Fakes, smugness and denial

July 30, 2007 at 3:04 am Leave a comment

Photo of GeraldineTwo news pieces from The Guardian caught my eye over the last week. Both articles point to what I see as a deeply disturbing shift in society. First up, a UK law firm has commissioned a survey of over 2000 Britons, which looks into the scale of the black market in counterfeit or fake goods. The report is called Counterfeiting Luxury: Exposing the Myths 2007 and you can download it here.

A few years back, it was rare to see a Louis Vuitton handbag trotting down the road on the arm of some wealthy woman. Now, you can see them everywhere on the arms of teenagers who clearly can’t afford them and we instantly wonder what fake market stall they bought it from. Thailand? Hong Kong? Globally, the fake luxury goods market is worth up to $US467 billion a year and two thirds of the consumers surveyed said they were happy to tell their friends and family that their watch or handbag was a fake, according to The Guardian.

Now, here’s my problem: sales of fake goods have been linked to funding organised crime and terrorism. Read this article from BBC News if you don’t believe that statement or didn’t know about the link. Whilst it now seems to be socially acceptable to pass off a global brand like Louis Vuitton or Gucci and rip off their designs; more disturbingly it also seems to be socially acceptable to turn a blind eye to where the money from the sale of fake goods is going. And a quote from the report really freaked me out:

I had a mate who bought a (fake) bag off my sister-in-law, he took it to Louis Vuitton in Selfridges saying that he bought it for his wife and wants to change it. They looked over it for ages…in the end they changed it (for a real one)“.

Apart from the audacity of this dude waltzing into Louis Vuitton and thinking he could get away with exchanging a fake for a real handbag and leaving aside for the moment the issue of how he exchanged it without a bona fide purchase receipt – what does this example tell us about contemporary society? It tells us that we would prefer to worry about image and ripping people off than being honest and acting with integrity. And we would prefer to be in denial about funding crime and/or terrorism. As we salivate over our fake Hermes, we would prefer not to think that the item was perhaps produced from the sweat of child labour.

The second article from The Guardian highlights what I have become increasingly worried about – a level of smugness and self-congratulatory behaviour is evident in today’s society. I’ve observed this since I guess Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth hit the screens. Suddenly, we’re seeing and hearing that “green is the new black”; that image-conscious trendy types lined up for hours to get their hands on Anya Hindmarch‘s “I’m Not a Plastic Bag”; we turn off a few electric plugs here and there; we switch to driving a Prius; and we talk about carbon credits. And so we congratulate ourselves on doing our bit to prevent climate change or buying more ethically, but the real issue is that we need to consume less, not just switch from X brand to green product.

Green consumerism is the same animal really as contemporary society’s rampant consumerism. Ethical shopping is becoming the latest way to signify social status. As the article points out, green consumerism is a substitute for collective action. No political challenge is met by shopping. It’s like we have two markets operating side by side: the market of goods that damage the planet and the market of green products that damage the planet a little less. We buy green, then go on flying and buying just as before.

Here’s a quote from the article that highlights the rise of smug green consumerism: “In places such as Surrey and the New Forest (UK), farmland is now fetching up to £30,000 an acre as City bonuses are used to buy organic lifestyles. When the new owners dress up as milkmaids and then tell the excluded how to make butter, they run the risk of turning environmentalism into the whim of the elite“.

And so we are in denial again and we prefer to buy a green lifestyle than make individual sacrifices. It’s like obtaining an indulgence to offset a sin. We are not focusing on the political action that needs to take place if we are to lessen (if we can) the frightening impact of climate change. I suppose it’s a struggle between an old order and new one: the old order wanting to continue with “business as usual”, the new order sensing the need to take decisive action before it’s too late. Clearly, Governments are going to have to step forward and regulate – and this is the crux of the struggle perhaps – in our individualistic, hedonistic lifestyles we have no tolerance for Governments regulating said lifestyles or regulating the environment we choose to respect or disrespect. Big business is more concerned with shareholders and increased profits and perceives any move to regulate a threat to their power base and wealth.

I have no doubt that future generations will look back on us with shame and indignation. They will attempt to find out when it was we lost the plot – sometime during the 20th Century when Governments shrank back and allowed big business to run the agenda? sometime in the late 20th Century when we became obsessed with the glittering Hollywood lifestyle and failed to see the glitter and beauty in nature? or sometime in the early 21st Century when clear evidence of climate change began to manifest but we were a society filled with ostriches with collective heads stuck in the sand and more interested in ourselves than preserving the world for our children and grandchildren.

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Entry filed under: Rant, Social problems, Society.

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