Well, it was inevitable. No person, cause, or movement is capable of existing in America for very long before some entrepreneuring pioneer comes along and tries to slap dollar signs on him/her/it.
The commodification of Occupy Wall Street has arrived, but before we delve into how exactly the movement is now being exploited by corporate interests, let’s back up to how Americans are conditioned to think about social upheavals, in general.
From the get-go, the media assists in the commodification of movements by conditioning its audience to think of rebellions as brands. Part of this stems from a desire for convenient titles. Repeating “Tunisian uprising,” risks accusations of staleness, whereas “Jasmine Revolution” not only sounds pretty but creates the sexy image of a romantic kind of revolution in the audience’s minds.
See also: the Rose Revolution, Iran’s Green Revolution, Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution, etc. One can almost picture these revolutions neatly boxed, complete with colorful slogans splashed across fronts, and sold in some American store aisle.
Americans then “participate” in the upheaval just as they participate in American Idol or Dancing With the Stars. They watch the revolution on television, or if they’re super-engaged, tweet about it, complete with hashtag and tailored avatar, expressing their undying support of the show, er, revolution.
Occupy Wall Street is obviously different because it entails Americans’ (albeit a tiny fraction of the population) actually participating in the uprising. However, OWS has not been able to avoid its own brush with commodification.
It began as it always does with pre-existing merchants trying to capitalize on the popularity of the movement. NYC’s vendors suddenly appeared at Liberty Park as if they grew from the ground, selling “I heart NYC” T-shirts, baseball caps, mugs, etc. The food carts set up shop nearby the revolution in order to capitalize on the increased foot traffic. But these are strategies utilized by almost all small businesses, and they make good sense given their situations. On the spectrum ranging from “opportunistic” to “evil,” these businesses remain safely on the opportunistic side of things.
The second phase involves merchandizing. All of a sudden, “Occupy Wall Street” T-shirts and hoodies emerged, some the official merch of the movement with all proceeds benefiting the cause, while others benefited anonymous parties. I observed one very clever merchant set up shop nearby Liberty with only his best Che Guevara and Bob Marley wares to sell. He certainly understood his market.