Planned Obsolescence and It’s Consequences

Chances are, you’ve heard someone from an older generation once say “things just aren’t made to last anymore!”, and chances are they’re right!. My grandpa had an old Plymouth  for nearly 40 years, these days we upgrade cars after 5-10 years or even less. Is this because in the modern age we all want the best and brightest? Maybe, but whats more likely is that electronics have a much shorter life span. There is actually a term for this policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, its called “planned obsolescence”. It originates as early as the light bulb with General Electric handing out fines if producers light bulbs lasted longer than 1,000 hours. What’s the purpose? – obviously to reduce the period of time between repeat purchases increasing profit. The consequence? – 50 million tons of E-waste every year..

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, entitled Global e-waste systems – Insights for Australia from other developed countries said “In Japan, consumers do not have to pay a fee when recycling smaller e-waste, as they do for larger items. Meanwhile, in the US state of California, consumers incur an advance recovery fee. This fee is paid when buying devices such as TVs and laptops,”. This is certainly a good way to ensure devices get recycled and consumers are taking responsibility. In Australia the problem of e-waste is still in its infancy, e-waste is growing 3 times as fast as other waste categories (EIU Report), so Australia is going to have to adapt. E-waste not only effects the environment, but people too. Australia’s E-waste is shipped off to countries like Ghana in Africa or Guiyu in China where 80% of children suffer from lead poising (Greenpeace). The electronics are burnt in order to create space which releases toxic fumes into the air, they are then picked apart to find the precious metals like gold and silver, so they can sell them and make a small reward.

Toxics e-waste documentation (China : 2005)

A child sitting amongst cables in Guiyu, China. (Greenpeace)

One computer can contain lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (The guardian, 2013) which when burnt creates catastrophic pollution that is ingested through the drinking water, air and becomes part of the soil that they grow their crops in. Even more alarming is the majority of people who work on the dump sites are children.

But instead of just looking at how to better recycle electronics, shouldn’t we be looking at how to make them last longer and who’s responsible for that?. Solutions need to be found “upstream” in the way electronics are manufactured and consumed in the first place. A viable solution to this problem has in fact been created, its called the Fairphone.  The Fairphone contains conflict free minerals, is built by employees who are paid fair factory wages, is easily recyclable, durable, repairable and actually costs less than an iPhone. It costs approximately $795 Aus dollars compared to an iPhone 6 which retails for about $930. The Step Initiative is another organisation run by the United Nations set up to tackle the E-waste problem and is releasing annual reports to create awareness. Western countries can not continue to dump their own waste and the problems that go a long with it on poorer countries who have no choice but to live with it.

 

Geisha’s and Godzilla

Orientalism is, in a nutshell, “the way that the West perceives of — and thereby defines — the East” (Edward W. Said). Since colonialism, the West has perpetuated the idea that the eastern world is deeply rooted in tradition, exoticism, and is generally undeveloped. This is in order to create the picture of it being a problematic area that needs taming and therefore justifying colonialism as “the white man’s burden“. Using the word oriental to describe someone could mean they are from several different countries, including  China, Japan, Turkey, India, Greece or Egypt just to name a few. All of which have very little in common culturally  except for their geographical proximity to each other. This is why the term is out dated, inappropriate and possibly even offensive. Early orientalism is seen in European art and photographs like the one below on the cover of “The Thief of Baghdad” depicting two women on a flying carpet in exotic dresses and head scarves reflecting a long history of orientalist fantasies.

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1924 film poster

 

More recently, In 2014, Air France launched a new ad campaign featuring women dressed as different iconic symbols associated with the countries that it flies its aeroplanes to. However, the two cultural appropriations for Beijing and China have been criticised as being racist. As Asian-American feminist and activist Jenn Fang notes on Reappropriate , “If only you hadn’t ended up with an ad campaign that actually features (mostly) White women wearing stereotypical racial and cultural drag to depict all those exotic non-Westernized countries.”(Fang,2014). The ads are perfect caricatures of exactly what the West has made up about these two Asian cultures, both symbols of the geisha and the dragon have very little to do with Modern China or Japan. Further, they are representations of what the West thinks Asian women are or should be, the Geisha expresses the exoticism, sexual decadence, submissiveness and seductiveness in her gaze that Jenn Fang describes as the “white fetishization of Asian women“(Fang,2014).

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Air France, 2014 

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Air France ad for Beijing, 2014

 

 

The second ad for Beijing has the woman wearing yellow face make up and her eye liner mimics the shape of the Asiatic eye, how they didn’t think that would be offensive? – Who knows. Just like Katy Perry’s 2013 American Music Awards Performance where she performed as a geisha girl, they are just a way of depicting the East exactly how the West wants it to look, continuing the damaging stereotypes which have dated back as far as 1908 from Lord Cromer the consul general of Egypt who wrote, “the main characteristic of the oriental mind is untruthfulness”.

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Katy Perry’s AMA’s 2013 performance was orientalist and stereotypical

 

Many defendants of orientalism argue that it is a declaration of admiration and love for the oriental, but whether there is truth to this or not it still categorises the East as ‘the others‘ and portrays no sense of the universality of humanity. It is hard to know whether or not had this campaign been constructed by an Asian marketing team for an Asian company, would they still be offensive?, my guess is yes, because they are the symbol of an oppressive and anti-Asian sentiment that believes the West is the norm and the East, the abnormal.

Here are a couple of very funny adaptations made by twitter users of Air France’s advertisements, comparing it to some other stereotypical Asian images.

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Dog vs Pig

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This is my dog Bart. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am completely and utterly obsessed with him. I am definitely guilty of anthropomorphising him, I constantly call him baby and my best friend, I talk to him regularly and make up scenarios for what he might be thinking whilst he’s doing some strange doggy activity. I am aware this is a projection of my own needs and a process of humanisation for my own pleasure. As Una Chaudhuri puts it “As pets, as performers, as literary symbols, animals are forced to perform us – our fantasies and fears, our questions and quarrels, our hopes and horrors (2003)”. This certainly rings true to my own personal experience with animals. In the same way Desmond Morris said “The age of a child is inversely correlated with the size of the animals it prefers”, reflecting his argument that young children preferred larger animals because it reminded them of a parent and older children preferred smaller animals because it reminded them of a baby, which I can relate to.

But more importantly than this, why am I more inclined to feel this way about dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other popularly domesticated animals than say a pig?. After all pigs have even been known to out smart dogs, large amounts of research on pigs was conducted in the 1990’s and Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University, who discovered that pigs dominate at video games with joy sticks says, “Pigs are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp”, so in theory humans should be able to recognise more potential in pigs. However, a prominent argument against this would be because we love to eat them. We label pigs as pork and bacon and cows as beef, making real animals vanish by putting names on them making it easier for us to ignore how these animals are treated in the meat industry. We have even concocted sayings like “I smell like a pig” affiliating pigs with being dirty and unclean when in actual fact pigs don’t even have sweat glands.

It can also be put down to how these animals are represented in the media. Dogs are often featured in advertisements for toilet paper, cars, food and even the super bowl. Dogs are allowed to have their own seats on trains in England and to sit in restaurants and cafes, whilst for Balinese people dogs are believed to be reincarnated thieves and criminals and are generally not kept as pets, so there can also be cultural factors involved too. However, psychologist and anthrozoologist Hal Herzog has recently written a book called ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat’ in which he talks about factors contributing to our like and dislike of certain animals. He puts it down to the way they look and humans affiliation to connect to things that look like them, the closer the match, the more familiar the animal seems. For example, our canine friends, we teach them to sit and shake hands just to be more like us.

Humans have always tried to teach animals how to understand their language, but never tried to understand theirs. It is this primate mentality which allows us to treat some animals as family and others as objects.

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Let us learn from Anne Boleyn

Through out history, suffering has often been used as a tool by those in a more fortunate position to reassure themselves of their comfortability and stability. The problem with viewing poverty porn is it “produces abjectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification.”(The Conversation, 2015). This allows people to think, ‘this could never happen to me’.

Public executions in medieval times were seen as a joyous activity for the whole family to watch. Even the bible is based on suffering as Jesus persecutors “bound his hands so blood burst out of his nails”(Athene Reiss, 2008). These two examples are arguably some of the earliest forms of poverty porn. There are striking similarities between sitting down to watch human beings who are clearly very distressed on an episode of “Struggle Street” and going to the town square to watch a beheading, after all they too called it entertainment.

In the same way Kings and Queens put themselves in the position of thinking these public executions could never happen to them, educated, middle class citizens sit back on upholstered lounges and watch flat screen television with a comfortable living standard and think, “I will never have to live like these people do”. But as the example of Anne Boleyn tells us, we are never exempt from one step in the wrong direction and our lives being turned upside down, or in her case, your neck succumbing to the force of a single sword stroke.

Although the producers may have set out to create an accurate representation of the Mt Druitt community, what especially categorises this show as poverty porn is the entertainment value driven by the underlying class racism. Filming people whilst intoxicated, high and at their worst does not create a sympathetic audience and only helps to point the finger at the individual whilst ignoring figures of rising inequality and high unemployment rates. The photo below reflects this exact cause and effect with a woman being directly incriminated by struggle street filming her smoking illicit drugs whilst pregnant, viewers tweeted their reactions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there are ways of creating accurate representations of people in crisis. For example, the image which became known as ‘Napalm girl’ picturing a 9 year old Vietnamese child running running in agony because her clothes and skin had been burnt off from the exposure to Napalm during the Vietnam war, a photo which some say hastened the end of the war.

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‘Napalm Girl’ Kim Phuc

A very similar story shook the world much more recently when Aylan Kurdi, a little boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach and reminded the world of the cost of denying thousands of refugees refuge from a war torn home land. This photo is arguably even more explicit than ‘Napalm girl’ as Kim Phuc survived these horrific burns where as Aylan sadly did not survive the immigration policies of many democratic countries, including Australia.

So why, after the release of magazines and newspapers featuring this heart wrenching photo on their covers all over the world, when the speed of communication, transport, internet connection and media freedom is stronger than ever before, have there been no dramatic changes to Australia and the worlds immigration policies when we have seen the consequences first hand.