The Acquisitive Gaze and/or Social Network of One’s Own

Henry-james-383x293Two pieces on the latest internet superphenomenon, Pinterest: first, Rob Horning in New Inquiry:

Pinterest has entered the mainstream, as a para-retailing apparatus presumed to appeal mainly to women. The site’s supposed femaleness has occasioned a lot of theorizing, some of which Nathan Jurgenson details in this post, as has its anodyne commerciality. Bon Stewart argues that Pinterest, since it discourages self-promotion and relies entirely on the appropriation of someone else’s creative expression, turns curation into passive consumerism; it allows for the construction and circulation of a bland sanitized “Stepford” identity. In other words, it becomes another tool for enhancing our digital brands at the expense of the possibility of an uncommodified self.

Give that emphasis on passive consumption, it’s not surprising that Pinterest has come to be associated with shopping fantasies. Pinterest’s great technological advance seems to be that it lets users shop for images over the sprawl of the internet, turning it into a endless visual shopping mall in which one never runs out of money. Chris Tackett suggests that sites like Pinterest are actually “anti-consumerist” because they allow people the instant gratification of choosing things without actually having to buy them. “Virtual consumerism means a real world reduction in wasteful consumption,” he writes, and that’s all well and good, though I’m not sure that making window shopping more convenient is in any way “anticonsumerist.” If anything that seems to reinforce the consumerist mentality while overcoming one of its main obstacles — people’s financial inability to perpetually shop. With Pinterest, they can at least simulate that experience, acquiring the images of things and associating them with themselves, appropriating the qualities the goods/images are thought to signify at that given moment. Pinterest allows for the purest expression of the Baudrillardian “passion for the code” that we’ve yet seen.

Second, Amanda Marcotte in The American Prospect:

It doesn’t take long for a blog-loving feminist to find the ugliness of the “ew, girly!” reaction. Women dominate on Pinterest—around 70 percent of users are female—and the site drives more traffic to commercial sites than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. Pinterest's popularity means that the male-dominated world of tech blogging has no choice but to pay attention, but they won't go down without a fight. Mean-spirited graphics and blog posts saying that women are an alien species one shouldn’t care to understand proliferated. The sexism prompted bloggers like Tracie Egan Morrissey, Kristy Sammis, and Rebecca Hui to write full-throated defenses of the site. And not despite its girliness, but because of it.