The Commodification of Pride

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.

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