When conscious consumerism is bullshit

Blake Lively is pulling a Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m not talking about the so-called conscious uncoupling (although let’s hope that if Blake and Ryan do break up, they’ll call it what it is and spare us all the unbearable pretension). No, I’m talking about a “lifestyle” website newly launched by Lively; one she no doubt hopes will do better than the slumping goop.

Preserve is the newest digital playground designed for those who can afford to ooh and aah over things that are vintage, gourmet, rustic, artisan, repurposed, handcrafted (because ‘handmade’ isn’t authentic enough anymore), or whatever other adjective presumably justifies an exorbitant price tag. The geniuses of Portlandia do a fantastic job of parodying modern fads. Their Put a Bird on It skit reminds me of how it’s not uncommon for people to exploit trends in order to charge more for something than it’s worth.



Preserve is basically a mercantile Pinterest for affluent hipsters. Now, materialism is nothing new. We live in a capitalist system, after all. Marketing and advertizing are everywhere. They’ve colonized our culture and our minds. They follow us around in our daily lives, beaming their subliminal messages from every surface and medium possible; in captchas, on sewers, on people’s foreheads. We can’t even urinate in peace. And that snappy Michael Kors bag perched conspicuously on the lap of the woman opposite you on the subway – how many women do you figure have yearned for the privilege of being a real life mannequin so they too can feel important?

Instead of acknowledging how invasive and insidious all of this is, people frequently applaud its ingenuity. Forget about what we might be able to accomplish if such resourcefulness and creativity weren’t squandered by private interests. Money and cleverness win over ethics, hands down. The cult of consumerism brands those of us who refuse to kneel in the temple of materialism as heretics. No, this is nothing new.

What enrages me more than anything else, though, is the use of philanthropy to justify greed, which Preserve embarrassingly tries to pussyfoot around:

“Doing good” is often looked at with a cynical eye. For good reason. Much of it is a selfish act— it feels good, it sounds good, it can be quite self-congratulatory. While it is personally rewarding, there is an impact to be made when we can step back and acknowledge the truths in the motivation— not only the selfish ones, but the ones bred of a genuine desire to be there for others, others who don’t regularly have the fortunate opportunities that we do each day.

Let us be clear. We are a for-profit business.

We celebrate and indulge in the treasures both high and low that we feature on Preserve. We are aware that a lot of what we are selling is outlandish in a world where people are starving and have nowhere to sleep. This is a real problem. One that even on our high horse we can’t ignore. This is our community. Each of ours.

We have set our first goal of giving 5,000 children a meal, 2,000 children a blanket, and 2,700 children a warm hoodie, all within the U.S.

We’re a small, but growing company. Our giving reflects our age. As we mature so will our contribution both fiscally and physically.

We acknowledge that we are human and are flawed. But please accept, our intention is to do something pure. So we ask you, let this be a conversation. Help us grow. Help us give. Please critique us, teach us and be patient with us in the process, as ultimately we are all in this, this spinning sphere, together.

How douchey and patronizing is this?

Many of us are onto the ways in which businesses exploit our desire to purchase good quality, socially and environmentally sound products, only to justify doing so because they’re not 100% greedy. I’d say I’m reasonably suspicious that they’re tricking us into spending more money while they reap a fatter profit margin. Because really, how much of our money is going toward overhead, especially when it comes to web-based businesses, many of which are featured on Preserve? Consider the $70 High Tide Classic Bow Tie. Or for $132, perhaps you prefer a “hand painted” t-shirt that has been “distressed” and “destroyed” so you can walk around looking like you just fixed your Harley Davidson – without having to smell like it.

Twombly Crew

This accoutrement is the brainchild of The Squad, who design clothing that’s “comfortable for one’s own wandering” and “colored by hues from their travels and washed specifically for comfort and ease; it’s essential knitwear built for the long road ahead.” Is this what people are doing with their English degrees?

In the event that you’re into Native appropriation, they also offer a holey t-shirt with a dreamcatcher on it for $80. Is the cotton even organic? Seriously, in a recession, who has the money for this shit?

Corporations like Starbucks really love to pat themselves on the back. Take the Ethos Water Fund, for example:

So far more than $7.38 million has been granted to help support water, sanitation and hygiene education programs in water-stressed countries.

I have a better idea. How about they pay their fair share of taxes? And how about instead of charging us $2 for water, from which a measly 10¢ is devoted to these unfortunate people, they give a little more and charge us a little less for something we can get out of a tap? If these campaigns are truly a form of social responsibility in action, I’d like to see them do these good deeds without attaching their logo to them. Otherwise, the line that separates philanthropy from self-promotion becomes awfully blurry.

I do what I can. I’m the sort of shopper who keeps health food stores in business; I don’t even use normal toilet bowl cleaner, for Christ’s sake. But I saw a jar of what I’m sure are delicious pickles at my local butcher the other day that cost a cool $14.99. If anyone has any doubt that Toronto’s Roncesvalles Village has been gentrified, wonder no more. That’s the official stamp right there (yup, Portlandia did a parody of the pickling fad too!). My family had a huge garden when I was growing up and we canned pretty much everything that can be canned. Beets, mushrooms, pickles, borscht, tomatoes, sauerkraut – you name it. I can tell you it’s not that expensive to do. Look, I’ll gladly pay more for locally, naturally raised meat any day. I’ve even cut my meat consumption so I can afford it. I get why it costs so much more than the standard grocery store fare. But fucking pickles?

It’s getting hard to find businesses that don’t take advantage of their throwback appeal and ethical bent to squeeze more money out of customers. Why should I have to declare war on myself for wanting to swing by that shop that introduced me to terrine because I feel like I’ve been seduced by Satan himself? I hate who I’ve become!

So I ask you: where do we draw the line? It seems that the cheapest and most authentic way to do things ethically and naturally is to do it your damn self.


The Urban Lumberjack: When trends show us just how lost we are

Sleepwalking through the all-night drugstore
Baptized in fluorescent light
I found religion in the greeting card aisle
Now I know Hallmark was right
And every pop song on the radio
Is suddenly speaking to me
Yeah, art may imitate life
But life imitates TV

Superhero by Ani DiFranco

I’ve written about hipsters before, and this is one subject that I never get tired of griping about. Because it never ends. It just ‘evolves’ into bigger, more stupid trends.


The Darmody: sexy or skeazy?

I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this. There’s a particular haircut that any given man on a busy street corner in downtown Toronto is likely to be sporting. But first, let’s discuss what has happened to the other hipster trends… Nothing. They are STILL wearing skinny jeans and plaid shirts. They still walk around with all manner of foofy scarves, with their pants rolled up to their ankles while wearing grandpa sweaters and loafers with no socks on. They are still creeping us out with their suspicious mustaches and frothy beards everywhere we go. And those glasses. Those fucking glasses.

But some months back, very suddenly, I realized that these dapper gents were also wearing variations of a nouveau-retro quaff referred to as the Undercut, also known as the Darmody. Oh yes, after all this time I have discovered its name. According to my research, we have Boardwalk Empire and complicit barbers to thank for this. This style is being worn absolutely everywhere, to the point where I was starting to wonder if we were having a sort of neo-Nazi invasion (though the fact that the original inspiration predates the Third Reich doesn’t make it any more acceptable). It’s like these guys are all part of an underground club (wouldn’t that be so fitting?) that sends them memos when hideous new throwback-inspired styles can finally just barely be tolerated by the public. Or maybe what’s happening is that random assholes simply decide to play a trick: think of something that looks so pretentious that the posers won’t be able to resist and then watch it catch on like wildfire, just for entertainment. Modern-day social Neros, in other words. There are other theories, of course.

Hipster fads sell cars - poster in downtown Toronto

Attack of the ‘stache: Car share ad targetting (or mocking?) Toronto hipsters

You really have to wonder with some of these gimmicks, and not even because of the escalating silliness of some of the looks, but because of the ubiquity. That’s what really gets me. Why are there so many people trying to stand out by looking the same way? What does it say about our society that in the most sophisticated, cultured places we have masses of people who feel that being ‘cool’ is integral to their identity and happiness?

It’s hard to separate the fakes from the other guys who just seriously dig beards or have always worn those thick black-rimmed glasses. It’s gotta take some courage not to sacrifice your dignity and get a makeover for the sake of disassociating yourself from the fads.

Typical real-life Toronto hipster

Typical real-life Toronto hipster

We live in a time when competition is considered a virtue and image is a commodity. Expressing your individuality isn’t really about being you; it’s about making a point of showing the world what category of person you belong to, as though that actually matters. What’s particularly frustrating about hipsters, though, is that they’re supposedly well-read and socially and environmentally conscious – while managing to be even bigger douchebags than the ignorant types that comprise Ford Nation. Yeah. Ironic.


Another observation is the particular fashion being expressed and what it means about how people want to be regarded. This includes what I term the Urban Lumberjack look – also commonly referred to as the Mountain Man – whereby a man who lives in a concrete jungle wants to look like a rugged, bacon-eating, down-to-earth bloke who can build a perfect lean-to in the middle of the bush and feels most at peace when dangling from a cliff. In truth, however, he turns his nose up at anything that isn’t gourmet or de rigueur, probably hasn’t been on a boat since he was 10 years old and feels that guns are for uncivilized people (but secretly wouldn’t mind firing a few rounds himself).

The insincerity just keeps dipping lower. It’s obviously disgusting for people to think they’re superior to the common man and to be unapologetic about that contention, but it’s worse when people get off on the same pomp precisely by pretending to reject that notion. What will they think of next? I don’t want to know, but I’m sure we’ll find out. They’ll make sure it’s impossible for us not to.


Turn that frown upside (Double) Down!

I’m not going to tell you I don’t eat fast food (or junk food for that matter). I do. Not often – but I do. I reckon my diet is considerably healthy on the whole, and I’m guessing 99% of us eat crap at least once in a while. There are valid reasons why the mention of restaurants such as McDonald’s and KFC usually provoke two very different responses:

  1. “Ugh… that shit is so gross, man. Total heart attack on a plate.”
  2. “OMG, my mouth is watering for a big, juicy Bic Mac right now! Why did you have to bring that up?”

Or what about all the people who hate Starbucks, eclipsed by all the other people who buy it because, well, it sells good coffee and is intelligently marketed?

KFC’s Double Down sandwich (there’s no bread involved, but what else could they call it?) is now available in Canada, and I’m going to try it – try it, and not tell you what it was like. Because my sandwich might rock, or suck, and that could be a fluke. Plus, if you really want to know, you should assume the associated risks yourself – it’s only fair.

If you’ve tried it and nearly gagged through your exposition of how disgusting it is, and how it’s a microcosm of unhealthiness, I think I’m qualified to tell you that you’re stupid enough to deserve being fried in a vat of oil yourself (sorry… I don’t eat human). You’re dealing with KFC here. This is not Whole Foods Market. Did you think it wouldn’t be dripping with grease and loaded with fat and salt? I also think it’s setting yourself up for failure, possibly on purpose, when a group of folks at Torontoist try the Double Down – including a vegetarian, someone who hasn’t eaten KFC in years and someone who has never eaten KFC. Were they really willing to give the sandwich a fair shake, I mean, for what it is? I would guess not, considering that “[e]veryone agreed that some vegetable content would have been nice”. Really? Then I guess you should have steamed some veggies, jackass! Would it be unfair to say these folks are probably a bunch of hipsters?

Here’s my beef (or chicken, if you will): If you’re okay with eating junk food, eat it. Don’t pretend you care about the health risks involved. And if you’re concerned, then don’t eat it. If you can’t control yourself, don’t pretend you’re not enjoying it. If you’re going to do something that makes you feel good but isn’t good for you, don’t apologize. And do it with conviction, dammit!


Even the most enthusiastic urbanites occasionally crave respite from the noise and nuisances of the city. You can see it on the faces of the people crammed into the subway train, waiting in line at the grocery store, or trying to pass the guy who’s loafing in the fast lane. Somewhere, someone is ready to snap. Still, urban centres have amazing potential to foster understanding and solidarity across cultures, lifestyles, classes, etc. 

While some city dwellers are content with just enjoying the plethora of ethnic foods, festivals, restaurants and nightlife, there’s always a contingent who feel that they’re part of a throbbing, breathing global village in which it’s their duty as citizens to contribute to the greater good and expand their consciousness. It can be tricky to draw a line between the average person who leans toward this tendency and the hippie or hipster – whatever term you want to use to describe people who think they’re not mainstream, but are really just annoying. These folks likely feel they’re different, subversive, alternative – but they’re not terribly original, and they look like idiots for trying to make some sort of vague statement about society by wearing clothes they bought in a mall or some pretentious boutique. This is sadly not just an ignorant stereotype. You can normally tell what type of music a person listens to by their apparel. I’m not generally a proponent of violence, but if you’re wearing skinny jeans, Converse sneakers and vintage eyewear, you deserve to be punched in the face. Especially if you think having a Ron Jeremy ‘stache boosts your sex appeal. I’m pretty sure the person next to me on the streetcar doesn’t expect me to be listening to black metal in my business casual attire and fashionable heels. I’m not a sell-out; I don’t have to dress like an idiot to enjoy good music. 

Are city slickers really as sophisticated, cosmopolitan and open-minded as we’d like to think? Hardly. If people in one borough can be ignorant about the one at the other end of the city, or if downtowners and suburbanites can look down their noses because they just don’t ‘get’ each other, how much do they know and appreciate about the rest of their country, or world, for that matter? We tend to think that only city dwellers are rough around the edges and experience poverty. Not so. And it’s difficult to live your environmental convictions when you’re surrounded by concrete and choking on pollution. You can try to pressure the government to improve public transporation, do more composting and tighten emissions regulations, but the fact remains that the place where you’ve chosen to live is a cesspool of toxins. That’s what it means to live in a city. And even if you shop at a farmer’s market instead of a grocery store, you still probably don’t have your own garden. You might be lucky to grow some tomatoes and herbs on your condo balcony, if you have one. You can wear as much organic clothing as your income will accommodate and get dread locks if you’re that ‘radical’ – but don’t bother pretending you’re into a ‘natural’ lifestyle. Nothing about your environment is natural. If you were really that much of a hippie, you’d say, “Fuck it!” and move to the hinterland to work on a farm (or something equally as liberating – and arguably insane). 

Lake Muskoka

City and country – I love them both. I spent a solitary weekend recently out in Muskoka, horseback riding and hiking. It was fantastic and totally recharged my batteries. The city is like a girlfriend who’s great to party with, has cool clothes, and doesn’t ask me what I’m talking about when I bring up current events or the lastest viral videos. But she’s pretty much useless around the apartment if something breaks down, and when we go camping she doesn’t know how to build a fire and screams like a banshee when a curious raccoon comes skulking around. You just can’t hang around with her 24/7. Is it possible to find a place where you can have the best of both worlds?