Ritual Mastery

Beside their main purpose to sell things, stores can fulfil symbolic social functions as well.114 This insight does not come from sociology or social anthropology, but from marketing. It is especially important to mention that the function of brands is to gather group members. Rituals, too, have the function of stabilising groups. This makes the institution of the store a good place to perform rituals since it is a space for a special group with which it shares similarities, and therefore excludes others. Marketing literature calls the materialisation of the store - what we can see, experience, touch and smell - "retail branding".115 The design of the stores has developed over many years and is a special discipline today that is far beyond what has long been called the shop-fitting business. The first impression we get of a retail brand is the storefront and the show windows as well as the logo with the retailer's name on it. The importance of show windows was recognised at the beginning of the twentieth century itself, when magazines in different countries started publishing for window dressers. The following quote is taken

113 Du Gay (1997:149)

114 Tongeren (2003:23)

115 Tongeren (2003:44)

from an article that emphasises the importance of changing the tiny show windows that were at the time common in Europe and take the example of developments in America to build huge storefronts:

"Americans have long been aware that light not only moths but also humans. Regardless of whether [such] an American firm has jewellery or shoes on sale, its first priority is that the shop must look sleek and pompous."116

The reason for this counsel from the genesis of marketing studies was that an impressive appearance would attract customers passing by more effectively. The power of the show window has been a major concern from the beginning of the times when mass-produced items comprised the chief category of goods and the show window became the most important marketing instrument. It is, therefore, not surprising that the performative power of the show window has continually been the subject of critical discourse in the twentieth century. Design has become a powerful marketing tool, and this has led to protest. At the time when Roland Barthes conducted his studies on the fashion system, Vance Packard criticised marketing methods for using psychological and sociological findings to manipulate mass consumption.117 He also attacked the inventions of consumer culture for creating rites of consumption as well as their dramatisation prompted by the new research field of motivational research. Packard called manipulators of symbols motivational researchers who had become experts in the symbolic communication with the consumer:

"The persuaders, by 1957, were also learning to improve their skill in conditioning the public to go on unrestrained buying splurges when such images as Mother and Father were held up. Mother was still the better image in relation to sales. Mother's Day was grossing $100,000,000 in sales, while Father's Day was grossing only $68,000,000."118

Show windows are an important advertising medium and, for small retailers, the only way of advertising in public

116 Austerlitz (1903:25)*

117 Packard (1968).

118 Packard (1968:144). See also Boesch et.al. (2001) on the history of Mother's Day

Death of space. As consumer culture took the responsibility for a couple of functions of the social dimension, feasts and the dramatisation of the change of seasons became the responsibility of the stores in the cities. The basic human need to celebrate has been replaced by ritualised shopping, and window dressers did their share in making the feasts pleasant and appropriate. Consumer feasts are a big issue in all magazines for window dressing.119 People need systems of orientation to feel stable. The reliability of such systems is important and rites of passage linked to the change of seasons have fulfilled such a function for a long time. In consumer society, we are dependent on the reliability of the stores whose function it is to dramatise the seasonal change of garments: It is summer when the store window says it is summer and winter when they say it is, even if it is not cold yet. Since this works quite well, we must first have proof for the power of the store window. The dramatisation only follows interests related to the production of fashion or when the link to the cosmos of nature has been weakened.120 While Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood scrupulously examine why people want goods121, marketing literature ascribes this desire to the fact that merchandising is capable of "pure magic.122 It is good to know that show windows are the laboratories for methods to bewitch the consumer. Marketing literature has even created a field of rules for decorating show windows. There is literature on show windows that asks whether beauty is calculable.123 But rules sometimes go up in smoke, especially on luminous occasions. Our homes are a field of rules in which each thing has its place and is subject to handling regulations. But during Christmas, for example, rules are broken and things are shifted around to create a befitting place for the Christmas tree.124 The magical rules for creating beauty go unheeded during the year, with the exception of the seasonal sale window. Is this a special form of magic? Is it something secret, known only to a few magicians?125

"Ritual mastery is the ability - not equally shared, desired or recognised - to (1) take and remake schemes from the shared

119 Osterwold (1974:8).

120 Today, the spring collection is inaugurated at the end of January, but it is usually still quite cold in the weeks thereafter Spring does not begin when it is supposed to, but when the fashion industry likes to have it. This could well be during winter.

121 Douglas/Isherwood (2002:3)

122 Underhill (1999:200).

123 Halbhuber (1994:38)

124 Wood/Beck (1994:227).

125 Magicians also work with symbols culture that can strategically nuance, privilege, or transform, (2) deploy them in the formulation of a privileged ritual experience, which in turn (3) impresses them in a new form upon agents able to deploy them in a variety of circumstances beyond the circumference of the rite itself."126

The blueprint for constructing ritual power cited above was created by Catherine Bell. We will try to apply this scheme to our consumer culture and to the seasonal sale's rite of passage. We could assume that the agents are the stores with the power to communicate the rite on their own. Although we have spoken about the enormous power of the stores and its buyers, we will also assume that the power comes from the fashion system. The stores thus have ritual power and we can be sure that they also use it, but to what purpose? Primitive agrarian societies anxiously awaited the return of vegetation in spring. Consumer societies, in contrast, worry about the periodical advent of the new trend. Like our ancestors we, too, create rites in order to exert control over nature. Rituals create power; they do not give form to power. Knowing this, we are aware of the power of the symbolic communication of rituals. Retailers are the agents of ritual mastery and the window dresser is their priest. But this seems to be a long-known fact. The window dresser has been described as the master of persuasion, especially during springtime when flora reawakens:

"The season for the shopping mood is spring. When Nature renews itself, the seeds of desire begin to germinate in human beings as well. The decorator's task is to give voice to such desires, to promote the growth of these seeds. He can do it, and he has the power to do it. He can do it through word, through colour, through image and finally, through the goods."127

The window dresser has the power and words, the colours and the images and his instruments are the material goods. Ancient shamans had no other materials and yet fulfilled their social responsibilities. And rituals are practices, which use materialisations. Although the symbolic effort is immense, rituals take the help of props.128 Vilem Flusser described the different forms

126 Bell (1992:116).

127 Spectator (1929:3)*

128 Macho (2004:16).

Death of in which a bough can exist. One of these forms of existence becomes apparent when we transform a bough we have found or broken off a tree in the forest into a walking stick.129 Thus, it can be used as a technical aid for going uphill in the forest. Elias Canetti's reflections on the broken bough do not address the mediation between nature and culture, they are much rather about the construction of power. In the hand of the leader, the bough becomes a lethal weapon. The gesture of raising it is the command for the mass to attack. Things can thus be categorised into those that bring death, and those that are only functional.130 Ritual knowledge is attained by practice and not by contemplation. The use of objects creates ritual knowledge:

"This occurs in and through the handling of those objects (masks, sceptres, chalice, etc.) in which the cosmos is concentrated and represented in the ritual action. Ritual knowledge, then, is not so much descriptive as it is prescriptive and ascriptive in character. It prescribes and ascribes action." 131

It will be interesting to find out what things contribute towards the materialisation of the commodity cosmos during the sales, creating ritual knowledge through practice. The ritual knowledge experienced by the presence of material things prescribes the practice of the people. In performance studies, preparing the space is important for the effect and success of the performance. This not only means the arrangement of media, materials, bodies, but also includes a wide range of cultural techniques capable of making things visible, which would not have been recognisable without dramatisation. Thus, dramatisation is a precondition for performance. Performance requires that a scene be put into practice, whereby everything that happens in the scene becomes a performative act.132 Window dressing has been often described as a kind of street theatre and window dressers as stage designers. Such arguments seek to conceal the real nature of the business and its central function in the dramatisation of consumer rites. Performance is different from theatre because it involves the audience. Performance creates reality and confronts the audience with it, while theatre represents reality to a passive audience. The reality and the stage of the theatre

129 Flusser (1993:63;

130 Canetti (1973:218).

131 Jennings (1996:328)

132 Kolesch/Lehmann (2002:363)

are separated by what Goffman has defined as "frame" What is said on the stage is not part of our reality. In his example of an actor who wanted to warn the audience of an outbreak of fire but failed to do so because his warning was enacted on the stage, the action was not part of the real, burning world. The show window is not a theatre stage. What is performed there shapes our reality in the consumer world and proclaims truth.

"Rituals are not merely in the service of power; they are themselves powerful because, as actions, they live from their power of assertion. Whoever wishes to ritualise actions must also be prepared to implement them. He or she must ensure that the actions are implemented and recognised despite resistance or lack of understanding. Ritual knowledge is knowledge that has asserted itself."133

Successful ritual knowledge is the reason why consumer rites like Father's Day or Mother's Day live so long; it is not a penetration into our personal thoughts by means of motivational research, as Packard argued,134 but merely the transfer of basic human needs from the social dimension into the responsibility of consumer culture.

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