'Drugstore' Zoella? Really?
And here's a fairly typical Unboxing video, though this one features a female unboxer. It has to be of the iPhone 6.
At first glance you might see these things as reflections of late capitalism's inexorable decline: deeply unpleasant people lacking cultural or moral depth simply showing off. There is, however, slightly more to it. Some of these people earn sponsorship if they're deemed cool enough which means that they're utterly compromised as works of art, while YouTube makes cash from ads if enough people watch for long enough. My fervent wish is that my video earns enormous amounts of money for bookshops and outlets for deliberately boring clothes (now apparently known as 'normcore').
I'm a bit wary of the division between 'unboxers' and 'haul girls': there's a silent and hierarchical binary opposition at play, drawing on long established gender stereotypes. However, you could argue that the haul video/unboxing video is an example of popular culture. It's not the 'folk' culture idolised by the Frankfurt School and no longer available in Western society. Instead, it's a popular reproduction of the values and perspectives derived from mass media. It's explicitly capitalist and requires the producer to view themselves as a brand or object for consumption by a mass audience. While it is in some ways spontaneous, it depends entirely on the structures and ideological demands of consumer capitalism, and offers no resistance (or does it?).
Should we blame individuals for this phenomenon? Of course not: we all exist within ideological, economic and cultural structures which determine our behaviours. Hating these people doesn't help: hating the system does. Psychoanalysis tells us that desire is at bottom a desire for recognition by the Other, while for Freud the circulation of economic goods or their representations (cash) is a version of libidinal desire. In short: we buy stuff and then need to buy new stuff because it validates our insecure, fragile selves. If we can extend Lacan's claim that our desire is to fulfil our perception of what the Other desires to the products of corporate capitalism, we can see Haul Girls and Unboxers as people on a mission to improve themselves.
“Man’s very desire is constituted, he [Hegel] tells us, under the sign of mediation: it is the desire to have one’s desire recognised. Its object is a desire, that of other people, in the sense that man has no object that is constituted for his desire without some mediation. This is clear from his earliest needs, in that, for example, his very food must be prepared; and we find this anew in the whole development of his satisfaction, beginning with the conflict between master and slave, through the entire dialectic of labour” (Ecrits, 182).They want to be the kind of clean, efficient, sophisticated people who can live up to the sophistication encapsulated in an iPhone or a designer dress: the self becomes (s/he fervently hopes) an extension of the item. 'Che vuoi? What do you want?' asked Lacan. If you want the item, you must want me, because I have made myself indistinguishable from it. The video is a disguised appeal to its viewers and to the item's manufacturers: Desire Me. I Am Worthy. It's the baby's cry that establishes a relationship between Autonomous Self which wants to be an object of desire and the desiring Mother within a system.
But of course if you construct your desire from what you think the Other desires, you can never be satisfied because you avoid the subject of what you really want. Which brings me to my own Haul video.
I like to think that by contributing to this craze, I've helped kill it. Next week: I unbox a new set of drawing pins. Before long I'll be able to shake of this actual salaried job and live off backhanders from drawing pin manufacturers.