A LADY of the Professor’s acquaintance recently enlivened a pleasant dinner by launching into a tirade about the cost of shoes. Mid-way through the grilled seafood platter for two, she thrust a shapely ankle from beneath the table’s skirts and demanded an estimate of her footwear’s cost. Low-heeled and pointy-toed, the shoe on display was a remarkably practical specimen in tan suede, the only interesting thing about it being that some fey little fellow in Milan or similar had equipped it with a kiltie in an apparent attempt to evoke what golf shoes looked like when society still had standards. No woman will ever understand the male perspective on the way she dresses, which is probably just as well. Season-by-season, the world’s arbiters of feminine fashion hike or lower hems, pad shoulders or bare them, ordain loose and flowing skirts or make it quite the adventure to mince in hobbled steps down flights of stairs. Men accept all this with the good grace of children who have noticed that, while the Christmas wrapping on the present changes year by year, the gift inside remains always the same and no less enticing for its familiarity. Apart from explaining why women are more keenly appreciated than the train sets, it also speaks well of the rather more practical male capacity for diplomatically feigning an interest in bows and fripperies. Thus does our species maintain itself, and a good thing it is too.
It emerged that the shoe in question was half of a pair purchased on the Internet for $170, which seemed such a remarkably large sum that a lament for the injustice of it all was half-formed on the Professor’s lips when the evening’s companion removed the need for sympathy. Burbling with delight, she let it be known that the same model in David Jones goes for around $400. She was certain of this, as she had visited the chain’s Bourke Street store, tried them on, noted the size and gone straight home to place an online order. Her saving, of course, was David Jones’ loss, which helps to explain why the big retailers have been doing it hard lately. It cannot be easy to cope with the treachery of shoppers who, after a lifetime of fronting the counter with purchases in hand, turn suddenly and viciously against you.
Nor are they only ones department stores cannot trust. For years, word of bargains and mark-downs has been conveyed via the pages of our major newspapers, as indeed remains the case. Over the past week, for example, The Age published several pages of expensive ads for Myer and David Jones, and if the average cost per page came in at under $20,000 it would be quite the surprise. No doubt, when Fairfax executives get together with their big-spending clients, they make all sorts of noises about partnerships and how no department store can have a better friend than the newspaper that is broadcasting its messages to consumers.
One gathers that Fairfax editorial executives do not attend these gatherings, because even as The Age last week carried retailers’ ads, it also gave over part of its Opinion section to the thoughts of contributor Alecia Simmonds, who was moved by news of the recent factory collapse in Bangla Desh to bemoan the entire and sordid business of shopping.
The question of responsibility stretches from the global to the minutiae, from international labour standards to the clothes racks of Myer. It's a question that stems from our commercial imperialist past and will continue into our neo-liberal future. And it's a question that centres on the lives of women.
So, Myer advertises a perfectly legal product and a contributor expresses the Age’s gratitude by citing the company as a toxic relic of our “commercial imperialist past”. And Ms Simmonds was just getting warmed up, too. We further learn that “global capital sniffs like a ravenous wolf around the world in search of cheap labour”, that “First World women's consumerism collides so dramatically with the conditions of Third World women”, and that the merchandising wing of “global capitalism” is “a prowling, salivating beast that needs to be tamed with regulation and personal ethics.”
These views must be de rigueur at the University of New South Wales, where Ms Simmonds lectures in law, but surely they cannot be appreciated in the boardrooms and advertising departments at Myer and David Jones. It is, after all, rather hard to imagine some ad person exclaiming, “I know! Let’s give Fairfax millions of dollars so they can bag us right and left.”
Of course there is a distinct possibility those same execs read nothing in the Fairfax press other than their own ads; indeed, it is hard to imagine them doing so. One imagines them to be career-minded sorts with little interest in the sermons of the Occupy Fairfax crowd who now determine the sequence in which capitalism’s depredations will be excoriated from one edition to the next.
So why not do the retailers a favour and let them know. While Myer is having its lunch eaten by internet competition it has also tapped the web’s capacity for providing instant feedback. So why not let the company know that The Age has persuaded you never again to spend a dollar in its stores, sullied as they are by the blood of butchered Third World women.
And do make a point to note that you read all about the company’s evil in The Age. A few less ads, another revenue shortfall and Gina Rinehart might finally deliver the coup de grace to the company she has been stalking for several years.
And if The Age were instead to fold, well that would be no big deal. Green Left Weekly will still be available to denounce free trade and capitalism, so the few readers The Age retains will hardly notice its loss.