Capital no longer needs the act of gift-giving as a romanticization of commodity traffic. Therefore, the renunciation of Christmas presents is not an act of resistance. But gift giving has not exactly become easier either. Our author makes a few suggestions for goodness
The perfect Christmas gift: handy, homemade, easy to dispose of – and the Christmas tree is already included! Fo to: ASIFE/photocase.en
By Jan-Paul Koopmann
Nothing is a more accurate reflection of the technological and cultural state of society’s productive forces than the terse sentence: "Well, we’re not giving each other anything for Christmas this year."The fact that the entertainingly pointed escape from the circulation of goods promises more and more people greater emotional surplus than a gift of goods shows two things: The total oversaturation of the market, of course, but also that it is obviously no longer worth the effort for capital to seriously advertise this act of gifting.
Let’s not fool ourselves: There is nothing resistive in abstaining from consumption, which is limited to not overdoing it as blatantly as before for half an hour under the Christmas tree. These people simply do not give gifts because capital no longer needs this romanticization of the movement of goods.
And that would be completely okay and a private triviality, if together with the obsolete ideology under wrapping paper a small but beautiful emotional surplus would not be extinguished. One should at least be careful in dealing with people who feel warm at the idea of dumping the bleakness of the rest of the year on Christmas.
Giving as a gift is perhaps, precisely because it remains so close to mass consumption, a partial escape from the most unpleasant moments of commodity production: because you neither have to produce nor buy what you get as a gift.
The fact that most gifts are junk and their selection a real challenge is another matter. And it changes over time, regardless of what economists, behavioral psychologists and brain researchers claim in their journals every year. What’s interesting about late-capitalist gift-giving is precisely not the timeless giving, taking and wanting to be loved – but rather the specifics. And these are highly contradictory and, by the way, cannot be pressed into a formula: G – W – gift, or so.
The possibilities can be sorted, however, because people are as different as the relationships between them. Both are important here. Have you ever given a book as a gift to someone who just finished digitizing all records, books, movies and photos? Let me tell you, it is not a particularly pleasant experience.
Of course, this remains a special case, although vulgar anti-materialism is becoming increasingly widespread. In any case, it is astonishing that the cultural practice of accumulating junk has suddenly turned out to be so fast-moving. And that’s what makes gift-giving dangerous: Whereas in the past you ran the risk of handing over something stupid or duplicate, today you can – without even suspecting it – call entire life plans into question.
The first obvious thing to do is to resort to the abstract, which could be the first type of gift. Despite general unpopularity widespread is the voucher, which fulfills one or two of these functions: To choose something for yourself and/or to do something only when there is time to do it. Quite clear that this puts you under pressure and it is also encroaching in both cases.
What is implicitly written on every voucher: "I hereby present you with an appointment search, a task and possibly a dispute with cashier staff, who basically can’t do anything about it." Even without being able to prove it, it’s not a particularly bold claim to make that the industry is so fond of handing out these crap things because large portions of them are never redeemed.
And last but not least, the question hovers over all this, why not give money – if already, then already – who wants to chase one outside on the market. Yes, why not? Because it is shameful. Today hardly anyone has enough money, but hardly anyone wants to admit it. Opening an envelope containing a banknote must feel like tearing the mask off your face. Besides, the said romantic rest is missing here in this specific form of commodity exchange. Normally, this would be even worse than the penetrating, but basically harmless sting of an unredeemed voucher on the bulletin board.
However, there are two exceptions when it comes to money gifts: It works if the giver has little money and the other person knows how to interpret the financial support as a sacrifice. Either this familiarity, or – as a second possibility – it is a very, very large sum of money. Then no one is bothered by the exposure. Oh, another exception is, of course, the wedding gift, which, however, can also be understood as a contribution to the arschteuren celebration. Or as an investment in the future.
Related to money is the luxury good: something nice that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. It is advisable to do something a little bit different in order to avoid the suspicion that this is just a disguised form of a gift of money. In addition to the implied insinuation that someone can’t afford such a thing, low interest rates are also problematic. Thanks to the ubiquitous zero-percent financing that various mail-order companies offer for various junk, everyone is able to buy everything at least for the time being. It has also become a problem of gift-giving that even with massive impoverishment of whole strata of the population, everything continues to seem available to everyone.
But this does not mean that the luxury good is completely off the table. It can be given away to show off, for example, to demonstrate one’s own (or, in my case, fictitious) purchasing power, or to thrifty people who have their finances under control and don’t buy everything that comes into their sight.
Better than the algorithm
It is clear that it helps to know the other person a little bit when giving a gift. And because this has not escaped the attention of capital, gift-givers are competing fiercely with the market. Rule of thumb: Amazon’s algorithms always know your loved ones a little bit better when it comes to product preferences. That’s what makes the type of expert gift so difficult: Knows them, can do them, already have them.
Here it is worthwhile to make a step back: If the recipient is recently interested in graphic novels, for example, a look at the lists of nominees for the relevant prizes (Eisner Award or Max and Moritz Prize) four years ago will help. Just do not buy the winners. Because, as we know, the market has to expand further and further and is interested above all in the latest, the chances of getting yesterday’s second best are considerably better than today’s best. And this is actually a new phenomenon, because the classic backlist is playing an increasingly insignificant role in the book trade. This may be sad, but it helps immensely to trick the purchasing power of the recipients and the gift-giving competition.
Limited and individual
There are more such late capitalist market mechanisms that can be exploited. The artificial scarcity, for example, in times when even potato products supersaturated with sodium glutamate and sugar water appear in limited editions. There’s also planning ahead. Buy a limited edition sneaker in the fall and exchange it if necessary, if the recipient is already walking around with it on St. Nicholas Day. It may be annoying, but it throws off good gifts for people for whom the special is more important than quality – and they are much easier to find than the thrifty from above.
If this is too stupid, or if there is simply not enough data about the target person, there remains the other hot shit of the commodity world: personalization. In this case, the voucher is used, but its disadvantages are almost completely overshadowed by the appearance of individuality that has become a commodity. Gift certificate for the sneaker configurator is a promise and not a burden. Honestly. In summary, one could say: With a bit of luck, the very peaks of consumer insanity yield quite acceptable gift ideas.
Conversely, if we try to avoid the disadvantages of the previous types of gifts, we find a completely different field: perishable food, as long as it is not too expensive. There is not only the threat of the shameful effect of the gift of money, but also moral discomfort, because waste is not particularly sexy at the moment and ecologically sensitive recipients can quickly feel like accomplices.
But again, these trends can be turned on their head in a few easy steps. If there’s one thing that really works in this age of non-smokers, calorie counters and regionalists, it’s getting an excuse. The stuff may be unhealthy, but throwing it away doesn’t make anything better ..
And this could actually be a solution, if the discipline would not be long in the cellar anyway at Christmas of all times. Family tradition has legitimized gluttony, no one is really hungry anymore, and then, with the good New Year’s resolution, the secularized general indulgence is imminent anyway.
The main thing is to decide
The perfect gift must behave to the individualization and under all the disadvantages make out the one, which meets with the counterpart on the least dislike. However, it is urgent to warn against the formerly so popular mixed forms of gift-giving. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the duo of chocolate bar and ten-mark bill may still have served to play off the disadvantages of excuse, luxury good and cash gift against each other – especially since money and wastefulness looked less ugly during capitalism’s victory celebrations over the collapse of the Eastern bloc.
But the (rainy) summer of liberalism is over, and for today’s now post-ideological culture, such mixed gifts lack resolve. The so general as untargeted nagging tempts nevertheless rather to add up their disadvantages.
Not at all surprising, but then again somehow, is the fit of the bouquet of cut flowers in this scenario. This gift, which is said to have been popular in ancient Egypt, is still popular after 5.000 years as a compromise unsurpassed super, because it is so useless, spoils quickly, appropriately expensive and still super personal comes over. And I, for example, am really happy about flowers – not only, but also because you can put them on the compost after a few days with a clear conscience.