Recycling Modernity: “You Can Have Whatever You Like”

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The next time you’re walking down China Town, picture this…  The vendors coming up to you, whispering these  T.I lines to you, “you can have whatever you like, I said you can have whatever you like”  “Baby, I can treat you special, so nice” “Let me put this [designer purse] in your life” . The recycling modernity theory, which we decided to focus us as part of our discussion does not necessarily apply only to India or Malaysia, as seen in the Sardar and Sundaram’s reading. No, on the contrary, it can be seen around us, even at St. Lawrence University. As a group made up of three members, all from New York City, the first ten/fifteen minutes of our discussion was spent naming places where modernity gets “recycled” in our day to day life.  China Town, Simpson street, Third avenue,34th Street,  42nd Street, Fordham road.  It was quite amusing to talk about our experiences walking through these places and looking at goods that look like the real deal while knowing that this was false, otherwise, the price tag would be a lot heftier. Then 42nd Street and Fordham road came up and the Pashmina scarf became part of the conversation. It was amusing to realize that before going into the Brewer bookstore, none of us realized that the $5 Pashmina scarves we were used to buying on Fordham and 42nd street were actually “knock-off” versions of scarves that the Brewer bookstore sells for up to $30. So with this realization, we would like to add to the theory of recycled modernity by saying that in praxis, one is not always aware of their participation in this a recycled modernity.

Speaking more on the idea of fake goods, we came to the realization that although we were able to name a significant number of places where we experience recycled modernity occurring in our daily lives as New Yorkers, none of our three group members would actually buy things from these “spots”. Although it might be different for others, we were all able to agree on the fact that as people who attended public high schools, fake was unacceptable. Being caught in a fake version of a brand name would lead to nothing but ridicule; it’s just out of the question and upon further discussion of this, and in the process or comparing it to places like Kuala Lumpur, where everybody seems to participate in this as a group, the idea of Marx’s false consciousness was brought to light.

Although, the relationship between false consciousness and a reluctance to participate in a fake economy are not quite clear cut, we came to the decision that Marx would classify the desire for something that is unaffordable, in order to feel as less of a proletariat as an act of false consciousness. And there’s no faking it, you either buy these things, even if you cannot reasonably afford it, or you do not buy them at all. And many times, buying these things to fit in seems to be the main consensus, so you might feel pressure to buy the latest sneakers, watches, etc.  If Marx had to put this into words, he would probably say that the proletariat feeds into a capitalist system and attempts to live an unaffordable life of luxury even if it means sacrificing other expenses or make a tremendous effort to get access to the money to buy brand name items. So, café discussion additional theory #2: Recycled modernity and the willingness or lack thereof to participate can tie back to the Marxist idea of false consciousness.

For those who are not from New York City, who might not quite grasp our logic, here’s another logic we unanimously agreed on, and we’re sure every college student can relate to. So, T.I said “Patron on ice” “pop bottles all night”. And it just so happens that at this very moment, it is a weekend night and many of our peers are getting ready for the Winston room Valentine’s Day party…. Or being studious. But back to the point, as college students with money that goes to the bookstore, Sergie’s,  The Club, the North Star Café after running out of money on our meal plan, how many of us(21 and over, of course)  actually have the ability to spend money on patron on ice, like T.I. Let that sink in a little, and then let’s refer back to this idea of recycling modernity. Although we are not necessarily spending money on “fake” patron, it goes without saying that not many of us do have the means to live the same lifestyle as TI. So what do we do? We make accommodations for our marginal, broke college student lifestyle and stick to the $15.00-20.00.00 handle life. This, you can say is our way of recycling “modernity”. As those who are established in their careers attend office parties, we choose not to be left out in a life dictated by all-nighters and papers. And we make adjustments so that we have a taste of this lifestyle of what we imagine to be leisure and excitement. This is precisely what we, as café discussion team members described the recycling modernity theory as. It is a way to partake in a lifestyle that is no readily available by finding ways to fit it into our lifestyle. Be it buying pirated DVDs in the back of a store, or buying fake Louie Vuitton bags in Kuala Lumpur or 42nd Street, many people, in one way or the other recycle modernity to fit into their positionality, either as college students or people who are just not able to afford certain luxuries.


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