I needed a shorter read for one of these second posts, so I picked up Michael Cho’s Shoplifter! This is a short little read with suggestive sexual content and, well, shoplifting, but it’s a cute little read for anybody who is sick of consumerism.
Plot: An English lit graduate tries to find meaning in her life despite living in a world over saturated by consumerism.
Initial thoughts: This was on a list of top releases of 2014, and I can understand why when it comes to the visual experience. The book is composed entirely in white space, black ink, and hot pink color, creating a striking, visually blinding experience. While the story isn’t as strong as it could be, I definitely like how the main character, Corrina, defies consumer culture by shoplifting, which eventually enables her to seek a life free from the consumerist boundaries.
I know I mentioned this in my post about This One Summer, but the Canadaisms in Shoplifter are not so overt. You might mistake this Toronto for New York, London, or Tokyo, and I think that’s intentional. After all, one of the pitfalls of consumerism is globalization, which is, in reality, Westernization.
Itty Bitty Research: I don’t think it’s any mistake that the color of choice for this graphic novel is hot pink. The story begins with deciding how to brand a perfume to the 9-12-year-old female demographic. Although it’s gotten somewhat better compared to when I was a child, take a look at any Barbie aisle in a toy store and you’ll know why pink is so important to the story. I decided to look into the history of pink in branding in order to better understand how pink operates in this book.
Claudia Hammond at the BBC speculates that the origins of pink as a color for boys is a myth, but admits that there is no biologically essential preference women have to the color pink. In fact, blue is a preferred color for human beings at birth. Hammond reported that “after the age of two the girls started to like pink and, by four, boys were determined in their rejection of pink.” This means that at birth, children of all genders had no preference for the color pink but socialization taught humans with vaginas to recognize pink as a color representing their gender identity and humans with penises to reject this color because it represents the antithesis of their socialized gender. Susan Stamburg at NPR traces pink’s fashionable history of both men and women, which suggests the connotations pink have are a result of social beliefs. Especially in regards to today and Shoplifter, Stamburg concludes, “Thanks to marketing, Disney princesses and profits, the color pink has spread like measles.” While Cho’s graphic novel subtly reinforces pink as a feminine color, the over saturation of the color represents a dissatisfaction and frustration with a world that only presents a single option both for women or – more broadly, Cho’s book suggests – for people in general.
The color pink has the meaning it has today specifically because of branding, and this branding is occurring earlier and earlier. At the Smithsonia, Jeanne Maglaty pinpoints the precise beginnings of branding pink for girls around the 1940s, and she mentions how the pressures of socially policing gender occurs as early as infancy. Decorating a room in pink, buying pink onesies, or “a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.” In light of understanding that pink has been a conscious social and marketing tactic, we cannot ignore how consumerism has exploited this invisible social structure in order to pressure people into buying more and indoctrinating their children earlier and earlier. Many comments on Jezebel‘s page on this topic express frustration at “genderizing” humans at such a young age and how shopping for baby showers is especially difficult due to the gender branding now considered a social norm.
In spite of the comments expressing frustration in genderizing clothing, some comments seek to establish gender in different ways. While some of these comments point out that relying on clothing as an indicator of gender is not correct, some responses have suggested looking at hair styles, which is not correct either because hair is also something that reflects social gender codes but does not necessarily correspond to gender identity. Like clothing, assigning gender to hairstyles limits gender expression and can oppress individual gender identity. We all hurt when pink is prescribed to girls and blue to boys.
References: Cho, Michael. Shoplifter. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Print.