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The Gap in Being – Phenomenology Goes Shopping

Abstract: Numerous social theorists have analyzed consumer society as the result of schemes as grand as capitalist ideology or as lowly as marketing manipulation. What these analyses assume as a given is that shopping and consuming have a meaning, but what they don’t show is how shopping comes to have a meaning. By means of phenomenological description of the perceptual experience of shopping and especially of stores as shopping environments, we attempt to reveal how these experiences carry a certain significance. We also hope to illuminate how it is that this experience turns us into “shoppers.”

It is an absolute certainty, in 20th century America, that you will go to the store. It’s worth pausing a moment to consider this imperative and its significance. You cannot feed or clothe or maintain your physical self unless you go to the store. This is not because you have become incapable of sustaining your life through your own efforts. Going to the store has simply supplanted the functions that would have provided the basic necessities, so that the fundamental life-sustaining activity in the contemporary Western world is purchasing, or more precisely, shopping.

Shopping has results besides sustenance, of course. The activity of acquiring and the acquired goods themselves serve as signs of social standing or means of self-expression; shopping is also a form of recreation and social interaction.1 The focus of the bulk of sociological interpretations of shopping is on its presumable social effects rather than on the activity itself. But regardless of any effect shopping may have, the activity takes place in settings with certain describable characteristics.

You will go to the store. While there you might notice the arrangement of goods on a shelf or the effect of the lighting on the perceived hues of various colors. You might recognize the absurdity of the brand names on laundry detergent or realize that price and location of products in the store are somehow linked. It could occur to you that a subtle or perhaps even a crude manipulation is taking place, that you are being led toward particular goods, particular categories of consumer products, and more: toward the higher-priced goods. Is this the intended effect of management decisions, or coincidence? Is this a deliberately engineered set of experiences, designed to bring about a specific set of behaviors that result in a gain for the store? Am I being manipulated by the powers that be to make a purchase against my will and in spite of my highest sensibilities? Or did I actually just come here to get some floss, and which aisle would that be on anyway?

In other words, the effort to understand shopping’s life-sustaining, status-giving, or amusement-producing effects as effects of shopping calls for an account of the environment and activity of shopping itself. That activity is to a great extent perceptual — looking, searching, hearing, smelling, occasionally tasting and feeling. To borrow a term from J. J. Gibson, different shopping environments afford different perceptual experiences.2 In this way, and regardless of any deliberate attempt by store management to control perception (which no doubt does go on), the interaction of the shopper’s perceptual exploration and the shopping environment is the foundation for the meaning of shopping. Our goal is to reveal this constitution of meaning and to show that and how the perceptual activity of shopping constitutes us as shoppers.

Our question isn’t “why do we shop,” it’s “How is the meaning of shopping constituted?” To find the answer, join us as we shop until — quite literally — we drop.

I. A Trip to the Supermarket

You have to go to the supermarket. Practically anywhere you live, alternatives to obtaining the majority of human necessities at a grocery store or supermarket are either too expensive or too inconvenient to make going to the store seem unreasonable. It may be one of the newer “upscale” stores that offer a slightly expanded stock of gourmet items in exchange for a slight increase on the overall prices of other items; it may be one of the warehouse stores that manage to offer lower prices by sidestepping the need for fancy displays, or in some cases shelves, and just putting the produce out in the boxes they were shipped in, one side and the top of the boxes sliced off with utility knives. In terms of the practical purpose of shopping at a supermarket, the result will be largely the same: you’ll go to buy groceries.

The obvious differences between the smaller boutique stores and the warehouses obscure a significant similarity in their perceptual environments: nearly all grocery items are packaged (to avoid spoilage and contamination, to provide convenience, to “add value”). This way of acquiring food necessarily presents the food in ways that conceal its attributes as food — you can’t taste and usually can’t smell what you buy. Even in the produce and meat departments, where at least the color of the food is visible, the experience is notably unlike cooking or eating.

A growing trend in supermarket design is the addition of large, open areas lined with cases of prepared foods. What might have been a lunch meat counter in the past is now a deli serving sandwiches made to order; and the deli may be alongside a Chinese take-out counter, bakery, even a sushi bar. Some stores have adjoining or in-store cafes or seating areas — the bistro effect. It seems obvious that the prepared-food counters and their offer of convenience is meant to contrast with the relatively un-sensuous grocery store shelves, even drawing in customers who would not otherwise have made the trip. This gives the supermarket the much-desired quality that marketers, planners and designers strive for, the El Dorado known as “destination retail.”

If prepared food and seating areas function as a lure, what they lure shoppers into, even in the long aisles of nearly identical shelves, is the supermarket — presented as a place of abundance. The supermarket presents an image of bounty and fullness, as much by the layout of the store as by the labels on the packages themselves. A normative or regulative ideal of abundance is built into the perceptual experience of the supermarket in every aspect and you take it for granted when you shop. Empty shelves are rare and cans and jars are stocked to maintain a solid wall of labels, or “facings.” Even finding shelves less than completely full reinforces this ideal, since the blank spaces appear contrastingly abnormal. More common is disarray or perceptual noise produced by the packaging. Manufacturers and marketers attempt to draw attention with package designs, and perhaps these are effective, but the impact of a shelf-full of brightly colored eye-catching labels is perceptually confusing.

The impact does not seem to be that there is a place for everything and everything in its place so much as that shopping the supermarket is entering a universe full of edible, consumable objects. The supermarket can be perceptually exhausting as a result of the complex searching and noise filtering needed to navigate the store in order to buy what you need.

II. Welcome, Wal-Mart Shoppers

So Buy Buy Buy
and get inside
Get a loada this junk
You wanna belong
You gotta have it
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Director of Alienation”

You may have to go to Wal-Mart. The stores are imposing structures, big boxes3 set back from huge parking lots, uniform in appearance down to the synthetic stucco outer coating that transforms the structure into a monolithic corporate logo. Inside, the store is arranged in the familiar grid pattern, with a series of corridors that separate various departments. On one side of the corridors are clothes, shoes, home furnishings, and the like; on the other side are the more nuts-and-bolts goods, appliances, tools and home fixtures, housewares, plates and glasses. At the end of the outer corridor circumnavigating the store, in the back corner, is the section reserved for arts and crafts materials, sewing and knitting goods, needlepoint kits and cloth on the bolt. You have to pass almost anything you might make out of those materials (and almost anything else you might not or couldn’t) in order to reach them, and the ease and convenience of simply buying them is hard to ignore.
The sections are logically arranged, after a fashion: the stuff for the kitchen is all contained within a few aisles, and the last aisle of plates and glasses gives over to toasters and coffee makers. The jewelry section gives over to watches, and this section is adjacent to the fortress that houses the electronics and media ward, all the products closely guarded behind a single, well-monitored entrance/egress. On the other side of the electronics, housewares leads into paint and hardware, into sporting goods. In the adjacent corner, the toy section gives way to the garden section, appropriately or ironically, depending on your point of view.

And all of this makes sense. Or nearly. The truth is that the arrangement, however logical or consistent, is hard to make sense of. It is so large a canvas and so teeming a picture that not even the most specific details seem to stand out, not even the garden center. This, perhaps, is the secret to Wal-Mart’s success. Once inside the great, imposing logo, you become a dedicated and eager consumer. Even if you came there with a list, swearing that you were going for just one thing, one thing only, unless that one thing is a gumball you are unlikely to succeed. You are going to be faced with so many other things available for purchase, and others at a lower price than you expected, that an unplanned purchase will often seem not only opportune, but prudent. It’s because the things were there; they were on the way. It’s also because the atmosphere changes you. While you are there, you are a Wal-Mart Shopper, among the other Wal-Mart Shoppers. Regardless of why you came, while there you are surrounded by so many possibilities that nothing seems wholly impermissible. Even if you find an object that is desirable but seems too costly, a similar, usable item at lesser cost will undoubtedly be close at hand.

The down side is that nothing at Wal-Mart will be the best available. Your Faded Glory brand lounging pants will lose the elastic in their waistband. There is an even bigger TV or stereo at the electronics store you could have gone to. The fish have ick; the Sam’s Club cookies disappoint. But the impulse never to go there again will be thwarted, because at some point you will need something Wal-Mart has, and you will be certain you can have it for the best price there. You will pack in along with the rest of the surly crowd of surly shoppers. Wal-Mart Shoppers do not need to have their attention beckoned: their wandering eyes make them consuming machines, prowling their habitat motivated4 less by an intention to consume than by that habitat’s providence. It’s perfectly natural.

III. Media Play

You don’t really have to go to Media Play. Media Play stores are huge, high-ceilinged vaults of sound and knowledge, laid out in rough quadrangles devoted to a given form of media: video, books, music, and computers. The name, one supposes, is meant to imply a sort of utopian post-industrial ethos, a brave, new world, where serious things (media) become a form of entertainment (play).

You enter through a large aluminum and glass airlock vestibule onto a wide central concourse that begins the division of the quadrants. The central concourse is also home to the beginnings of the displays, with fixtures bearing the legend “HITS!” or “BLOCKBUSTER!” or “BESTSELLER!” In the first quadrant, off to your right, is the video section. The hits, as noted, are on the aisle. The mainstream, big-ticket movies have their own kiosk, complete with film specific displays; the big-ticket children’s movies have a separate kiosk (sometime kiosks) of their own, with the latest film-related toys and video games and action figures and accessories. Beyond this are rack upon rack of less-new releases, less-sure sellers, and, one supposes, one hopes, a cinematic gem or recent favorite that one might buy, especially noting that the prices are a buck or two lower than in the kiosks that house the hits. Further along are the oldies, movies anywhere from 5 to 80 years old, which are a few bucks again cheaper, and at the end a help desk staffed by an attendant with a computer. The whole section is planned to drag you from what you would be more likely to buy at a premium through what you might buy at a discount back to where you can ask for what you would buy if you could find it.

Located behind the video quadrant, the book section has a similar dynamic to its arrangement. The kiosks with the best sellers, as labeled, are on the aisle, but they mingle with the Reduced Price fixtures. A book you saw on the bestsellers’ rack three weeks ago could very well be on the discount rack this week or on the next rack over, at a greater discount, the week after that. More to the point, if you are after a particular best-selling book, you’ll find it, and then the next thing you’ll see will be a book you wouldn’t have even thought about buying, but for only $8. Or $4. Or even less.

Behind all this are the regular book sections, categorized by genre, alphabetized by author: Poetry, Fiction, Romance, Mystery, whatever you want, it seems as if it must be here. Some of it, anyway. To the side there’s a section of children’s books, which merges into a small toy section. This section has a tossed-together feel, a reflection, perhaps, of a view that books for kids are mostly toys anyway; things aren’t put in much order because things aren’t expected to stay in order for long. At the absolute perimeter, there are calendars, the outskirts of print media, the lowest level of print communication.

Across the aisle from the book section, also in the rear of the store, the music section has a much more generalized and linear arrangement. The front portion is dedicated to “Popular” music, largely Rock ‘n’ Roll, a smattering of Alternative or what have you. The music ranges widely in terms of the eras represented; older artists’ sections will be larger, since there’s more of it, and at Media Play, they have as much of it as they can fit. Obscure albums from those whose careers span a decade or more can be found – compilations, concert recordings, and greatest hits compilations. Younger artists have slimmer sections, but for any given artist whose career is a decade or younger, you can find nearly any recording in existence.

The breadth of the stock leads to a temptation, perhaps even a compulsion, to linger over a section, looking to see if they have all the right albums, all the seminal recordings; there is an equal temptation to pry into the sections of younger artists whose names you’ve heard but not their music, or who have a single or two on the airwaves, to see if maybe there’s a familiar tune or two there, something you’d heard but hadn’t connected with the group. The temptation is there, but the fact is you only have so much time, and if you want to make it all the way to Z so you can see whether they have both Frank Zappa’s Shut Up & Play Your Guitar and Son Of Shut Up & Play Your Guitar, you may have to give the latter parts of Matchbox 20’s corpus a miss.

Off the rear of the “Popular” section is a smaller section devoted to Rap. The Rap section is more brightly lit and makes a stronger visual impact. The added emphasis given the Rap label suggests that it’s something you should be aware or, something that deserves more than a cursory glance. Or, conversely, it may just be that Rap is a gaudier medium, especially when it comes to packaging and marketing.

In the back are the less popular categories: Gospel is back here, right next to Contemporary Christian, right next to Country, right next to Blues, then Jazz; after that, Broadway and Soundtracks. Classical has its own section, logically enough, up against the book section. If you are far enough outside the mainstream, the logic seems to be, you’ll swim a ways to find your brethren. Still, even in these less well-placed racks, you’ll find enough of your favorite artists’ works to choose from, and, additionally, you’ll find classical works for $6 to $10 per disk as opposed to the $14-20 the disks in the Popular section require. At the front of the section, conversely, are a pair of kiosks devoted to boxed sets, definitive collections for definitive fans, digitally re-mastered and preserved and restored, the best of the best from the best of the best, Rock, Jazz, Big Band, or Gospel, the original cast recording.

In a niche in a back corner of the music quadrant is a small section devoted to musical instruments – electric and acoustic guitars, straps, amplifiers, strings, electronic keyboards. They are not the best of instruments, but they are the kind of thing a beginner – or a beginner’s parents – might think a reasonable purchase for a talent that may or may not emerge. It is reasonable: after seeing and hearing all the beautiful noise, these instruments are made available to you to keep alive the notion that the powerful play does indeed go on, and that you, too, may contribute a verse – on an $80 guitar, machine made in Taiwan.

By this point you may be confused and exhausted, but there’s still one more quadrant left: the computer software section; full of things to make your magnificent machine better without making it larger, or indeed different. There are tools to do your taxes, guides to Wall Street, Internet navigators, and games. There are also other accessories: mouse pads of various designs, from Bugs Bunny to M.C. Escher, wrist rests, ergonomic keyboards, blank double-sided disks, CD ROMs packed with features. The products are packaged in boxes ten and twenty times the size of the actual product, ostensibly as a theft-prevention measure if you ask the manufacturer, but more than that, a smaller package wouldn’t have enough room to explain the products’ many features, which is, perhaps, why the blank disks come in shrink-wrapped sleeves of 10. In this new age, everything has been made as simple as possible, but not simpler. At the cash register, there are the odd impulse items: more mouse pads, bookmarks, recent CD releases by hot artists, the latest box office smash newly out on video, a volume of poetry by Jewel, shrink-wrapped so you would have to purchase it to satisfy your curiosity about what’s inside.

IV. Falling Into The Gap

Certainly no one has to go to the Gap. The Gap and its sister store Old Navy have become unqualified successes in retail clothing among relatively affluent young people, predominantly in the 18-34 year-old demographic group. The chains credit their success to shrewd marketing practices and their ad campaigns, which are often among the most-discussed in the pages of Advertising Age and other trade publications. The campaigns create brand names and images for the stores (varying between them slightly) that are engineered to appeal to the target audience’s desire to be hip and fashionable. In the lingo of the advertising world, the hipness of the ads becomes a “brand benefit” — i.e., a motivation to shop these stores and buy from them.

A constancy in the effort of meaning constitution is evident in the continual redesigns of the Gap’s lines of clothing, brand image, and store interiors. This constancy probably reflects the company’s strategy for focusing on the youth market — an attempt to remain hip by reinvention. When, for instance, “retro” items like capri pants or tube tops become fashionable, the Gap recasts its brand meaning and restructures its advertising and store designs. The shifts are strikingly quick and thorough. In a change of fashion, everything alters at once in the store and out — the prior clothing lines disappear from the racks and the ad campaigns are fully replaced with new commercials displaying not only the new merchandise, but a revision of the brand meaning, a new corporate self-presentation.

How the Gap’s marketing strategy operates becomes clear from considering these changes of brand meaning. The Gap’s redesigns are total, top-to-bottom shifts in the imagery of their ads, the models in the ads, the product lines themselves, and the decor of the stores. Each of these functions as an element of the brand-meaning of the Gap, which is to say that the branding of the Gap is the result of the interrelation or interaction of the elements. The store interior refers to the advertising and the models, the advertising refers to the clothing, the design of the clothing may even be reflected in the store. Out of this the Gap brand is constructed as a milieu, a total, enclosed meaning-complex in which every element functions as a representation of all of the others.

At one point this brand-milieu was so pronounced in the Gap that advertising images filled the stores – life-size cardboard cut-out posters of young models in the Gap’s wares hanging from the ceiling, standing on the floor, peering down from the walls. On the shelves and racks were more repetitions of the same fashions, and even the employees’ wardrobes matched. It happened to be during the Gap’s “James Dean wore khakis” campaign, so the store contained almost nothing but muted colors of tan, pale blue, and olive green. Everything in the store refers to the images in the advertisements — the products and the Gap brand’s construction of hipness.

The perceptual center of gravity in the store was about one-third of the way in. Standing there, it is difficult to see past racks to the mall beyond, and the Muzak played inside the store drowns out the different Muzak in the mall. In any given direction the brand image of the Gap is repeated, but moreover, the brand images and posters are directed towards that focal point in the store. Occupying that central place, you stand in the middle of a kind of exploded Gap ad – not merely among its images, but the focal center of those images. You are in the Gap‚s milieu, to be sure, but also and more significantly you are surrounded by images that refer back to you as the central figure of a Gap ad. The store constructs your presence as the leading role in the ad/brand. You are the medium and the message; in that space of interaction, you become the Gap.

This means that you are endowed by the perceptual environment of the store with a subjective agency, as the one whose presence and perceptual activity are vital to give the Gap its meaning. If you were not present in the ad, if the ad does not focus on you, the production of meaning is fruitless. When, as later ads beckoned, we fall into the Gap, when we fill the Gap, we fulfill its meaning-production — and the Gap’s image of hipness becomes a perceived self-image. Shopping and buying is an affirmation of the image the brand produces.

By entering the Gap store, you enter the center of the milieu, the meaning-complex that the Gap itself is. Your role in this meaning-complex is, like all the other elements, determined within the referential totality. As the central reference point, your position in the totality is as its subject — you become the Gap shopper. In that position, as the Gap shopper the ads call to and the store design anticipates, the meaning of your actions enters into the brand meaning’s total milieu. Through your action, through your consciousness, the brand meaning of the Gap is made complete. To cite a recent Gap tagline, when you “fall into the Gap,” you become the Gap in being,5 the medium of the self-presentation or self-presence of the Gap, and it may be fair to say that at that moment you yourself are not actually present at all.

V. Conclusion: Where It’s At

In varying degrees, every retail shopping environment exploits the activity of shopping perception to produce a meaning of shopping there. The modes explored here — the supermarket’s image of abundance, Wal-Mart’s consumer utopia, Media Play’s overload of content, and the Gap’s self-presentation through the shopper’s subjective agency — are means to the same end. The relation between the store and the shopper is often construed as an exploitation of the shopper’s desires, fears, and other affective states; and it does seem likely that marketing executives hope that exploitation increases sales.

We suggest that the relation is both more subtle and less direct. Stores provide goods we want and need, for reasons of our own, but stores present these goods and the opportunity to purchase them always in a context that adds meaning. For example, we do not merely enter a Wal-Mart and buy sponge mop refills and lightbulbs; we become Wal-Mart shoppers. While it is true that we go there because this is where things are, the perceptual environment of the store and our active shopping perception in that environment become interwoven and establish a meaning of shopping. In the case of Wal-Mart, the meaning makes constant reference to an open field of possible purchases: from ceiling fans to automobile tires to dishwashing liquid to stuffed animals to end tables to needlework sets, it’s all here, found in every corner of the store. We become Wal-Mart shoppers as we move among and unavoidably perceive more upon more items for sale; a Wal-Mart shopper is a buyer of anything in a place where everything is for sale.

Similarly, no one who walks into the Gap merely needs or wants clothes. The Gap provides a range of images to attach to simple needing or wanting. Anyone might need or want a pair of khaki pants; the Gap shopper can buy khaki pants made hip by association with the store’s brand presentation, and can buy that hipness itself by associating with the brand and its images.

Because shopping is how we meet our necessities and satisfy our desires, and because retail environments present the objects of need and desire to us in a milieu of perceptual elements out of which we give meaning to shopping, we can’t meet our needs and wants without experiencing a particular meaning of shopping. Our necessity and desire are the reasons the stores exist for us, at least for the limited time we spend shopping. To that extent at least, perception of need and desire becomes perception of the retail store. It may never be wholly accurate to say (as Baudrillard suggested6) that we come to believe in – or put our faith in – retail stores. But it is fair to say that for the duration of our effort to acquire what we feel we need, we put ourselves in the place of one who would believe.7 You can’t shop Wal-Mart without becoming a Wal-Mart shopper, but that is not to say that you remain a Wal-Mart shopper once you enter the Gap. The meaning we intend in these spaces is a conjoining of what we want from those spaces and how the spaces affect our perception of fulfilling those wants; however, we ultimately constitute or enact its meaning.

We all have to go to the store to get the things of brute necessity and simple desire. We all have to enter a built environment that stands as a plain fact whether or not we’re there. And once we enter, we engage in a perceptual activity that — out of plain fact, brute necessity, simple desire and their interrelations — produces the global phenomenon of retail shopping. Through the perceptual activities involved in shopping we take part in the constitution of the meaning of shopping as the means of satisfying our needs and desires, transforming the meaning of need and desire into a need and desire to shop — the activity that sustains us is shopping. In that activity, we creatures of need and desire transform ourselves into shoppers. In this way, our world today is entirely different from the worlds of previous generations: shopping is not merely a part of our everyday lives; to a grand degree, it is a defining and essential set of phenomena that makes our lives what they are, and makes us who we are.


1.Jean Baudrillard, for instance, brilliantly and provocatively analyzes consumption in The System of Objects, but does not discuss the activity of shopping as anything other than an activity of acquiring those objects – i.e., as already a form of consumption. But how does the activity of shopping accrue this significance? As for the social activity of shopping, William Severini Kowinski’s The Malling of America provides a wealth of insights, relating malls to the suburban settings they are most often found, and discussing the mall’s importance as a kind of commons, albeit a restrictive and commercial commons. Though helpful in this regard, Kowinski, like Baudrillard, does not seek to illuminate what we are exploring here — shopping as a perceptual activity.

2 In The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, J.J. Gibson develops the notion of perceptual affordances. Perception takes place in an environment that lends support to or provides means for certain kinds of perceptual/bodily acts. One sees into and through a store, and thus the interior design of the store becomes vitally important to the kinds of perceiving that are possible there. For example, large, anchor department stores in malls commonly have broken sight lines created by angled aisle ways, jutting display counters and so on — with the result that the store does not afford much seeing into the distance, but a great deal of seeing of displays immediately in front of you.

3.In architecture, retail planning and retail marketing terms, a “big box” store is essentially just that – a store that, architecturally speaking, is a big box. Wal-Mart and Sam’s club, as well as Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and like stores qualify as big boxes: they’re over 100,000 square feet in area and over 27 feet in building height. Structurally, big box stores are pretty much the same: Concrete Masonry Units (what we used to call “cinder blocks”) and steel posts make up the vertical frame, bar joists tie the frame together, and a large flat metal deck with a membrane roofing system supports the huge HVAC plants needed to keep the entire space comfortable. The interior space is malleable, so the same basic box design can be duplicated for practically any tenant need. Big boxes are what retail tenants have wanted for decades: they are bigger, they are faster, and they are cheaper.

4 Following the distinction of two forms of act-motivation by Alfred Schutz, when we go shopping for an item, or go “in-order-to” make a purchase, we carry out an act that is motivated “inauthentically,” which means that the goal is not present to us with evidence but is a presupposed end result. After the fact, we can reflectively understand the act “authentically,” according to Schutz, recognizing the direct, experienced connections between action and results as the “because” motive of action. You might go to Wal-Mart “in-order-to” buy a particular item you know is there, but leave the store with numerous other items besides, finding on reflection that you bought them “because” they were there, seemed reasonably cheap and desirable, etc. In effect, then, the experience of the store and its contents are the authentic motivation of those purchases.

5.This pun drawn from Jean-Paul Sartre’s conception of subjectivity as a hole in being, or nothingness, has been a great inspiration to us in writing this essay.

6 In The System of Objects, Baudrillard discusses an advertising campaign containing only the single word “GARAP,” unconnected to any product, service, or organization. Despite this disconnection (or, more intriguingly, through it), Baudrillard says, people came to believe in GARAP (Baudrillard 1997, 181).

7.Narrative theory and the British Cultural Studies school explain this phenomenon as the “implied reader” and “hailing,” respectively. In both cases, in order for the cultural phenomenon in question to be experienced as meaningful, the person having the experience has to approach the phenomenon by adopting at least some features of the intended audience. For instance, ads for the Gap imply that (or hail) the audience (as someone who) is interested in being hip, and it is impossible to experience the ad as meaningful without at least assuming the interpretive stance of someone who is indeed interested in being hip. Even if I personally do not care at all about hipness, I have to recognize hipness as concernful in order to make sense of the ad. Shopping environments operate in the same way.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. Trans. by James Benedict. London: Verso, 1997.

Fiske, John. “British Cultural Studies and Television.” In Allen, Robert C., ed. Channels of Discourse, Reassembled. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Gibson, J. J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Hine, Thomas. The Total Package. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1995.

Kowinski, William Severini. The Malling of America. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1985.

Kozloff, Sarah. “Narrative Theory and Television.” In Allen, Robert C., ed. Channels of Discourse, Reassembled. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. by Hazel Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press, 1966.

Schutz, Alfred. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Trans. by George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Authors: Chris Nagel and Jim Williams have collaborated on various projects over their 12 year friendship, dealing mainly with philosophy, social criticism, and social and political satire.

Chris Nagel teaches philosophy and studies media at California State University, Stanislaus, and is a member of the Executive Board of the Society for Phenomenology and Media. Since earning his B.A. degree in Philosophy at UNC-Charlotte and Ph.D. at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, he has been engaged in a phenomenological study of media, especially television and the Internet. He owns one pair of pants from the Gap. See the proof at

Jim Williams is a writer, poet, and amateur social philosopher, currently employed by Construction Market Data as an Architectural Reporter. He earned his B.A. degree in English at UNC-Charlotte, where he fell in love with Critical Theory, then moved on to graduate studies in English at a university we shall not name, where people were far more interested in justifying their own existences than pursuing theory. After the two year program had run its course, he quit in disgust. He currently lives in his hometown of Charlotte, NC. Visit Jim’s page at

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