Sunday, August 23, 2009

What do you want?

I got a hell of a giggle out of the predicament of Whole Foods Nation shoppers who were suddenly presented with the reality of corporate America, but this leads to a serious political question:

What do you want?

As far as I can tell from the article, there is nothing political at stake. It is all about feeling outraged that power dropped its marketing mask and spoke bluntly about interests, making crystal clear what it believes to be the economic and political interests of the corporation. While I don't like those interests because they are in opposition to my own, I can appreciate the material calculation that backs it up. It is real and I can take action.

The problem here is that the people who have become personally, emotionally invested in a brand have nothing actionable. The outrage is over the damage to the shoppers' self-perception as morally upright because they shop at the right place. He damaged the brand! Oddly enough, that damage can be fixed with the right kind of kiss ass marketing campaign done with feel good imagery and some well timed back-to-school sales. It is individualized and solipsistic to a breathtaking degree. The CEO is talking about power and they are talking about appearances.

Cynical iconoclast that I am, I wonder at the outrage. Did you honestly think this grocery store chain was anything except a cold-blooded expansion into a specific marketing demographic? Why does anyone attibute to a corporate, profit-making entity any motive except the bottom line?

What do you want? The CEO has presented claims about the material interest of a corporation. Do you want an apology or a retraction? How would that change the calculus of power? Do you want the company as a whole to reject this CEO? Why would they do that if he is the reason they are succeeding? The labor union in the story asked for Mackey's ouster, which is a clear action. What is the next step if that does not happen? Perhaps more importantly, is there any action to take with regards to the corporation? It strikes me that the only action available is to refuse to participate in your own self-deception, and that's not really Whole Food's problem, is it?

The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, continually reminds us that the Right has no monopoly on Teh Dumb. The difference is that when they act in ways we think of as dumb - such as a CEO writing an op-ed in complete opposition to his company's public image - they do so to gain political power. When the Left suffers from Teh Dumb, it does so in ways that fritters away political power, focusing on the most shallow end of identity politics.

John Mackey has made a move to defend his interests and advance right-wing political power. The protesters at Whole Foods want someone to "take it back" and stop making them feel their brand has been cheapened. What do you think will have the larger or more long lasting impact on the lives of American citizens?

The deep problem with Whole Foods Nation is their determined substitution of political power with social appearance.



Joyce L. Arnold said...

First, great to read your thoughts again.

About Whole Foods -- a couple of weeks or so ago a friend included me in an e-mail urging people to shop at Whole Foods in support of John Mackey. My friend is as conservative as I am liberal, but as friends, we've always been able to "agree to disagree." The thing is, in the case of Whole Foods, she gets what you say, Anglachel. She didn't use your exact words -- "substitution of political power with social appearance" -- but she got it immediately. And she thinks it great political and appearance fun that now she and her like-thinking conservative friends will shop at Whole Foods. Or at least make one trip to do their part in advancing the Mackey / corporate philosophy.

Whole Foods Nation shoppers and wannabe shoppers who could never afford it (not the new conservative, making-a-political point shoppers) are faced with a bigger brand disappointment, of course.

Anonymous said...

Just as kind of a tangent. Here in Canada whole foods stores (not the brand, another) import all the 'whole' foods from a couple thousand miles away, in Florida, or California. Trucked all the way up here by some guy stripped out on amphetamines, who'd be farming his land instead, but he can't pay his taxes. So his wife is working as a teacher, and the land is farmed out to Monsanto or someone for GMO lentils.

The whole whole foods idea is a crock.

A couple weekends ago, I worked a Saturday morning at a farmer's market to help out the stall owner. She and her husband, both in their late 70s still come into the market she started and used to manage. She had been up since 5 (later than usual she said) brought everything into the small town market, set up the canopies, set everything out, peonies and sunflowers in a bucket in front, and was on her feet until 2:30 when she drove home to "do" the potatoes. Wash weigh, sort. Then they would have supper (when can get you I asked her--meal times she answered. We're in the kitchen at meal times." How quaint eh? A specific, set time and place for a meal.)

Long rambling story. Do you know what I got paid for my five hours of work? A huge oakleaf lettuce, two little zucchini, one of them home to a bug of some kind (flick), a lovely bunch of fresh, non GMO and not-bred-for-travel Tarragon, a bag of peas in the shell, an armful of Peonies and Sunflowers, and a braided twist of garlic scapes. Didn't I grin?

I think everyone should court a market gardener, ask if you can work for them for a day here and there, just to see what it's all about. What it's REALLY all about.

An elderly couple, sunburnt and wrinkled from looking after their simple little farm for 50 years. No "acreage" with horses. A real small farm. Chickens.

Saturday afternoon, packing up the canopy and tables, and limping into the truck to go home and "do" the potatoes, sit down in the kitchen for supper, then head to a baseball field way across the county, to cheer on a grandaughter's team.

Hattie said...

We have two real health food stores (not chain stores) and farmer's markets all over the island (Hawaii Island). And we grow food and swap food with neighbors.

harpie said...

Oh! I am SO glad you're back!

All I can think to say is:

Bamboozled Nation!

Anne said...

It's hilarious that this op-ed, ripping away their warm fuzzy view of themselves, gets far more outrage from them than FISA ever did...just to name one of the actual outrages.

Everything about their Obama love is about them. Well, let's face it,anything they care about is about them....and they are so easily played.

the Right has no monopoly on Teh Dumb.


Anonymous said...

Buy local, buy organic/ecological and always look at the list of ingredients as well as the place of origin.

Do this as far as your economy allows.

Blindly following any particular brand is to sign away our power as consumers.

B.t.w. I am very happy to see that you are back Anglachel!