9: Beyond the Displeasure Principle: Consumption and its Discontents

I’ve been called lots of things in my time – ill-bred, two-faced jerk-off being by far the most flattering – but few would deny that I’m a gentleman and scholar at heart. Well, a gentleman at least. What, you don’t think it’s gentlemanly to eff and blind, indulge in lavatorial humour and write nasty things about the superstars of marketing scholarship? Hell, where I come from that kind of thing is considered prim, proper, positively decorous. Too twee if anything. You should see the stuff I left out.

Anyway, aristocrat and aspirant academic that I pretend to be, it’s only fair to acknowledge that there is an enjoyable side to shopping. Granted, I have already alluded to this genetically transmitted affliction at various points in the present learned tome. However, my comments have been somewhat sceptical and unforgivably dismissive in tone. Well, you’ll be delighted to discover that I’m beginning to come to terms with my retailing neuroses. The thumb sucking, facial tics and involuntary evacuations have stopped, for starters. So much so, I almost feel up to telling you about my Utah trauma. But not just yet.

For the meantime, let me just mention that our introspective accounts revealed many examples of minor pleasures appertaining to purchasing. These pleasures, to be sure, are tiny, fleeting, inconsequential, hardly worth mentioning really, compared to the bottomless well of shopping-sired sorrow that we have been tapping, into which we have been lowering our leaky pails of learning and which will never run dry, not while there are ravens in the Tower, Barbary apes on the Rock and CDs wrapped in spot-welded cellophane.

Shopping. I adore it. I love spending money. Shopping. Unlike many other people, the mere mention of this word does not make me break out in a rash. I have always maintained that shopping is the best pick-me-up – the best therapy available. For me, shopping isn’t about acquiring new clothes, shoes, make-up, food etc. It’s about getting rid of all my money, in a short space of time, on the most unnecessary items available.
(female, 25)

However, in keeping with my fair’s fair, give and take, all for one, none for all cerebral credo, I’m prepared to admit that there is more to shopping than the lovestruck retail Lotharios and cuckolds of consumption we encountered in chapter seven. As for that bunch of praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-plastic zealots who door-stepped us in the previous chapter; well, who are we to pass judgement or mock the afflicted? Never let it be said I’m anything other than an open-handed, open-hearted, open-to-all-reasonable-offers kinda guy.

So, what did our weak-willed, lily-livered, mallomaniacal shopaphiliacs actually like about shopping? As you might expect from this bazaar bunch of low-brows, whose credit limit is the outer limit of their imaginations, it is the small, seemingly insignificant things that they particularly appreciate. God, they say, is in the details – as indeed is retail -- and our essayists undoubtedly concur. It is the little things that send them into transports of consuming passion. Little things like the invigorating ricochet of one’s footsteps on solid wooden floors, or the resonant ‘ping’ of lead crystal glassware, or the curtain of hot air, twixt street and store, on a chill winter’s morning, or the smell of freshly-brewed coffee when its time to press the purchasing pause button. Indulge in a Danish and Heaven can wait.

That said, tactility is the power behind the throne in this empire of the shopping senses. Nothing but nothing quite compares with the ‘feel’ of expensive bibelots, especially those that nestle comfortably in the palm of the hand, or the aromatic flocculence of chamois-soft leather jackets (this cow died happy), or the haptic hedonism of brand new bank notes, still warm from the ATM extruder – perfectly pristine, as yet unfolded, their embossed nappe ever so slightly stiff and starchy to profane pre-circulation touch.

Thrilling though such sensations undoubtedly are – and even I’m prepared to concede the wad one -- vision remains of paramount importance in shopping matters. There’s the drop-dead gorgeousness of must-have merchandise. There’s the sight of arresting window displays and attractively presented product arrays. There’s the look of alluring lookers that we looked at a few moments ago. Then there’s the strange beauty of the street scene, a phantasmagoric wonderland of excited children, truculent teenagers, discerning women and disgruntled men, all going about their business, all intent on acquisition, all in a world of their own.

As I aimlessly walked around my concentration was interrupted by a group of children singing Christmas carols, a small crowd had gathered and it was such a good feeling, just like a scene from an old movie, it just epitomised the whole Christmas spirit to me. People were standing listening to the songs and joking with the strangers beside them, the very same people who five minutes ago were pushing and fighting to gain a few extra metres in the race to the checkouts.
(female, 21)

When I finally managed to get into town, the pedestrianised zones resembled main roads, there were so many delivery vans and disabled cars floating through the colourful sea of shoppers, creating what seemed almost like organised chaos. A thin layer of steam seemed to hang over the crowd and their hot breath mingled with the cold morning air, like cattle in an early-morning farmyard scene, people with prams and small children jostling for positions among the masses.
(male, 21)

When we entered Foyleside shopping centre it felt as if we were a different world. Outside in the car park there was noise, exhaust fumes and it was freezing cold. The centre was warm, bright, well decorated for Christmas and there was an orchestra playing Christmas music. Oh! This felt as if I was watching a film on television. This ambience really made me feel like spending money.
(female, 22)

For wacko Walter Benjamin, shopping arcades comprised an enchanted forest, where deliciously anonymous urban strollers – flaneurs -- idly watch the commercial world stream past.1 Walt, to be sure, was the unluckiest man that ever lived, truly a loser’s loser, whose publications were deemed incomprehensible and who lurched incessantly from professional crisis to personal catastrophe and back again. Nevertheless, his Baudelairian notion of the flaneur, individuals who are a part of, yet apart from, the metropolitan hustle and bustle, continues to resonate among our late-twentieth century buyeurs, shoppeurs, consumeurs, purchaseurs – call them what you will.

These days, however, it is the mind’s eye that does much of the seeing. In keeping with our ‘virtual’ values, our world wide Weltanschluung, our cyber-siècle, it appears that our undeurgrad introspecteurs prefer to fantasise about consumption rather than partake of its palpable pleaseurs. Now old fogies, such as ourselves, may subscribe to the view that people should take their shopping punishment like the gendeured subject positions they are. But our postmodern poseurs, loafeurs, slobbeurs, Generation X-eurs – our, let’s be blunt, Hannibal Lecteurs of consumption – clearly prefer psychical to physical purchasing.

Thus the essays are absolutely full of what an esteemed colleague of mine calls ‘anticipatory consumption’.2 That is, flights of imaginative fancy concerning future or intended acquisitions. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to state that long before plastic cards are swiped in anger, consumer goods are consumed several times over. In the first instance, there is the sheer joy of finding that natty little number, those magic matching accessories, the rare first edition, an ideal birthday present for loveable little Johnny, or whatever it happens to be. Then there are the ensuing, essentially ‘secondary’ pleasures that ripple out from the ‘primary’ purchase, like a stone skimmed across the placid pond of shopping possibilities. These include the thought of looking irresistible in the natty number, wearing that perfectly co-ordinated outfit, showing the first edition to profoundly jealous, cod-congratulatory fellow collectors and anticipating the joy on little Johnny’s beatific face as he unwraps the carefully chosen gift (but before he discovers that batteries aren’t included, naturally). Then, of course, there are the tertiary, pre-meditated pleasures of post-purchase self-congratulation -- won’t I look like the kind uncle, smart shopper, astute collector and what have you.

Instead of beginning to get depressed about the weather, I started daydreaming. I’d look really well tomorrow night with my new clothes and all. Maybe I’d meet the man of my dreams. Maybe I’d meet a man full stop, just in time for Christmas so he could buy me a lovely present and then we could have romantic nights in under the mistletoe…Queen of wishful thinking!
(female, 23)

I always make a stop into Virgin Megastore on the way and today was no exception. I never go in with the intention of buying anything – no grant and only meagre parental donations put paid to that idea. I enjoy going in to marvel at its greatness. It’s like being in the future.
(male, 23)

Shopping, in short, is a string of pleasurable pearls, a veritable retailing rosary, a series of precious stepping stones across the existential torrent. Or something like that (hey, I’m not just a misanthrope, I can do purple prose too!).

My mind was already in Foyleside. I could imagine myself carrying about ten bags of shopping in my arms with a smile on my face and a feeling of satisfaction. Maybe Next would have a nice dress which would be suitable for the Christmas dinner. I would also need a new pair of dressy shoes to add to the elegant look, and I suppose a handbag to match to carry all my essentials. I also need some new jumpers. I like those chunky, velvety woolly-type jumpers. A bight red one would do nicely. I could also do some of my Christmas shopping for my friends and family. I wonder if there are any shops in Foyleside or the Richmond centre that keep unusual Christmas gifts…
(female, 22)

I had to have it, to try to mould my boyfriend into what I had just realised was my ideal man. First stop on the agenda was the jumper…Next on the agenda were the trousers…I was in luck, a 34L would fit Adrian to a tee…I approached the cash desk with great satisfaction knowing that I’d been lucky in what I had found. He’d love it and I knew it would suit him down to the ground. A job well done! I handed over the money and waited for my receipt and change. After saying thanks, away I waltzed back through the shop, down the stairs, out the exit and up Donegall Place in the direction of Burtons. I knew I hadn’t much money left, around 30 in total. The outfit in Next had kinda stung me a bit more than I wanted to pay, but what the hell, it’d be well worth it for the look on his face on Christmas Day.
(female, 20)

Sadly such images all too rarely accord with all too imperfect reality. The natty little number is nowhere to be found (“we can order it for you”), someone else is wearing the exact same, perfectly co-ordinated outfit (“snap!”), the rare first edition turns out to be a third world knock-off (“thank you for pointing that out to me”), and the carefully selected gift is played with for precisely ten minutes before being unceremoniously thrown on the teetering tumulus of tiresome, broken and dismembered toys (“precocious children are terribly easily bored, don’t you know”).

The stairs were decorated with life-sized photographs of men in suits, living out imaginary situations. It’s easy to believe for one second that such idealistic situations can actually arise. Why is reality never this way?
(male, 22)

Taking a deep breath I stepped forward into Debenhams and automatically I find myself dreaming that I’d won the lottery, as I waltzed through the magical world of mirrored walls framing some of the most extravagant perfumes, the air fragrant with their exotic scent. However, reality was beyond these wild fantasies and as I browsed through the cosmetics admiring the rich, bizarre colours in their shiny lacquered casings, I was aware that I was being scrutinised by the sales girl. Did she think I was going to pocket some of these items? Actually the girl’s appearance was quite reminiscent of a made-up Barbie doll. With highly dramatic glossed lips, maroon coloured eye-lids and long, talon-like nails. Quite frankly I thought it was sad to have to be made up to such extremities just to sell simple things like lipstick.
(female, 21)

I thought back to that Tuesday in early November, when I concocted for myself what I had thought to be the perfect plan (during my ‘turn over a new leaf for final year’ phase). I had planned on buying one Christmas present a week, starting the first week in November, and by mid-December I’d be well and truly sorted: no last-minute rush, no money problems, no indecisiveness, no crowds and queues etc. And there I was, on the train, not two days before Christmas, almost broke, with no clue as to what to buy for anyone.
(male, 23)

A Big Mac breakfast. Just what we needed. But how wrong we were. The illuminated picture behind the cash-point had illustrated it so beautifully, something my mother could prepare. But in reality, once we had scraped away the burnt sinew, the remains looked like something a dog had swallowed and failed to keep down (surely a case for trade descriptions). As students go, we eat it expecting the inevitable feeling of illness afterwards.
(male, 22)

So disappointing is the typical shopping sally, so tortuous the purchasing pilgrimage, so frustrating the consumer quest, that many informants indulge in what can only be described as anticipatory antipathy.3 They know how heavy the traffic is likely to be, how crowded the streets, how long the lines, how recalcitrant the trolleys, how surly the shop assistants. They know beforehand that the goods they’re looking for are unavailable, unobtainable, unwearable, out of stock, just sold out, or otherwise irritatingly out of reach. What’s more, they know they know all this yet they also know they have no alternative. It has to be done. The tortures have to be endured. The frustrations controlled. The obnoxious others allowed for. The day of consumer judgement cannot be avoided, the purchasing pit must be stared into, our shopping sins will surely find us out. At best, it’ll prove slightly less hellish than expected.

Well, today’s the day. It’s Friday the 13th of December, a very apt day to begin the daunting task of Christmas shopping. In my mind I have everything worked out with military precision. The shops I need to go into, the gifts I have to buy and the money needed to purchase these seasonal delights. Of course, this theory is dashed against the horrible reality called Belfast City Centre.
(male, 22)

It is a Saturday and I am driving into Belfast with my mum, hoping to find a new outfit for myself. I have mixed feelings about the day ahead. The thought of getting a new outfit was exciting but was it going to turn into one of those typical shopping trips when I cannot find anything? Then mum starts complaining that I am too fussy and begins to point out to me the most hideous looking clothes, which to be honest I would not be seen dead in.
(female, 22)

I could visualise the experience in my head, plodding from shop to shop, searching every garment hoping this would be the right one, the feeling of delight then disappointment when it doesn’t fit me. Why oh why did I have to be invited to this wedding? Usually I’m a shopaholic but when it comes to shopping for a wedding outfit I’m cursed. Going out shopping for something that you know you have to get for me is the biggest nightmare imaginable, it’s as if someone has come and swept all the decent outfits away.
(female, 20)

A trip to the city will be in order. That of course will mean fighting through hordes of people and driving around for ages to find a parking space. Christmas is a wonderful time of year - the bright lights, the festive feeling in everyone’s hearts - but it is the worst time of year to go into the city centre. Well, bugger that, I just have to go in anyway.
(male, 23)

Pre-purchase expectations, admittedly, have long been recognised as an integral part of the consuming experience.4 In addition to countless positivistic studies of consumer information seeking – you know the sort of thing, “How many advertisements, stores or friends have you examined, patronised or spoken to respectively in the past six months?” – the post-positivist contingent frequently refer to the importance of pre-purchase daydreaming, rumination, reverie etc, albeit largely from a pleasurable, hedonistic, happy-smiley-people perspective.

Perhaps the most important contribution to this body of thought, and certainly the most ambitious, is Campbell’s much-vaunted “romantic ethic”.5 According to his grandiosely named, nothing if not reductionist, historical hypothesis, an ethos of “modern autonomous imaginative hedonism” emerged during the Romantic era of the early nineteenth century. This effectively replaced the prevailing Puritan ethic of self-denial, asceticism and the accumulation of capital with one characterised by passion, emotion, imagination and self-gratification, which stimulated an insatiable demand for consumer goods. A desire for pleasure thus prevailed, a passion to consume was unleashed and, more to the point, perpetuated by a process of pre-purchase anticipation (where the joys of acquisitions were imaginatively prefigured), and post purchase disappointment (since the actual consumer goods couldn’t possibly match idealised expectations). Disappointment, however, only succeeded in increasing consumer demand for the perfect product that was just beyond reach. And so it continued...

When Campbell contends that consumption is inherently disappointing, he’s talking my language (albeit in an incomprehensible sociological idiom). As the previous eight chapters have sought to demonstrate, I’m all for disappointment, I’m the champion of disappointment, I’m the spokesperson for the disappointment party, I’m the disappointment appointment. Granted, I would go much further than Campbell; he assumes that goods are always obtainable, whereas I maintain that disappointment is an integral aspect of the shopping trip itself, not simply a post-purchase occurrence. Such frustrations, indeed, add fuel to the acquisitional flame, which burns that much brighter only to be quenched by the fire extinguisher of consumer anticlimax.6

The basic problem with Campbell’s hypothesis, however, is that it assumes all consumer experiences unfailingly prove disappointing. As any exponent of services marketing will tell you, or as most of the SERQVAL sect will make perfectly clear, it is perfectly possible to exceed customer expectations, to give them what they want, to satisfy their every whim. To intimate otherwise implies that marketing scholars have got it completely wrong, that the marketing concept is mistaken, that we have been barking up the wrong epistemological tree for the past fifty years. Not only is this inconceivable in principle, but as we have noted at various points in this work of rigorous marketing scholarship, there is a modicum of customer satisfaction, not to say shopaphilia, out there. And, like Dr Johnson’s rock-kicking refutation of Berkeley’s idealism, satisfied customers disprove Campbell’s otherwise compelling thesis.

Faced with this intellectual aporia, we have no alternative but to enter the psychoanalytical labyrinth. If introspection is insufficient to impale the marketing Minotaur that is customer satisfaction, then we must go beyond introspection into the noisome netherworld of the consuming unconscious. The unconscious, as every faux-Freudian knows, is entirely inaccessible to introspection, although it is possible to get a glimpse of its libidinal machinations through dream narratives, automatic writing, slips of the penis etc.7

Rest assured, shrink rappers, I’m not going to take this opportunity to recount my erotic somatic experiences – not even that extraordinarily vivid dream about making a postmodern presentation in Stockholm, whilst completely naked (oh, did I forget to mention that bit?!) – but if we are to make sense of satisfied shoppers it is necessary to indulge in some pseudo-psychobabble, cod-Freudianism and Lacan cant. For some Jung Americans, admittedly, this is tantamount to Cixousicide, a regressive regression to our discipline’s Dichteresque infancy, the laugh of the marketing Medusa, no less. Nevertheless, it is arguable that the essays are amenable to armchair analysis. Indeed, as psychoanalysis and marketing are the fields most associated with quackery-cum-charlatanism in the popular imagination, it is high time the two were reconciled.

Reluctant as I am to expatiate on the character of the undergraduate unconscious – their conscious thoughts are bad enough, God knows – it cannot be denied that the introspective essays are suggestive from a fraud-Freudian standpoint. As noted in chapter 6, many contain references to ‘nightmare’ situations, or waking dreams, and almost without exception they begin with an anecdote about being rudely (a)roused from amorous nocturnal fantasies. Puns and jokes are a commonplace, while some contain striking typos and grammatical errors, which must surely signify something more than mere illiteracy or sloppy copy-editing. Maybe not.

Lying in bed, swept millions of miles away by the nicest dream that any man could ever imagine: fine sandy beach, hot sun, crystal-clear blue waters and, inevitably, tanned figuresque women at your beck and call. Something was wrong. My mother was talking in my dream. Oh God, what did she want? Clive, get up, this is your last chance to buy a suit and present for Paul’s wedding. Having put the torment of this task off for weeks, I knew I was sentenced to obey. I lay back in the bed, enjoyed the security of the duvet and clung on to the pillow as the memory of the dream faded away.
(male, 22)

Nothing it contained stimulated any interest on my part, so I laboriously recharged my batteries then ‘ever ready’ strode with utmost conviction in the direction of River Island.
(female, 21)

I moved on to the toys to buy my nephew and niece a present. Apparently, my nephew has a morbid fascination with dinosaurs after watching the film, Jurassic Park, which made me think of an old joke, ‘What do you call a constipated dinosaur?’ ‘Megasaurass!’ My niece on the other hand was only one year old, so, not knowing, I settled on a Barbie. Crap present or what?
(male, 21)

Most importantly perhaps, the reported shopping behaviours exhibit an array of infantile activities. It seems that the very act of going shopping conjures up all manner of childhood memories. Many of these refer to a pre-pubescent para-paradise where consumption was easy, products were free, choice was unlimited and parents were on hand to indulge one’s every whim. Others pertain to severe shopping related traumas, which left them scarred for life, or involve attempts to account for extant shopping habits in terms of parental influence, coupled with libidinal events that transpired during their formative years.

I was totally engrossed with the atmosphere around me – people busy rushing from shop to shop – the Christmas display of magnetic animals moving in front of me, whilst Christmas music played in the background. I couldn’t help but smile – that warm feeling you experience inside you when you’re really happy – it was indeed nearly Christmas! I don’t usually enjoy shopping, but the mood and layout of the complex made me want to run into every store and look at everything. I felt like a little child again, that I had been given a packet of sweets and told that I could eat them all myself.
(female, 21)

Suddenly I find myself being transported to a different era. For a brief second I visualise myself as the eight-year-old making a shopping trip with her family to Belfast city. I recall my Dad saying we were going for the Park ’n’ Ride option, which to this day I think I have ever repeated. The journey down to the city had been by car. I thought it might never end and Mr Sandman had been working overtime that day. When we did finally arrive and parked our car, I remember waiting for the bus to take us into the city. I remember getting on the bus. Next thing I know I’m being prodded by someone’s finger. I look up into the eyes of a stranger. Disorientated by my brief sleep, I hear her staunch Belfast accent. ‘’Scuse me luv, but I think this is yer stop’. I look immediately in the direction the lady with the green hat is pointing to. What is she on about anyway? Horrified, I realise. My family!!! They’re getting off the bus!!! I mumble a word of thanks and scramble up the bus to be re-united with them. As we walk onto the street, I look up at the lady with the green hat. I see her smile before the bus moves on again. I’ll be eternally grateful for her prompt actions I think. I mean, imagine if she hadn’t been on that bus. Imagine if my family had forgotten me. What would I have done? Would I still be zooming around Belfast city on a red and white bus? My little mind is working overtime.
(female, 20)

I am the original lone shopper. I prefer to shop alone. This I blame on my childhood when my mother treated me as the daughter she never had, dragging me round endless clothes shops in search of the eternal bargain. Far from putting me off shopping, it actually encouraged me, although I now prefer to drag myself around at my own pace.
(male, 22)

I have always had an eye for good-looking staff as far back as I can remember (that is, around the age of 7 or 8, as this was the age I was first allowed to go to shop without my parents for sweets). The Beefers sweetie shop, which we called it, used to have a girl behind the counter called Fiona. At around the age of 10 or 11, me, my brother and my cousin used to go into this shop and ask for 10p or, pushing the boat out, 20p worth of sweets. We used to pick the jar or one of the jars from the top shelf – why you may ask?- because in order to reach for these sweets Fiona had to stand on a stool and we three used to stand and look at her nice behind and snigger like the stupid little schoolboys that we were. It got even more X-rated when these sweets were placed into paper bags, which she leaned forward to get at, with her low-cut top on. I have no need to tell you where we then looked. No need to wonder why I am on my third set of teeth since the age of 13!
(male, 21)

Having opened this Lacan of worms, it doesn’t take long to find a cogent psychoanalytical explanation for some people’s dangerously delusional state concerning the supposed joys of shopping. Like a hypochondriac armed with a medical encyclopaedia, all sorts of exotic conditions, afflictions and disorders immediately suggest themselves to the enthusiastic amateur. Personally, I’m inclined to extract the “ego defence” digit of Anna Freud, particularly her notion of reaction formation, out of the psychotherapeutic orifice. This is the one where the ego accommodates hostile impulses by transforming them into their opposite. The nasty person becomes unaccountably nice, suffocatingly so, the sweetheart is a sourpuss at heart, the skinflint a spendthrift, the saint a sinner, the revolutionary reactionary. Thus, those who purport to take pleasure from shopping are actually mean-spirited misery-guts, whose all-consuming egos have succeeded in suppressing their anti-acquisitional ids.

Plausible, huh?

The only problem with this otherwise compelling explanation, of course, is that it can be turned around and employed to explain shopaphobic propensities. Those who claim to hate shopping or try to avoid it at all costs, are actually surreptitious spendthrifts, marketing masochists who secretly enjoy being maltreated by shop assistants, who get their kicks from the frustrations of stockouts and truculent trolleys, who really love to stand in line, the longer the better and who desperately want to be beaten to the last car parking space by a decrepit OAP. As for purported male mortification in the lingerie department, well that’s a complete crock. They want to try the scanty panties on and prance provocatively around the store.

I know I do.

Okay, let’s try to retrace our steps for a second. As I was saying before that totally atypical transvestitic trance transpired – you gotta admit, I looked pretty good in them – it is possible to interpret consumer behaviour in psychoanalytical terms. If, in keeping with Freudian precept, common parlance and accepted practice, we consider consumption to be essentially ‘feminine’ and the production-distribution system predominantly ‘masculine’, then the principal features of what I have elsewhere described as the Markipus Complex are readily discernible (horrible neologism, I realise, but you should know what to expect by this stage).

Prior to its entry into consumer society, our tyro-shopper exists in an entranced state of cornucopian commercial plenitude where everything is free, difficult choices are unnecessary and the sybaritic delights of the marketing system perpetually on tap. However, the child’s burgeoning desire for consumer goods – the mother’s body – is tempered by the castrating threat of retail milieus (the father), which leads to the repression of consuming passions, an unconscious urge to kill the storekeeper and, when the markipus complex is successfully negotiated, psychic adjustment to the frustrating realities of the ‘displeasure principle’, as opposed to the hedonistic joys of the ‘unreality principle’. Real men, in short, hate shopping.

The female child, on the other hand, desires to possess, or rather seduce, the patriarchal retailing system – hence women’s stereotypical go-shopping obsession – even though the she-goods themselves never really satisfy and always, in effect, send the inner child back to the father for more and more and more. Female shopping behaviour, therefore, is not simply a substitute for sex, as has often been suggested, it is a substitute for incestuous sexual relations. You read it here first!

Now shopping with Sigmund Fraud is somewhat fraught, to put it politely. So much so, fellow castration-anxiety sufferers, I’ll spare your blushes by repressing my retailing-refracted reinterpretation of anal fixation (telling shop assistants to ‘stick it’ figures prominently). What’s more, I’ll pass on the intriguing parallels between “shop ’til you drop” and the thanatic death dive, as well as my eminently plausible ‘plastic cards as phallus’ hypothesis (don’t leave homo without one, that’ll screw nicely, it’s everywhere you want to be etc.). However, I cannot deny that consumer daydreams, fantasies, reveries and suchlike are the royal road to the retailing unconscious. Indeed, future investigators may wish to ponder the precise nature of the relationship between buydreams’ manifest and latent content; that is, the perfection of the reverie versus the brute reality of the shopping trip.

Nevertheless, for our present scholarly purposes, it may be more appropriate to look up the intellectual petticoats that frilly-knickered, high-kicking, line-dancer of poststructuralist psychotherapy, Jacques Lacan-can. Not a lot of people know this but frère Jacques’ father was a marketer, a travelling salesman for a patent medicine company (yes, folks, we’re in snake-oil territory!) True, this is hardly the place to speculate on Lacanard’s personal oedipal trauma – mind you, this was one crazy guy – but he was unquestionably tarred by the better-buy marketing brush. Aside from the capricious, misogynistic, dictatorial sides of his personality (all good marketing traits, I’m sure you agree), Lacantankerous was monstrously egotistical, a brilliant self-publicist and coiner of countless psychoanalytical advertising slogans, such as: ‘Return to Freud’, ‘Law of the Father’, ‘the unconscious is structured like a language’ and “I am not where I think and think where I am not”.

More importantly, his attempt to rewrite Freud in terms of Saussurean linguistics is highly suggestive from a marketing standpoint. Central to Lacannibal’s conception of the developing child is the notion of ‘lack’ or ‘absence’. Just as Saussure surmised that the meaning of any linguistic sign derives from what it is not, that it is difference from other signs in a system of signs, so too identity is predicated on absence (subjects are what they are by dint of their difference from others), as indeed is desire. Desire stems from a lack, from the inaccessibility of the mother’s body, that primordial state of pre-oedipal plenitude. Existence is thus a never-ending struggle to fill this lack, a post-structuralist slippage from signifier to signifier, sign to sign, substitute to substitute, object to object, item to item, shop to shop, purchase to purchase, in a futile attempt to plug the gap at the very centre of our being. The crux, then, is not so much shopping with mother as shopping for mother.

Wacko, or what?

Lacanelloni’s relevance to the present project is not, I grant you, confined to his shrink-proof proofs. There’s also his lunatic syntax to contend with. The strange beauty of loopy Lacandide is that his writings - the Lacan canon - are utterly incomprehensible. What’s more, they’re meant to be. Associate of Andre Breton and failed surrealist poet, Lacantata’s texts are bafflingly opaque, deliberately ambiguous, wilfully allusive and literally replete with obfuscatory wordplay. Playful puns, furthermore, figure prominently. For Lacanalletto, however, such horrendous homologues, circumlocutionary locutions and linguistic pay-and-displays comprise a concrete demonstration of the admittedly demented, always already enigmatic workings of the unconscious. And while Laconartiste’s work undoubted suffers in translation, its pretty obscure in the original, rest assured. (Not that I’ve actually read it or anything, but as a believer in collective unconscious, I feel a strange sense of affinity with Lacanteloupe)

Doubtless you Lacan quite easily guess where I’m going with this line of argument. My ‘marketing as literature’ hobby-horse is about to hove into view (wagging a mixed metaphor behind it, as per usual).8 The fundamental problem with published marketing and consumer research, in my modest opinion, is that it is unspeakably prosaic, unforgivably insipid and downright boring. Our journals are a wasteland of badly-expressed banalities, hair-splitting pedantry, pseudo-scholarly pabulum. Most of what we write isn’t worth reading. And that’s the good stuff.

Part of this preoccupation with pointlessness is attributable to researchers’ sham-scientific mindset, the egregiously erroneous belief that marketing is a science or will attain scientific status in the fullness of time (presumably the Nobel Committee is deliberating as I write). Hence the hypothesis testing rhetoric, formulaic paper structure and neutral, third person, passive voiced prose, all of which purportedly bespeak rigour, detachment, objectivity and other admirable qualities, even though they actually comprise a highly stylised style of style-less writing.

It is also partly attributable to the scholarly socialisation process, the this-is-how-we-do-things-around-here mindset that is insinuated, indoctrinated and institutionalised through PhD training programmes, tenure tracking requirements, peer review procedures, old boy backscratching, journal editor inertia and countless other rewards and punishments. In essence, the disciplining of the discipline.

Nor, for that matter, can it be divorced from the disturbing fact that many marketing and consumer researchers are simply incapable of writing a coherent sentence, let alone a compelling one. We can’t do it; we are not encouraged to express ourselves; we aren’t trained to write creatively, even though almost everything we do consists of works of literature. Our reputations depend on writing yet we pay no attention to it. Or, rather, we seem determined to make our literature as dreary as possible, to keep our academic backsides covered, lest we attract attention, criticism, or the dreaded epithet, ‘unscientific’.

This neglect, this tedium, this fetish for flatness would be understandable if the field itself were dull and boring. But it is anything but.9 Marketing is magic, marketing is fun, marketing is romantic, as I have elsewhere suggested, yet we seem to have forgotten the fact.10 Certainly there is very little magic, fun or romance in the pages of our principal journals (and the pork-barrelling pap in professional magazines isn’t much better).

Worse, consumer research actually comprises the best of a bad bunch. Frightening, huh? The proto-literate pictograms of marketing strategists, by comparison, are quite beyond redemption, beyond chronic dyslexia, beyond cerebral shortfall, beyond the asymptote of the intellectual bell curve. As for international marketing; well, what can I say except that one’s IQ goes into free-fall at the very thought. Paliwoda’s International Marketing makes Pingu the Penguin read like the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Then, of course, there’s the revolting relationship marketing crew, though it’s probably best to pass over them in silence (out of respect for the brain-dead, if nothing else).

Relationship marketing may be a moronic morass of unlettered imbecility but the worst culprits by far are interpretive consumer researchers. The positivistic retardates really don’t know any better – they actually believe in marketing science – and can hardly be held responsible for their ignorance, infinite though it is. Interpretive consumer researchers have no excuse. They hail from the humanities and liberal arts; they know marketing science is nonsense; they realise that writing is rhetoric; that metaphors move; that clichés clash; that alliteration, assonance and adjectival overabundance infuriates the reader (doesn’t it just!). Yet they still produce bland, badly written papers. Even the very best interpretive essays are unbearable. “River Magic”, for instance, is anything but magical. The celebrated “new bikers” ethnography is about as exciting as riding pillion on a speed-restricted toddler’s tricycle. And Holt’s exordium on consuming baseball – by far the most myth-laden of many myth-laden American sports – is not simply bad, it’s a total strike out. And, I don’t even like the game. God knows what real baseball fans made of it.11

Granted, it’s possible to make all sorts of excuses for this Field of Dreck. The manuscript reviewing mangle, fear of alienating the positivists and that old pagination problem standby (not enough space to do justice to the material, you know how it is). Nevertheless, it seems to me that a key consideration is interpretive researchers’ apparent preoccupation with realist modes of discourse. Words, according to the realist viewpoint, are transparent. They say what they mean and mean what they say. There is a one-to-one relationship between signifier and signified. It’s almost as if post-structuralism never happened! Thus we’ve had constructive reviews of deconstruction, modernist takes on postmodernism, literal analyses of metaphor and unengaging engagements with rhetoric. Even studies of poststructuralism are written in a pre-poststructuralist manner!

This mania for marketing realism is again inseparable from the discipline and punish process inscribed in the discursive formations of our field, where methodological rectitude is regrettably rampant. As numerous authors have shown for propinquitous academic domains, however, non-realist forms of expression are perfectly acceptable, if not exactly commonplace. Van Maanen, for example, distinguishes between dramatic, confessional, comic, critical, experimental and hip-hop styles of ethnographic scholarship, albeit realism remains very much in the ascendant.12 Several consumer researchers, furthermore, have convincingly demonstrated that it is possible to write about consumer research in surrealist, magic realist, hyperrealist, megarealist, or, what the hell, unrealist ways. Morris Holbrook’s erudite essays are legendary in this regard, and rightly so; Russell Belk can produce para-realist parables when he puts his mind to it, though he usually pulls his poetic punches after the first couple of paragraphs; when Craig Thompson writes in the hyper-hyperbolic mode he all too rarely displays, he puts his more prosaic publications to shame; and then, of course, there’s the unsung literary hero of interpretive research, Bob Grafton Small, whose elegant little essays on the flotsam and jetsam of consumer society are more than merely insightful, they are works of academic art.13

A perfect illustration of my point is found in the recently published volume, Servicescapes. Now, place remains very much the poor relation of the marketing mix and attempts to capture the constituents, the character, the qualities, the essential peerlessness of place have failed miserably in the main (e.g. fatuous inventories of the component parts of retail store atmospherics). Set against this, Sherry triumphantly succeeds in evoking the genius loci of Niketown, Chicago. He gives us a genuine ‘feel’ for the presiding spirit of the place through his poetic prose, arresting metaphors, wizardly wordplay and resolutely non-realist mode of expression.14

Precisely five pages later, Wallendorf et al offer an account of Miss Tiggy-Winkle’s, a totally unique, family-run toy store, the kind of consumer wonderland that sent our student introspectors in paroxysms of pre-oedipal rapture.15 Sadly, it never gets beyond a dire Dick and Doraesque description of the establishment (there are four walls, one of which is painted in an attractive shade of periwinkle blue, and a lot of cute display cases). Do they manage to capture the inherent magic of this magical retail milieu in their realist, realer-than-realist prose? No they do not. Their essay is totally uninspired, inexcusably tiresome, embarrassingly inept.

Surely we can do better than that? My undergraduate students can do better than that.

For all its faults – and they are manifold -- the present volume has sought to break out of the marketing realism mindset. Whether successfully or unsuccessfully realised, it represents a sort of shopping fantasia, a flight of literary fancy on quotidian consumer behaviour. It is an experiment in creative writing, an attempt to capture the often infuriating essence of everyday shopping in often infuriating prose. It is unapologetically profane, but then so is shopping. It is intermittently amusing, as indeed is shopping. It is oft-times tedious, just like the regular shopping routine. It is incessantly excessive, extravagant, profligate, verbose, bombastic, redundant, superfluous, self-indulgent – insert your favourite circumlocutory circumlocution here, kiddos -- albeit shopping is too. Irritation, irreverence, irony, irksomeness and intemperance, however, are very sorely needed in contemporary consumer research, where the bland lead the bland and publications signally fail to evoke the impious essence of the agora. Many mainstream marketers, admittedly, may be appalled by my ostentatious abandonment of good textual taste, by my unrelenting obscenities, by my unrepentant espousal of gross-out scholarship. But grossness has its place. It is an important aspect of marketing’s heritage and we should not be ashamed of the fact or pretend to be something we aren’t.

At the same time, fellow compositors of cut ’n’ paste, Songs of the Humpback Shopper is nothing less than a serious work of marketing research. An unusual work of marketing research undeniably, possibly a unique work of marketing research, but a work of marketing research nonetheless. All of the component parts of a typical research exercise – context, literature review, objectives, methodology, findings, discussion and conclusion – are dealt with, after a fashion. The conventional expositional sequence is adhered to (we’re in the ‘discussion’ bit, in case you’re wondering). The balance between the various elements is pretty much in line with standard practice, insofar as the ‘findings’ take up the bulk of the available space. And the academic outriggers of prelims, epigraphs, prefaces and references are also bolted on, though I’ve drawn a line at Harvard-style citations, with their risible connotations of scientific respectability (as if parenthesised name-dropping, such as those in Brown (1998), is indicative of intellectual integrity!).16

Making a claim to scholarship, I grant you, raises the stakes considerably. It is perfectly acceptable to accommodate, even applaud, dream works like this, provided they don’t get above their station. Experimental endeavours, flights of literary fancy and analogous authorial absurdities undoubtedly have their place, but scholarly and frivolity, education and entertainment, work and play are completely incompatible, don’t you know. Scholarship is solid, scholarship is safe, scholarship is certain. If, in short, one stakes a claim to scholarship, one must exercise suitably scholarly restraint (flat prose, pseudo detachment), exhibit suitably scholarly values (the truth, the whole truth, da, de-da, de-da) and employ suitably scholarly expressions (such as using the dependably impersonal ‘one’ instead of dangerously subjective ‘I’).

More to the point, one’s methods must meet suitably scholarly standards of excellence, especially if one is positioned on the suspiciously soft, questionably qualitative, well-it’s-not-proper-science-but-I-suppose-it’ll-do-for-preliminary-purposes end of the research spectrum. The quants jocks are permitted to churn, churn, churn with impunity, while the still shady interpretives have got to prove themselves worthy of scholarly status, to convince all and sundry that they’re not just a degenerate bunch of word-spinning dissolutes and time-wasting storytellers (what we lack in word-spinning storytelling we make up for in dissolute time-wasting, take my word for it).

Apart from the fact that the positivists too are poets but don’t know it -- fight cliché with cliché, I say -- the mainstream’s obsession with method is sadly misplaced. As a rummage though the journals clearly reveals, most published papers are full of procedural faux pas. There’s hardly an academic article without the introductory ‘exploratory research’ excuse or the obligatory concluding apology (a.k.a. ‘limitations’). These rhetorical flourishes seem to be predicated on the absurd assumption that if we confess our methodological misdemeanours, and recite the research rosary a couple of times, the Jesuits in charge of the journals will absolve us, provided we stick to the procedural straight and narrow, promise not to think interpretive thoughts or indulge in unnatural textual activities.

Father forgive them for…well, you know.

The present volume is full of methodological flaws and I make no apology for it. It is premised upon my personal shopping preoccupations, obsessions and fixations; the published reflections of novelists, columnists, scriptwriters and like-minded academics; and, last but not least, the superlative essay-writing skills of one hundred or so Business Studies undergraduates. For some self-appointed academic authorities these doubtless comprise degraded, compromised or indeed contaminated sources of data (albeit it is interesting how students are deemed dubious when one has non-student informants, but perfectly acceptable when one doesn’t). I firmly believe, however, that such sources, be they high or low brow, the obnoxious outpourings of the gutter press, the learned reflections of the literati or, for that matter, the libidinal fantasies of final year retailing students, are well worth exploring. The key point is that despite their unorthodoxy they are capable of shedding some light on the character of late-twentieth century consumer behaviour. The problem with marketing research is that elevates propriety over perspicacity, method over meaning, technique over thought. If it’s insightful it’s useful, in my doubtless deluded opinion.

I’m not claiming, moreover, that the ramblings of my eclectic assemblage – or my own ramblings, for that matter -- are any better than the mathematical manipulations of the tick-box brigade, though I suspect that the sexual and post-shopper stuff would have been difficult to extract by conventional qualitative/quantitative methods.17 I recognise, in addition, that the subjective personal introspection technique is widely, albeit erroneously, regarded as the disreputable preserve of academic apostates, scholarly narcissists and intellectual onanists. True, I could quite easily buttress my method of choice by alluding to Husserlian phenomenology, the voluminous latter-day literature on consciousness, our seemingly confessional zeitgeist (which ranges from Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer to Brigit Jones and Frank McCourt), the self-reflective critical function as it is performed in literary studies, or indeed the various arguments put forward by Holbrook, Gould, Levy and other leading advocates of self-scrutiny. I could even unpick that ‘text as brain’ trope we tied a piece of metaphorical string around in chapter 4 (and which you thought I’d forgotten). However, I’m not going to. I’ll simply say that it is my introspectively derived conviction that introspective approaches are useful. Certainly the students themselves seemed to get something useful out of the introspective exercise, despite their initial scepticism.

When asked to do an essay like this, it took over my mind. It gave me an uneasy feeling as if someone was watching over me every time I went shopping. And in actual fact that person was me. Everything I have done while out shopping since mid-October has been carefully scrutinised. By me.
(male, 21)

In summary, this assignment has given me the opportunity to explore myself and my shopping behaviour in a way I thought could never be examined. In particular, it allowed me to identify which category of shopper typology I would be classed under. On reflection, based on this essay, I tend to be primarily motivated to purchase by price alone and failing that I will endeavour to search out other retailing outlets who can meet my wants and needs in this way.
(male, 21)

Shopping is undoubtedly a part of my life and shows a side of my character. It’s interesting, for example, to see how many times I’ve mentioned cheap prices. It looks like an obsession even if I do not think it is one.
(male, 22)

I suppose I should leave it there, with that ‘take it or leave it’ defence of my methodology (decorous to the end, eh?). To do so, however, would short change the connoisseurs of textual schemata. There’s something missing from this volume, although many might maintain there’s something missing from its author. I’m alluding, naturally, to managerial implications. It is de rigueur to refer to managerial implications in works of marketing research. Lord knows why, because no manager with an iota of common sense adopts any of the pseudo-advice proffered therein. I mean, what the hell do ivory-tower ensconced professors know about the practicalities of management? Sorry, I forgot their teenage experience of working part-time at the drive-thru counter of the local Taco Bell and the exorbitant consultancy fees they charge for suitably imprecise advice to scapegoat-seeking marketing managers (the latter blames the former when things go awry and the former blames the latter for failing to act as instructed – everyone’s a winner!).

To be sure, the ‘managerial implications’ thing is little more than an anachronistic textual trace of the early, brute force and ignorance days of our discipline, when marketing men were men, consumers were housewives and picket fences Caucasian. However, the managerial ritual still has to be rehearsed in every paper, otherwise the referees get upset and the manuscript gets spiked. Admittedly, managerial implications are comparatively rare in the consumer research literature but that’s only because consumer researchers like to think of themselves as proper academics, far removed from the obsequious antics of the managerially minded multitude, albeit their business school situations (and salaries) are sufficient to ensure that bone fide membership of the intellectual elect will forever be withheld.

Anyway, I’m not proud and, as a consumer researcher of sorts, I’ll happily dispense advice to any marketing organisation stupid enough to engage me. The demand, assuredly, is not exactly overwhelming. (Let’s put it this way, I won’t be opening a second checkout to cope with the rush.) Indeed, in occasional moments of self-doubt, I comfort myself with the thought that western capitalism is a wily beast, capable of sniffing out the subversives in its midst. Still, a Lexus would be nice -- Christ, a car capable of passing the MOT would be nice -- and hence I’m going to summarise the practical implications of my shopping investigation, whilst leaving things sufficiently vague to attract well-heeled, expense-accounted, big-budgeted, platinum carded, Rolex-watched, Armani-suited, Ritz-suited, Cessna-jetted and, above all, soft-headed corporate clients. No more Paddy’s Pizzeria marketing plans for me, no siree.

Some of the more credulous among you may have concluded that the consumer antagonism comprehensively catalogued in the current scholarly collation means one thing and one thing only. Namely, that notwithstanding an inventory of inanities (that much-chanted litany of ‘enjoys’, ‘have a nice days’ and ‘missing you alreadys’), the late-twentieth century retailing experience still leaves a lot to be desired. A barrage of banalities, customer service lip-service and store loyalty card tricks are insufficient to compensate for the utter hatefulness of the typical shopping trip. Even post-shoppers’ post hoc rationalisation of the retailing nightmare – untrained clerks, minimum wages, hidden persuaders, personal failings, just my luck etc – does not ease the pain or counteract the agony of the shop-counter encounter.

It follows, surely, that shopkeepers have simply got to get their act together, to improve their abysmally low standards, to replace time-wasting talk with kick-ass action, to turn shopping into the recreational activity that it is damn well supposed to be. More staff training is necessary, better wages must be paid, in-store services improved, stock-outs avoided at all costs, queues reduced to a minimum, trolleys regularly serviced, changing rooms rendered palatial, welcoming store atmospheres created, long-term customer relationships forged, marketing research undertaken, marketing plans formulated, the marketing concept espoused and marketing consultants paid handsomely to reassure retailers that things are slowly getting better, albeit several sessions on the consultancy couch may be necessary before the breakthrough to total customer satisfaction is eventually attained.


Not so, amigos. Au contraire, compadres. Anything but, bozos. At the risk of revealing hitherto hidden trade secrets – we’re talking commercial arcana, known only to the masons of merchandise; we’re talking esoteric consumer cabala passed from cadre to cadre of store managers and analogous adepts; we’re talking retail initiation ceremonies, hidden shopping handshakes, ceremonial robes in all sizes, except mine – it is clear that we have stumbled upon the very substance, the fifth element, the mother lode, the goddam quintessence of consumer behaviour. Yes, true believers, I give you...

Dissatisfaction. That’s right, dissatisfaction! One more time, dissatisfaction. Repeat after me, DISSATISFACTION.

It is abundantly clear that, despite their protestations to the contrary, retailers don’t want satisfied customers. A satisfied customer is death. Satisfied customers won’t come back for more. They’ve had enough. They’re satisfied, remember! It stands to reason. Think about it. The key to commercial success – to continuing commercial success -- is to keep customers dissatisfied, disappointed, discomfited, always longing for that little black dress or perfect present, à la Campbell, constantly hoping that this time they’ll finally get what they’re looking for but constantly failing by the narrowest of margins. And if they manage to get something – anything – that will do, it quickly loses its allure due to built-in imperfections, and hence they’ll keep coming back for more. And more. And more.

We’re meant to feel frustrated, boys and girls. Irritation, anger, anguish, incandescence and what have you is deliberately induced by retailers. It is the most subtle weapon in the shopkeeper’s compendious commercial arsenal. They’re all in it together, what is more. You won’t get anything better elsewhere, all you’ll get is the added irritation that comes from having to go elsewhere to not get what you want. Not only have they succeeded in keeping us in a perpetual state of shopping readiness (hopes raised, hopes dashed, better luck next time) but they have us convinced that they’re customer orientated, that they want to help, that they really, really love us, that the customer is always right, that satisfaction is guaranteed, that the customer comes first, is king, is the be all and end all of business, or whatever. The customer’s a sucker, I say! All this talk about caring for their customers; all this pseudo-camaraderie and engineered obsequiousness; all this we-really-don’t-want-your-money-we-just-want-to-be-your-friend-but-seeing-you-insist-let-me-just-check-your-credit-rating crap is designed - deliberately designed, let me tell you - to raise our expectations so that the consuming experience itself is bound to be a disappointment, a bitter disappointment, no matter how pleasant it sometimes seems on the surface.

Take it from me, these people run courses in shopping clerk condescension; they practice their supercilious stares in the mirror; they’re not permitted to say anything except ‘can I help you?’ and ‘are you looking for anything in particular?’(it’s in the contract); they take hammers to the shopping carts at night; the changing room curtains are expressly designed not to close; they have the goods you’re looking for in the storeroom (all the time, in every size, shape and colour); they systematically relocate the merchandise and rearrange the store on a daily basis; the tills are supposed to break down as we approach, like rigged roulette wheels; they pay malodorous people to stand in the queues, akin to plants in theatre audiences; the street people, perambulator operators and car park attendants are in the employ of town centre managers, who hold auditions for the most obnoxious.

They know we know all this but they do it anyway.

And why? Because we spend more when we’re disappointed. Because we’d pay anything, buy anything, take any old shit just to get the hell out of the place. Because we’re there! Christ, I’d do whatever they ask to escape the checkout queue; I’d sell my daughters into bondage if they’d only stop moving the merchandise around; I’d batter and deep-fat fry my bollocks, for fuck’s sake, if a cure was found for the credit card colly-wobbles. Wouldn’t you? It follows, therefore, that our hatred is induced not innate, that it is a pre-packed, day-gloed, smiley-faced, uriah-heeped, poisoned-apple merchandising ploy of such depraved, devastating brilliance that I stand humbled before it. As a wannabe marketing scholar and one-time incumbent of Pseud’s Corner, I can only offer my hopelessly inadequate congratulations. Take all my money, you devious bastards, you’ve earned it.

Truth to tell, I’m so impressed with the fiendish brilliance of these people that I now regret and wish to withdraw all of my previous remarks. Each and every one of them.18 You know, I don’t know about you, but I hate the fact that I hate shopping. I hate the fact that I hate shopping in supermarkets, department stores, delicatessens, petrol stations, greengrocers, antique dealers, jewellers, florists, furniture shops, shoe shops, convenience stores, electrical outlets, toy shops, sports shops, gift shops, coffee shops and trendy clothing shops (where I still have an overwhelming urge to deconstruct, disassemble and generally de-range their carefully co-ordinated displays of co-ordinates, even though I now understand my compulsion). At the bottom of the ninth, sports fans, I hate the fact that I hate, hate, HATE them all.

Please don’t hate me for this change of heart. Please don’t hate me for this hateful book. I’d hate it if you hated me for my hatred, my hating, my hatefulness. Sod, it! Who cares about you lot? Who gives a shit what you think? I’m free, I’m happy, I’m cured. Catharsis at last! I think it’s time to tell the Utah tale...