It’s great when you get an email out of the blue. Especially if it’s from a former student whose ‘follow the thing’ dissertation is available from your website. And especially if it is, to date, its most viewed example of original student work on the site. Fred was a BA Geography student at the University of Birmingham. I’d supervised his dissertation. He’d enjoyed researching and writing it. Then he graduated and went off into the ‘real world’… but why’s he back?
He returns my email, eventually. He says it’s good to hear from me, especially so given how eager I am to get back into this writing malarkey.
I’ve been working as a model for the last two years. You know, the type that appears in magazines and adverts etc etc. Clothes, electronics, food. Anything really. If there’s something to be sold I’ll be there to help sell it. That’s what I do now but I used to study Geography. People, mainly. ‘Human’ Geography if you will.
He said that me getting in touch was timely – I’d just been awarded a prize. The 2013 followthethings.com award for the most read new work on the site. The work in question was my final year university dissertation. Submitted some seven years old I should add.
As the name of the prize suggests, my dissertation was about following something. I followed the avocado pear. Or, as you probably know it, simply, the Avocado.
From dusty trees in Israeli fields to the halogen lit supermarket shelves of our local supermarkets, mine was the life story of the avocado and the various pairs of hands that get them to our dinner plates. The same world, connected.
I hope I’m introducing myself adequately. I wanted to set the scene, provide you with some context because me writing again after all this time is really rather out of the blue. I decided to get in touch with ‘him’ – my undergraduate professor – to see if there was an outlet through which I could express myself like I did once upon a time.
After graduating in 2007, chuffed to bits with my first class honours degree, achieved after spending the best part of one year writing caffeine-fuelled essays about commodities and all sorts, I entered a period of existence in which I am still present. It’s called, apparently, ‘the real world’ and if I’m honest, I’ve never been entirely convinced by it.
I wanted to do something Geography-related again, so I got in touch.
I want to start writing; start putting my brain to use. Perhaps I could offer someone, somewhere, something. I always loved writing and the final year of my degree was fantastic. It was academic and it was fun. Imagine that.
He suggested I could write a short, starter, blog piece about me and the award I’ve just won. The words might get some ideas flowing.
He also mentioned that he’d just started to look more closely at fashion and he thought that because I work as a model I might have a rather unique combination of interest and experience. Perhaps I could reflect on that.
Perhaps. Because the clothes I wear are very similar to my precious avocados. Through ‘advertising, marketing and media specialists’ they have become a much fetishised commodity, masking their origins and the social relations necessary to produce them’ (Jhally, 1987: 49), with the ghost of human labour ‘thoroughly exorcised so that consumers need not give thought to their composition, or where, how and by whom they were made’ (Jhally, 1987: 49).
They hide the flesh of the body and they also hide the myriad of social relations that exist in order to create them. The fabric ties people together. Different people in different places. If clothes could talk, eh? What stories might they tell?
Jhally, S. (1987) The codes of advertising: Fetishism and the political economy of meaning in the consumer society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.