Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shopping in Iran

Unconfirmed tweet from persiankiwi, 9am EST 6/23, (that's Tuesday afternoon in Tehran) via Sully:
Mousavi - the objective is to bring Tehran to standstill - millions of people go shopping but NOBODY SHOPPING - #Iranelection RT RT RT
Even if this is rumor or misinformation, I think it's interesting. Has anyone heard of this tactic before? The first thing that comes to mind is that this is a specific d├ętournement of Bush's response to 9-11, when he told the American people that the best response was to go shopping. Here you go shopping without going shopping.

But there is a specific context here which complicates any attempt to see this tactic as anti-capitalist; as I understand it, the bazaars are allied with the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard, so this kind of active boycott looks more like the economic version of the street fighting we've seen the last few days. Falling short of pitched battles, these low-level skirmishes are the way a disorganized movement tests a more coherent, better armed force. Shopping-without-shopping is a similar process of flirtation and probing, where bazaari and customer eye each other the way policeman and rioter do. But the positions are reversed: in the street it is the rioter who coyly tempts the policeman to break out his truncheon, while in the bazaar it is the shopkeeper who tempts the customer to break out the wallet. And although it's hard to see from my vantage point, the gender roles are likely reversed as well. Men traditionally make up the shock troops in street fighting, although we've heard reports that in this case at least women are playing an important role urging them on. Will the women play a more primary role in the shopping conflict? Will men support and protect them in turn? In any case this seems more subversive than reading Lolita. I eagerly await further developments, without knowing what source will be able to adequately report on them.

In the end perhaps the most we can say is that this is an example of the macro shift away from the primacy of the producer to that of the consumer. And a reminder that despite the rumored "end of history" and the supposed importance of religious and tribal rather than economic loyalties, socio-economic realities are still important and perhaps decisive. See the New Yorker's summary of the Iranian economy for background on that.

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