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All Discard Studies

Week 3 readings

The Story of Stuff

I’ve seen The Story of Stuff dozens of times in my life. I’ve seen all the spin-offs many times, I read the book over & over starting in fourth grade. It catalyzed my interest in environmental issues beyond climate, and I’m grateful for the excellent storytelling they’ve done.

One point Annie comes back to regularly is that “[the dinosaur economy] is not even making us happy,” referring to national happiness. It’s remarkable to reflect on the last 3 years of my life, in which I’ve gained disposable income from working (at a climate company). I’ve spent some on travel, my education, housing, but a lot of it on stuff. I’ve bought dramatically more clothes, several versions of each object in my life, and shopping has become a hobby that takes up more time than my “real” hobbies. It’s made me happy to build out a wardrobe of clothes that reflect me, and to have excellent tools I need to do my work. But it plateaus so quickly; I’m at the beginning of my life and feel like I’ve accumulated enough stuff to last me years. But by being around other people with disposable income—even though I’m acutely aware of the phenomenon & how the dinosaur economy process of stuff works—that perceived obsolescence & feeling a need to have ever-better stuff often take precedence: those feelings are more visible to me, whereas the thoughts of the stuff’s externalized costs are easier for me to push away.

A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting Our Focus

“Reverse marking helps to destabilize markedness by compensating against the excessive articulation of the poles.”

Being white is not a part of my identity I would identify. When I was coming out as non-binary, it was (unwelcome) news to some people in my life that they were now categorized/marked as cisgender, contrary to me, when previously they were happy as an “unmarked as the default neutral setting” (41). In the last few years, I’ve learned about many (un)markings: for instance, that I’m non-disabled, which is true & I would readily specify if I ever needed to, that I’m allosexual, which I feel ambivalent about but rarely actively identify, or that I’m neurotypical, a term which is technically correct but doesn’t encapsulate my experience & I would never use for myself. Meanwhile, that I am queer, “‘a marker of one’s distance from conventional norms in all facets of life, not only the sexual’” (43) is an active mark. I specify it in my bios, say it readily & casually.

There’s a notable phenomenon with queer celebrities, articulated here about Troye Sivan, where a huge aspect of their image (an active choice, on Sivan’s part) is being queer, yet it’s not entirely positive to be known for being one of the great queer pop stars—his ambitions, naturally, are to be a great pop star. There’s a liberation in using the term, but there’s arguably a noble liberation in not needing to use the term, because the category has transcended or been normalized.

Rubbish Theory: The filth in the way

“[An object] continues to exist in a timeless and valueless limbo where at some later date (if it has not by that time turned, or been made, into dust) it has the chance of being discovered.”

One sentence that summed this article up: “The boundary between rubbish and non-rubbish moves in response to social pressures.”

One part of walking through shopping districts I enjoy(?) is observing when everything inside a store could be thrown away, and doing so would create more peace. There’s a startling number of stores where that’s the case: souvenir shops (like those in Times Square), gift shops, dollar stores, low-quality stationary, the like. These are the places where Work-Watch-Spend rears its ugly head in the least satisfying way: that some companies produce exclusively “goods” that are not genuinely making anyone happy, but existing for the sake of ritual or expectation, spending global extraction-production-disposal budget on experiences not worthwhile to anyone but the profitmaker. Objects that are “transient / value decreasing” for their whole lives, going directly to “rubbish / no value” with no steps afterwards. Yet these shops stay in business, or we’d be free from the visual pollution (and environmental pollution) they create, because notions of consumerism suggest having an object to commemorate your visit to a park or museum or landmark allows you to remember the valuable parts of that experience. Yet their fallacy remains effective, wasting consumers money and costing us all with their mounting externalized costs.