Shopping for Pleasure
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John Fiske maintains that consumers have power and they exercise it to their advantage. He observes that not all people who visit shopping malls buy goods and services (Fiske, 1989). In fact, quite a good number simply consume the space and the images in the malls, but not the commodities. This is especially the case for individuals who are not economically empowered and as such, they have no money to buy items from the mall.
The thesis of this essay states that consumers, regardless of their social standing, reign supreme. The consumers who have a low purchasing power can still exercise their consumer power by flocking into the shopping malls to consume the space and images but not the commodities on sale. Fiske noted in a study conducted by Pressdee in 1986 on unemployed youth in Southern Australia. The study revealed that young people frequented the shopping malls in large numbers, but without the intention to buy anything.
Fiske does not attribute this behavior among the youths to idleness or lack of something better to do. He notes that the youths have no money but have plenty of time on their hands. Consequently, the youths resort to thronging the shopping malls just to consume the space and the images and not buy anything. However, the management of the malls can do absolutely nothing about this group of customers. They turn the shopping malls into their spaces where they express their oppositional culture, as well as their social differences and their subordinated social identities (Fiske, 1989).
The study also revealed that it was not only the idle youths that consumed the spaces in the shopping malls. There were other groups of tricky consumers and they included lunch time browsers, old people taking walks and mothers taking their children to play in the shopping malls in summer. These people were also able to exploit the spaces in the malls to their advantage.
Fiske is able to show that consumers have power and they can exploit it to fit their situations. People are able to visit shopping malls, occupy space and time, and not buy anything at all (Fiske, 1989). The management of the shopping malls are in no position to exert control over such groups of consumers. This is because the shoppers of space and images do it cleverly: they tour the malls looking around as if they want to pick something. They enjoy watching the goods on display, but that is as far as they ever get.
It is also apparent that the spaces in the shopping malls have become the new arenas on which people are able to express themselves. In these shopping the people who lack sufficient financial muscle can express their power to think differently and to make sense of the social inequalities in the society. This is because the shopping malls represent the people who are economically stable as these are the people who go to buy items from shopping malls. The less endowed may just get their products from shops and supermarkets.
In addition, by thronging the shopping malls, consumers express their desire to resist the prevailing ideology that confines people to mere subjects of the bourgeois patriarchal capitalism. By thronging the malls, they show resistance to the long-held impression that only the rich have the privilege of shopping in the malls.
Fiske also expresses his views on semiotic democracy. He notes that shopping is not a passive exercise aimed at the subjugation of consumerism. Consumption, however, takes place in the actual acts of shopping. This takes place regardless of whether people buy the products or just occupy the space like the youth with no money but have a lot of time on their hands.
Nevertheless, as people throng shopping malls to buy products for consumption, they should not only be concerned with the immediate delivery of goods and services, but should also put into consideration the problems that face ordinary citizens. One such problem is poverty. The social exclusion of the flawed consumer underlines the poverty experience by a majority of people.
Poverty prevents people from participating in activities that contribute to a normal and happy life. There is a distinction between a normal life and a happy life. In most societies, normal life belongs to the consumers while a happy life is the preserve of those who delight in consumption. Those who delight in consumption visit shopping malls for their daily supplies. This is because the culture of shopping malls plays up to the affluent people living in affluent locations, judging from the position of shopping malls. It is not surprising, therefore, that most shopping malls are located in up-market estates.
Nevertheless, according to Fiske, the consumer reigns supreme. Consequently, consumers need not worry about manipulation from the forces of consumerism. The consumers can find power in the semiotic power which they can use to convert consumerism into avenues for their own benefit.
Fiske, therefore, has managed to prove that the consumer reigns supreme, regardless of their social status. Catch phrases like “the customer is always right” and “consumer protection” are contemporary pointers to the fact that consumers reign supreme.