If one visits a Pride Parade in Western Europe or Northern America these days, one cannot avoid the impression that most aggression to be met there lies in the marketing.
Not unexpectedly, Pride Parades have not been able to escape the wave of ultra-commercialization that has swept almost all public manifestations. Nowadays, Pride Parades are not only about the contested meaning of gender and sexuality, but increasingly about the contested Pink Dollar (or Euro).
According to some, such commercialization is beneficial to the overall objectives of Pride Parades. They argue that the growing recognition of the economic power of the LGBT community will translate into greater social recognition. In present-day consumer societies, consumption is not only an economic deed; it also raises the visibility of a group and gives it more social legitimacy. From this perspective, the commercialization of gay prides contributes directly to the objective of claiming space and power.
However, many others argue that commercialization will inevitably lead to co-optation into the mainstream, thus undermining the ultimate goal of liberation of the yoke of hetero-patriarchal society. In their opinion, the suppression and marginalization of LGBT people are a fundamental characteristic of a socio-economic and cultural system that thrives on the perpetuation of inequalities. Given that commercialization directly supports this system, the increased recognition of their status as a consumer can only generate a false feeling of liberation among the LGBT community. This opens up the danger that Pride Parades acquire the nature of a carnival: a temporary inversion of the status quo which, through a channeled release of built-up tensions, ultimately serves to reinforce it.
Furthermore, the process of commercialization of Pride Parades goes hand in hand with a process of individualization, by redirecting the focus to individual purchases and tastes. This severely undermines the “Communitas” character of Pride Parades, the fundamental expression of solidarity and support for the LGBT community as a whole. Moreover, it threatens to split the community into the more and less affluent, while at the same time reinforcing other divisions such as those between gay and lesbian, white and non-white, urban and rural. The end-result is that being queer becomes associated with a certain lifestyle that is characterized primarily by a specific consumption pattern.
Turning Prides into celebrations of market power also undermines what is perceived to be their “authenticity”, their sacred historical and political meaning linked to their origins in the 1969 Stonewall riots. However, some argue that it is a misconstruction to attribute a more radical or political character to the first generation of Pride Parades, as their subversiveness did not necessarily reside in their overt political message. According to them, it are the burlesque, humorous and excessive elements, destined to accomplish the sub and inversion of all traditional values, that form the essence of Pride Parades. The message of “not taking itself too seriously” is a strategy to challenge all authority and to avoid dogmatization of any kind.
However, I simply refuse to believe that this strategy can be maintained in a commercialized context. If the absence of an overt political message is being accompanied by excessive consumption, one generates the impression that one only takes oneself seriously as a consumer. And if one’s status as a consumer becomes the defining characteristic of personal and collective value, Pride is being reduced to a mere commodity: Say it Loud, I Buy and I am Proud. Therefore, to avoid becoming assimilationist queers, we can not but sabotage the commercialization of Gay Prides.
At my next Pride, I will start by carrying a banner saying: BUY NOTHING, FUCK EVERYTHING.