Who´s GrieFing Now?

March 12, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 3:51 pm

(An extract from Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young, Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: SAGE, forthcoming Sept. 2008)

In January, 2006, Jeff Ferrell scrounged a 1999 Gap Loss Prevention Manual from a dumpster behind a Gap clothing store; also in the dumpster was a little plastic briefcase labeled “Banana Republic Impact Selling’.
Reading through the manual, it becomes clear that the dumpster isn’t the only place where The Gap mixes consumption, social control, and crime prevention. Time and again the manual emphasizes to employees that ‘customer service’ is the best guard against shoplifting and other theft-related ‘shortage’, since ‘great service keeps our customers coming back and shoplifters from coming in’. The manual offers specific suggestions for customer service as crime prevention—‘extend a warm hello to customers and offer your assistance’—and even suggests scripts: ‘Hello, are you shopping for yourself or for a gift?’ ‘How do you like our new fall colors?’
Should this preventive strategy fail, employees are advised to use ‘recovery statements’ to reclaim shoplifted merchandise. ‘Role-play different scenarios with your managers,’ they’re told. ‘Practice using APPROPRIATE, NON-ACCUSATORY, SERVICE-ORIENTED Recovery Statements’ (emphasis in original). As before, specific statements are suggested, among them ‘How did the stone color khakis work for you? Do you need another size?’ and ‘That dress is really cute. I bought one for my niece the other day’.
This management of verbal interaction is matched by the management of emotion (Hochschild, 2003). ‘Remember to remain positive!’ when making recovery statements, the manual urges; even when responding to a store alarm, ‘do not accuse the customer or allow the conversation to become confrontational.’ And under guidelines for the hectic holiday sales season, employees are urged to call the Loss Prevention Hotline if they suspect internal problems at the store (all calls confidential, up to a $500 reward), and in the next line encouraged to ‘Have fun!!! The holidays are a perfect time to “choose your attitude!!”.’ Further emotional support is provided by Loss Prevention Contests, where employees are rewarded with gift certificates or movie passes for knowing loss prevention procedures.
If shoplifters are up to nothing more than snagging a Gap hoodie these sorts of soft control customer service techniques and ‘recovery statements’ may work as crime prevention. But what if they’re up to something more? What if they’re part of the Yomango underground? Yomango emerged in 2002 in Spain; ‘yomango’ is Spanish slang for ‘I steal’, and a play on ‘Mango’, the name of a Spanish chain store. Now a trans-European, Latin American, and growing worldwide phenomenon, Yomango is based on the idea that shoplifting—that is, ‘liberating products from multi-national companies or big chain stores’—can function as ‘a form of civil disobedience and a survival technique.’ Attempting to reimagine stealing and to ‘give it a different meaning’, Yomango participants see themselves as engaging in a subversive ‘magic’ that ‘turns the mall into a playground’ (www.yomango.net; Adbusters, 2005; see Edemariam, 2005).
More broadly, illegal everyday practices like Yomango, squatting, and fare-dodging train travel are practiced as part of a new ‘precarity’ youth movement, a movement that embraces and confronts the precarious conditions of late modernity. Practitioners argue that the fluid, globalized dynamics of late capitalism—‘flex scheduling’, part-time service employment, outsourced work, temporary jobs sans benefits or long-term assurances—leave more and more people, especially young people, with nothing but emotional and economic uncertainty. Yet this very uncertainty—this very precariousness—creates a new sort of commonality, maybe an amorphous social class, where ‘immigrants, mall workers, freelancers, waiters, squatters…an immigrant worker and a downwardly-mobile twenty-something’ (Kruglanski, 2006) together drift through the anomie of late modernity. And so precarity is seen to replace the work place as a place to organize the disorganized, to find some common ground, as slippery as it may be, to realize that under such conditions ‘we are all migrants looking for a better life’ (Tari and Vanni, ).
After all, if for an earlier generation ‘a job was an instrument for integration and social normalization’, today jobs are only temporary ‘instruments we use to obtain the cash we need in order to live and socialize with the least humiliation possible’. And yet the minimum-wage cash from a part time job is never enough, and the humiliation only increases—remember, these service-worker kids have been forced to learn that Gap manual and others just like it: ‘Smiling is working—where does my real smile begin? Whether your friendliness is tainted by the shade of networking, or shaded by “Hello, how are we today? My name is Rob and I’ll be your server’ (Kruglanski, 2006). And so, with the ‘extinction of the relatively stable structures of classical industrial capitalism’ (Hall and Winlow, 2007: 83) all but complete, with the social contract effectively voided by the fluid predations of late capitalism, the clerks and servers turn on the very situations that entrap them.
That is, they steal from the very stores whose continued viability rests on their underpaid employment. ‘Stealing in itself is not a political act’, says one practitioner, ‘but you can turn it into something political if you want to use this term’ (Adbusters). ‘Yomango is a transformative act of magic,’ says another. ‘It does not recognize the laws of physics nor does it acknowledge definitions such as legal or illegal. It does not recognize borders or security arcs. Yomango liberates objects and liberates your desires. It liberates your desire trapped in objects trapped inside large shopping malls. The same place where you yourself are trapped. Yomango is a pact between co-prisoners’ (Kruglanski, 2006). But how can these young shoplifters beat the mall security system, avoid the surveillance cameras, elude the loss prevention strategies of The Gap and Starbucks? Oh, that’s right—they’ve read the manual; it’s their orchestrated smiles and scripted greetings that constitute the front line of loss prevention in the first place.
Transformative magic indeed, and of course soundly illegal; German police in 2005 raided the home of a man they claimed was promoting Yomango through his website (Edemariam, 2005). ‘What’s important to note is that all that stuff is free’, says ‘P. Bannister, CEO of Yomango’. ‘Why? Because we’re smart, because there are lots of us, and because we are working on our own turf’ (in Kruglanski, 2006).
All that stuff is also free if you get it not from the store but from the Dumpster out back—a dumpster like the one where Ferrell scrounged the loss prevention manual.


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