrapping themselves in a language of uniqueness and individuality. Hers is a tale of class - of a soulless, rich minority, usually rather whiter than the rest, and a poor, disenfranchised majority where the real soul of the continent survives, endangered.

We quickly sense on which side of the barricades Wright stands. In this book the poor tend to be good and generous. The rich are crabby, frightened and racist. But as the book progressed, I desperately wanted this to develop into something more searching and less sentimental - the vibrant immediacy is also the weakness of the book - not because I disagree with the sentiments but because of the knee-jerk nature of the response: the poor are always more genuine; they contain within them the soul of the continent; they always dance better.

I found myself reflecting that in this post-Soviet world, when the ideology of socialism is almost an embarrassment ("I'd be called a commie," she writes with mock horror), this book is constantly searching for a language or a structure with which to describe these fundamental issues, which have not simply disappeared with the fall of the wall. Just a generation ago this would probably have been a less readable book, a tract laced with words such as alienation, surplus value and colonial imperialism. But it would have had a coherence underpinned by an understandable philosophy.

Today the left has no language, and the multinationals do. They want us to believe that free market democracy is the answer to everything. Look at Chile, they say. But the present success of the economy claims to root itself in the profoundly undemocratic Pinochet. At the same time Colombia describes itself as one of the oldest democracies on the continent - and elections have done nothing to halt an almost endless civil war, nor to prevent power, both political and economic, remaining in the hands of about 150 extended families.

Multinationals, for all their cool rhetoric of change and mobility, will do nothing to challenge that social fabric, particularly when the disenfranchised poor provide a workforce grateful to be paid a dollar for a 12-hour day.

While the book's engagement is almost totally with Latin America, Wright knows that the lessons she has learned apply here in London as much as Santiago. Her last chapter has her back in the UK applying to work for a "revolutionary youth charity" that needs "guerrilla marketing" on the streets of London. The charity is sponsored by Levi's. Meeting with the mastermind in trendy Hoxton, she is told "branding is the language of youth. They only understand through brands". We are already lost.


Sorry to set you yet ANOTHER reading task .


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28-05-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kit
Sorry to set you yet ANOTHER reading task .

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Bring 'em on, we love them!

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28-05-2005
  33
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Quote:
describe its age-old dilemmas of class and exploitation.
..."revolutionary youth charity" that needs "guerrilla marketing" on the streets of London. The charity is sponsored by Levi's. Meeting with the mastermind in trendy Hoxton, she is told "branding is the language of youth. They only understand through brands". We are already lost.
thanks for the intersting article kit
that last quote is exactly what i mean when talking of label worshiping and materialism.

(tott and softie, i had a long and boring reply but got lost in the www never mind, you know what i mean)

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28-05-2005
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i feel that american culture at this moment is so wrapped up in this idea of mis-prioritization. More people put a higher priority on their appearance (which includes their fashion purchases, but also just their general outlook, ie. how i feel in the world in relation to others) rather than putting a priority on anything else, such as intellectuel pursuits, betterment of society, religious studies... which in the past was more likely to happen than someone running out and buying the new style toga.

People seem to think that what you own is equivelent to what and who you are.


so people want to have others view them in a certain light. we've gone beyond the "keeping up with the jones'" of the 1950's into a competition with the lives and livelihoods of the people Americans idolize, celebrities. Seriously, how many people do you know that threw out their regular TVs and bought flat screens in the last 3 years? The TV works just fine. Its the person who wants the TV to say more than just, "I'm an object that you watch" into "I'm a status object that you watch."

its functionality versus bragging rights. most people would rather have a brand new model of a car rather than one 3 years old. why?
they both run, no?

its about possessing something that others deem valuable. everyone wants something that someone else wants more... We've become a society that places so much emphasis on the idea of anticipatory jealousy. we try to jump the gun, so we don't experience the jealousy of wanting what someone else already owns.


i'm not sure how this came about. i can trace the American Dream evolution from the 1950's to the 1980's, but around the 90's I lose track of what the American Dream constitutes. I think it became this "It's not me, it's my ADD" society in the 90's and now that ADD that was diagnosed by psychiatrists in the 90's has progressed into OCD with purchasing power. The American Dream today no longer revolves around just a car, a house with a lawn and a hot dinner at 6 (as it was the 50's), but more owning the large house with the infinity pool, 4-5 cars in the driveway, a flat screen in every flat surface and a sub zero full of Kristal and Penta. We've progressed from wanting our status of living to be comfortable into wanting our lives to be luxury. I suppose there is nothing wrong with wanting that, but it seems to me that in our quest to get ourselves luxurious, we lose track of many of the things that matter most in life. American's seem overly content to accept what is fed them by the media. We don't critically think and question anymore. (sorry off-topic I know)... I hate how psychology and the pressure of appearance has shaped Americans into this brainwashed society of sorts. People will go out and buy all their old VHS tapes anew in DVD. They will buy the FIJI water that they say Nicole Ritchie drinking. They will drive the Navigator because so and so does. They will exercise compulsively until they have Jen Aniston's body. They will shave their head to look like Tupac. They follow what they see and exercise their purchasing power to get as close to it as possible.


its a matter of asking, is it me i am portraying with my posessions? or what i'm hoping you will see and judge me by in posessing these things...

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28-05-2005
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Good job Miss Wright, for not falling victim to what Levi's would have expected her to do... I bet they consider this quite the slap in the face..

Quote:
They want us to believe that free market democracy is the answer to everything.
Yes, this is an aspect that I believe is very prevelant in today's society. Everything is about free market, and how without this .. quality of life can't possibly be anything good. Without the ability to consume everything possible.... we are sure to perish .. The ideals instilled upon us are just downright ..scary!

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28-05-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oceanharlot

People seem to think that what you own is equivelent to what and who you are.

so people want to have others view them in a certain light. we've gone beyond the "keeping up with the jones'" of the 1950's into a competition with the lives and livelihoods of the people Americans idolize, celebrities. Seriously, how many people do you know that threw out their regular TVs and bought flat screens in the last 3 years?
The TV works just fine. Its the person who wants the TV to say more than just, "I'm an object that you watch" into "I'm a status object that you watch."

its about possessing something that others deem valuable. everyone wants something that someone else wants more... We've become a society that places so much emphasis on the idea of anticipatory jealousy. we try to jump the gun, so we don't experience the jealousy of wanting what someone else already owns.

People will go out and buy all their old VHS tapes anew in DVD. They will buy the FIJI water that they say Nicole Ritchie drinking. They will drive the Navigator because so and so does. They will exercise compulsively until they have Jen Aniston's body. They will shave their head to look like Tupac. They follow what they see and exercise their purchasing power to get as close to it as possible.
are you inside Lena's mind miss oceanharlot?

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28-05-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oceanharlot
we've gone beyond the "keeping up with the jones'" of the 1950's into a competition with the lives and livelihoods of the people Americans idolize, celebrities. Seriously, how many people do you know that threw out their regular TVs and bought flat screens in the last 3 years? The TV works just fine. Its the person who wants the TV to say more than just, "I'm an object that you watch" into "I'm a status object that you watch."
I have basically stopped watching TV because of this. There are so many shows based on the posession of others...

Also, one of my favorite shows is Extreme Home Makeover. But honestly, the houses they build for these poor people are luxury palaces... Filled with flat screen tvs and abnormally large living quarters.. Is that really what people need, will this really up their happiness, cure the pain that has ravaged their lives? Couldn't this show help more people if it put less of an emphasis upon materialism and gave just a little more than what would be necessary/nice for living!?!?

And VH1/MTV? Riddled with tv shows about how celebrity's are living.. and how skinny the aformentioned celebrities are, what kind of bottled water they're drinking, how many tvs they have in their car... cultural wasteland.. focused on these things... it's got to be a sign of the apocolypse..

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28-05-2005
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kit
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There are many links here between what is being said here and some of the things we discussed in the ' Boys and the Hoodie ' thread .

http://www.thefashionspot.com/forums...ad.php?t=26448

For those put-off by more of my interminable Guardian articles , it says much about disaffected youth in a materialistic and government sponsored morally sententious UK society , and by extension , disaffected youth in other materialistic societies .

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28-05-2005
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I havent watched more than a few hours worth of TV for the past 2,5 years so I'm out of that loop... But great posts ocean and pointup!

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28-05-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lena
thanks for the intersting article kit
that last quote is exactly what i mean when talking of label worshiping and materialism.

(tott and softie, i had a long and boring reply but got lost in the www never mind, you know what i mean)
Lena, I think we basically all agree; we're just arguing the finer points...

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28-05-2005
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totally tott

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28-05-2005
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don't worry lena...
i started writing a long response-which said much of what ocean and pointup both expressed so well-and then deleted it..

i think we all agree that materialism and consumerism has gotten pretty out of control...

the thing that really bugs me...
is how UNREALISTIC it all is...
it is not possibel for EVERYONE to achieve a level of financial success to live as luxurious a lifestyle as so many of the people prtrayed in the media...

so most of the public is left feeling 'deprived' or inadequate because they don't have the latest 'whatever'....

i am surrounded by it constantly...there are not a few people in nyc who live this way...these are the 'trendy' people...the people who jump on the latest thing and have to have the latest cell phone every 5 seconds...or now it's the phone/blackberry combo...

i really see these people as victims...
(even though they seee themselves as 'fabulous')..
they aren't thinking for themselves...
but you see...thinking requires energy and effort...
*defining oneself is not an easy task...

some people just don't want to deal with it...
it's just easier to follow along than it is to lead...leading is hard work...
i think most people don't want to work that hard....

very good article kit...thanks for posting...
the thing that bugs me about all these articles and books on the subject...
is that they only shine a light on the issue...
they never seem to propose a solution or alternative...

what's the answer?...
how to bring about social change....
that's a book i want to read...

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Last edited by softgrey; 28-05-2005 at 02:44 PM.
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28-05-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey
the thing that bugs me about all these articles and books on the subject...
is that they only shine a light on the issue...
they never seem to propose a solution or alternative...

what's the answer?...
how to bring about social change....
that's a book i want to read...
Excellently put!

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28-05-2005
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Any change starts at home ... if you want to make a social change, you must undergo personal changes ... if we're speaking on materialism, on personal level, buddhism has helped me (and some other stuff) but every person shud find it's own calling and whatever it "fits" -to put it on fashionable terms-

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28-05-2005
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Totally, ultra! On a personal level, given the fact that I've moved from country to country for a while under uncertain terms, I've gotten rid of clothes and belongings I realized I didn't need or really wanted. I've become accustomed to not owning a lot of stuff, sort of, and it's actually a great relief! I've become so much more practical and focused.

I find buddhism fascinating, along with a lot of eastern philosophies. There's a Japanese concept of "nothingness" (I think it's called wa or something similar?) which is very appealing.


Last edited by tott; 28-05-2005 at 03:26 PM.
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