Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are Chinese women too hairy? Where there's no market, capitalism creates one.

source: Bloomberg Business Week
by Richard Mellor

I received a response to one of my blogs the other day that was interesting.  It was from a right wing nutcase who attacked my defense of Chavez’ s record fighting illiteracy in Venezuela and how irrelevant the building of "22 Universities in 10 years" is if  “they are just indoctrinating students into Communism…”.  Comments like these are not uncommon from some Americans whose knowledge of the world and history comes from mouthpieces of the corporations like Rush Limbaugh.

The view that we have a “mind of our own” and that we “think for ourselves”, nonsense propagated by the big business media, is quite strong here.  We are free individuals we are supposed to believe, influenced by no outside forces; society is irrelevant.

If that were true, US corporations wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on advertising, trying to convince us to buy their products.  US advertising revenues (excluding Political and Olympics) hit $171.7 billion last year, and total advertising for the 2nd quarter of 2012 finished the period at $34.4 billion---this  is no small sum. The ten largest advertisers spent $3.5 billion in that period. Lots of useful social projects wasted away in these expenditures.

Then there is all the money spent by US corporations abroad.  Global capitalism has mastered the art of deception and manipulation and is relentless in this ideological assault on the US population. Much of this advertising is spent convincing us to buy what we don’t need. Sociologists and psychiatrists are hired by corporations to help them influence what we think about ourselves and the world around us.  Influencing children is crucial in order to pressure their parents, whose lives are consumed by work and survival, to succumb and buy the goods. Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation, “Marketers now use different terms to explain the intended response to the ads---such as ‘leverage’, ‘the nudge factor’, ‘pester power’.  The aim of most children’s advertising is straightforward: get kids to nag their parents and nag them well.”

According to Schlosser, dream research has found that about 80% of children’s dreams up till the age of six are about animals so market researchers attempt to create mascots, imaginary characters that can help them sell their products, “imaginary characters who perfectly fit the targeted age group’s level of cognitive and neurological development.” Says Schlosser. The capitalist class reigns supreme when it comes to preying on children, no “pervert” database for them. This ideological terrorism kills a lot more people than any "foreign terrorists" for sure.

We are all targets in this war to influence our thinking.  Having the right appearance in order to find a mate, achieve success or feel confident in the big wide world out there is a must.  The marketer must convince us we are in need of their product; for this they have the “personal care” industry.  Second quarter spending on personal care hit $1.9 billion according to Kantor Media that tracks such things.  There’s a lot of competition among leading marketers of cosmetics, hair care and skin care products not to mention new cures for new ailments like baldness, erectile dysfunction and restless leg syndrome to name a few.  But women are a prime target.

The changes in China have opened up new markets for the purveyors of products. I touched on the emerging “look pretty” industry in a previous commentary in particularly, in the case of Chinese women and their physical structural appearance.  

The makers of Veet hair removal cream are making big moves in China, a market that has incredible potential.  But a major problem is that Chinese women don’t have a great deal of body hair.  No worries, the corporation will deal with what is at hand and has “embraced a new marketing plan” writes Bloomberg Business Week *.  Veet, owned by Reckitt Benckiser (Wreckit indeed) has new ads that equates “Hair free skin with health, confidence, and ‘shining glory’” , BW reports.   The assault is pervasive and vicious,
“It’s not how much hair you have”, Veets top dog in China says, “ …it’s how much you think you have.”  Veet wants to make every Chinese woman “conscious of every stray follicle”, this is what will bring results, “If your concern level is high enough, even one hair is too much” says the Veet executive.So we will make sure we convince you that you are ugly as you are.   Beauty will be determined by Madison Avenue and in the main, men will determine it .

A promotion, a raise, a husband, these things are all tied to successful body hair removal even if you don’t have much of it in the first place.  The product’s website reminds its victims of those moments in life when “…you’re not prepared for anything….. In fact you’ve got stubby legs, a fuzzy bikini line, and you’ve just fallen head over heels in front of the whole office.  It’s moments like this you need Veet.”

This is free will is it?  It is free will for the rising middle class as there aren’t too many Chinese women working in offices. Those working in the factories that supply Wal Mart, Apple and all the other western retailers are a little less susceptible to such an assault and have less money, but the manufacturers are working on it.

Benjamin Voyer, a social psychologist and an assistant professor of Marketing at the European Business School hits the nail on the head explaining that this approach, “Creates an awareness, which subsequently creates a feeling of shame and need”. That’s right, but I have to wonder what he’s doing working where he is, maybe he should change jobs.

What is behind this drive to sell products all the time?  Why convince us to buy products we don’t need really or that are harmful to us?  After all, with Veet for example, the chemicals used to weaken a woman’s body hair to the point that it can be scraped off smell so nasty they add yet another nicer smelling chemical to it to mask the odor. And who knows the long-term affects of all this stuff. The psychological and physiological damage done to us as human beings by this war on consciousness, especially young women, cannot be understated and is perhaps for us to explore another time.

But why this situation exists is where Marx comes in.  I am not an economist or expert when it comes to the complex details and specifics of economies and I need not go on too long.  But I do understand and accept the general process at work that Marx explained in his writings on the capitalist mode of production.  Unlike feudalism a predominantly agricultural system of production that was in the main a self-sustaining economy, one in which production was mainly for use and where wealth was in the ownership of land, the capitalist mode of production is one where the products made are for sale in the marketplace; initially a fairly localized marketplace, but today in the global market. It is the commodity that is king in capitalism.

In the capitalist mode of production, a commodity is created through a labor process bringing together human labor power (our ability to work) and the raw materials, machinery and technology needed to create the finished product. This finished product is not the property of the worker that made it, but the capitalist who has purchased the worker’s labor power and other means necessary for production to take place. The production process belongs to the capitalist.

The purpose for the capitalist is to produce commodities whose value is greater than the combined value of the labor power and means of production consumed (used up) in the process of production. The source of their wealth is due to them paying less value for labor power (wages) than the value created through its use. In other words, we work over and above the time needed to create our own wages. That value, the capitalist gets for nothing.

So a commodity, say a car that we buy, a personal care product, or a computer, contains within it, value the capitalist paid for and value they received for free.  This added value, surplus value, cannot be realized though without the sale of the commodity.  The commodity created by labor must be sold.  This is what is behind the constant, never ending and treacherous efforts by the capitalist to sell the product. It’s the goose that lays the golden egg.  It is the source of the lying ads, the politicians’ seemingly immoral behavior and the slaughter of millions in wars as capitalists from different nations struggle for control over the world’s resources and markets.

I know this seems afar from what this commentary began with but for me, it is what allows me to understand it all; not because I have an unhealthy “cult of the personality” admiration for Marx; but because his explanation of how the real world works corresponds with objective reality, make the world concrete.  Capitalism must create a market where there is not one all and all’s fair in this war. My entire life has been spent as a wage-worker, in construction mostly but also grueling factory work. I am proud of my contribution to this world as all workers should be; after all, labor is the source of all wealth.

I will close with a statement from Mr. Marx that for me sums it up quite succinctly:

“Use values must therefore never be looked upon as the real aim of the capitalist; neither must the profit on any single transaction.  The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at.  This boundless greed after riches, this passionate chase after exchange value, is common to the capitalist and the miser; but while the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser.   The never ending augmentation of exchange value, which the miser strives after, by seeking to save his money from circulation, is attained by the more acute capitalist, by constantly throwing it afresh in to circulation." From, Capital; The General Formula For Capital

* Convincing Women in China They’re Too hairy

An after thought.

I wanted to mention, for the sake of working class readers who follow this blog and are fairly new to socialist or Marxist ideas about things like economics. The surplus value that I refer to above was also what kept the feudal lord in a comfortable existence in feudal society.  But it was much easier to see that.  The peasant paid their masters in kind, in produce of their labor they physically gave over to them in return for a small plot of land on which they could produce their own keep.  They maintained their households, farms and land. The exploitation was clear.  Capitalism is a little more complicated as we are "free", not tied to the land or a particular feudal estate.  We get paid wages for our labor and how we are cheated in that set up is less visible although all workers know it in our gut. 

A very good book about the transition from feudalism to capitalism  if my memory serves me right is Leo Huberman's Man's Worldly Goods.  I never read the last chapter which appeared to me to champion the merits of Stalinism. But I loved the rest.

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