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TAXA: Green Consumers

I’m undertaking my taxonomy of lifestyle choices, niche markets, and purchasing patterns, and their various ideologies. Or at least, these things as they are reflected from the glossy paper of magazines and periodicals, and as I am able to infer from the rhetorical turns and aesthetic impulse of copy, ads, and layout. As I am not a demographer, statistician, adman, or publisher, some of these reflections will be rather crude. With luck, though, they will also congeal to be a sort of critically oriented collage. We shall see.

Last night initially I had gone looking for a magazine, Plenty — perhaps I should not, in the future, look for a specific mag, but just grab whichever one strikes my fancy — but the box store I went to had stopped carrying it. So I just drifted about the rack near where Plenty would have been present if it had not been absent, and I looked for a suitable replacement. After a couple of minutes I saw the Green Guide, which was fine enough to start, since I remember having thought something snarky to myself the first time I saw it.

Green Guide is a sort of consumption how-to list for the Green demographic. To exactly pin down what ‘Green’ is supposed to mean for this demographic is difficult, as the word itself is used as a modifier and descriptor of so many things that it appears essentially amorphous. In the sense of the Green Guide, ‘Green’ is used to describe the sorts of things that you will want to buy, if you are Green. And, with its connotations of plantlife, organic — as in biological — growth, environmentalism, sustainability, and maybe even a hint of money, ‘Green’ is applied to many things: Green Water; Green Towels; Green Detergent; soap that leaves you “cleaner and Greener”; ways to “put the Green back in gardening”; how to be “Green on a budget”; the list is as endless as it is amorphous. Anything can be Greened, and hence made desirous. So on nearly every page of the Green Guide, in nearly every advertisement and in every column, review, and article, you will find Green things.

Which is not to say that there is anything undesirous about wanting to make the world, society, our lives, greener, insofar as by greener we mean living in a way that enriches life, considered broadly, rather than impoverishing it. This is obviously something that any reasonable person would want. Reasonable wants, however, are easily hijacked and inverted to be lunatic. The actual inversion of reason to lunacy is often not a conscious act; it might happen as a side-effect of other factors and decisions whose motive logic is irreconsilable to the thing they’re attempting to approach. The Green Guide itself may have even been chartered on Greening the world, but it proposes to do so in a manner that is essentially antiGreen — perhaps it is Brown.

Take the magazines tagline: “The resource for consuming wisely.” Before admen and marketeers internalized the the growing mass-urge for something a bit more Green, when Green was a fringe concept employed by intentional communities, hippies, environmentalists and other wackos, it is doubtful that the word would have been so naturally and habitually used to describe consumerism. Green’s genealogy though is another topic; suffice to say that now Green has become something of a stamp of approval for the concerned consumer, the subject who wants to cast his dollar votes to the right candidate or policy move. The Green Guide is happy to oblige: it even comes with a detachable “Smart Shoppers Guide,” a cardboard card that lists ingredients you want to keep away from your body; and it’ll even let you know which way you should buy your soda, in aluminum cans or plastic bottles. In the future it may even definitively lay out the case for paper, or plastic.

That is the motive logic of the magazine. This is one that is shared by many ‘environmental’ periodicals, I am sure — and in fact, let’s call this the organizing hypothesis of my taxonomizing, I suspect that the motive logic of pretty much every magazine, say 80%, I look at will in some way make the case that whatever the niche identity, it is served via consumption — but the Green Guide is not a magazine that will appeal to ecohipsters. It is not enough in the know, it is too far behind the curve, it is too safe. Its typographic layout is atrociously unattractive — block sans serif juxtaposed garishly with bubbly sans on the cover, smattering of different styles of layouts inside — and the color scheme looks like it could be in a Martha Stewart publication — such as the Everyday FOOD that comes to my house. The Green Guide appears to targeted for a similar demographic: probably middle thirties, middle class, perhaps with children, cognizant but not hip, more staid than cool. It is loaded with helpful hints Stewart would be proud put her name on.

And in the back there are the true motors of all magazines, the bit adds, the quarter page spreads, vacations and eco tours, and, of course, yoga accessories.

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2 Responses

  1. The Green Guide itself may have even been charted on Greening the world, but it proposes to do so in a manner that is essentially antiGreen — perhaps it is Brown.”

    Right. Greening is one of those things that if you take it out of the context of the society you actually propose to green and how it produces itself, turns out to be insane. It results in an immediate contradiction.

  2. It’s also quite ugly. They need to higher better designers.

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