As friends of this blog have pointed out, there is a good deal of work left to do on the gaze economy. So far we havent said anything about the exchange of words and gestures that sometimes pass between strangers.
There is lots of variation here. Southerners are more inclined to offer greetings to perfect strangers than Northerners. I was surprised to see women in Atlanta grace me with greetings I would never receive in the North. They were not flirting, they were just being gracious. Rural people are more inclined to offer hellos than city dwellers. The former will even put a sign on the lawn so that no passer-by goes unacknowledged. “Jenny and Johnny Robinson welcome you! I never expect to see a New York brownstone so adorned. Ive noticed that men over 35 are inclined to nod when passing (a kind of highly abbreviated bow) and men under 35 are inclined to lift the head upward (as if saying, or while saying, “zup).
But something tells me that while these exchanges enter into the economy they are more formal, ritualized and governed by rules of reciprocity than gazes are. These are what we owe the perfect stranger and to this extent we are less free to choose what we give, and less able to draw conclusions from what we get. Greetings are like exchanges in a traditional economy, governed more by trust than incentive. They are, as Granovetter would say, imbedded in a larger set of social rules. What makes gazes interesting is precisely that they operate much more like a Smithian economy. This makes them more dynamic. They are more revealing of achieved than ascribed standing. They are more revealing of emergent value than fixed values.
The follow-up strategy here is to wonder whether the gaze economy resembles more conventional ones. Does the gaze economy, to the extent that we understand it, help illuminate things about the conventional economy? Does the conventional economy give us new ways of thinking about the gaze economy? But I am short on time and this will have to wait.
One note in closing. Remarks from Ennis today and Sarah yesterday made me think we could expand this treatment of the gaze economy to include the outliers.
Guys who wear “wife beater t-shirts (a singlet preferred, perhaps, because it exposes bulging muscles) are a case in point. Somebody must find this look attractive, but the term “wife beater suggests most of us regard it with disdain. Punks (see the post below) take this a step forward by violating the rules of self presentation. Bobby pins, Mohawks, leather, spiked neck collars and wrist bands, tattoos, are designed to outrage our expectations. Both confront us with an act of visual intimidation. Both would have us look away.
These players make it clear that they are not soliciting our gaze. The simplest strategy here is to simple withdraw or as Hirschman would say “exit the economy. But, perhaps because exit is not possible, or because they have deeper intentions, both parties go a step further and say, “advert your gaze. In effect, they force exit upon us.
In the process, they drive us out of the economy, as it has to do with them, and leave themselves in a zone in which they cannot be judged. Clique theory says that minorities within a culture that are judged and found wanting have two choices. They can accept the judgment, or they can cultivate a new set of values that approves their minority position and scorns the majority one. In this case, they are more proactive, actually destroying the exchange on which their value would otherwise be set. They make us look away. Thus does one form of commerce help create and enable one form of culture.
Congratulations to Fouroboros for the funniest line on this blog. See his comment on yesterdays post.