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Undoubtedly, the skills you learn as a child never leave you. When I quit my day job to focus on writing, my biggest concern was how I was going to pay my bills. My boyfriend and I had just moved into two rooms in a large house in D.C. and were sharing living expenses. Nevertheless, by the end of our first month as new renters, we were already coming up short. Desperate to find the last $100 he needed to meet our $800 rent, my boyfriend decided to go online and try to sell his winter coat. It sold immediately . . . for $100. We made the rent.

Seeing the potential of online vending, we immediately began selling anything we could get our hands on. I saw an escape route from the daily grind of going to a job of inputting data and I took it. Online vending became my “new hustle.” We opened an online store selling gently used clothing. Immediately, I had become an entrepreneur. Since then, my goal each month has been to sell enough clothing online to pay my bills and therefore afford myself the time to write. My new hustle, however, was not really all that new to me. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that it was actually the culmination of the person I had started to become between the ages of nine and ten. More… “The Hustle”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance creative writer from Washington, DC. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and Instagram @kesia_alexandra.
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Cultural critics generally place themselves at a distance from material culture. They may critique the world, but they don’t seem to inhabit it.

But why shouldn’t those of us who parse culture also celebrate it — acknowledge that we make choices all the time about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the furniture we put in our homes? Why shouldn’t we, in other words, make recommendations regarding products and services that we think are unique, useful, or otherwise commendable?

“We’re IN society, aren’t we, and that’s our horizon?” as Henry James put it. In a consumer society, we want reliable recommendations regarding products that can improve our lives. At the same time, we tend to be suspect of product endorsements. We are aware that advertisers will use whatever means they can to sell — from testimonials by famous people to ingenious product placements to the incorporation of skepticism itself into their messages (i.e. couturiers who stitch “waist of money” into their garments). But if someone like myself, who has experience deconstructing culture, sets out to explain the value of a product, shouldn’t that carry weight? I realize, of course, that this could be seen as a more sophisticated advertising ploy, but that’s the mise en abyme of salesmanship and a risk you have to take.
More… “This Product Will Change Your Life”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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“But it is pretty to see what money will do.” So says London diarist Samuel Pepys in his March 21 1666, entry. And he’s right. Money can “answereth all things” according to Ecclesiastes; it “doesn’t talk, it swears” according to Bob Dylan; it’s “good for bribing yourself through the inconveniences of life” according to Gottfried Reinhardt; it’s that “clinking, clanking sound” that makes the world go round” according to the Cabaret emcee; “it’s better than poverty, if only for financial reasons” according to Woody Allen. Money can even purchase the wherewithal for a personal credo: “I believe in meditating in the tub with some very nice bath products,” Oprah declares. “Origins Ginger Bath is one I use a lot.” Well, I suppose meditating is a fine and centering thing, as long as one meditates with rather than on… More…

I was strolling through a department store recently, killing time before meeting a friend, when I became lost in the maze of cosmetic counters. I was not literally lost, of course. I could make my way past the makeup into the shoe department blindfolded. The problem is when I’m not blindfolded. That’s when my head gets turned. Although I know, intellectually, that the makeup sold in this labyrinthine space is the same as what I can buy in the drugstore for a fraction of the price, I am unable to resist the fancy packaging and the placards advertising free gifts and special enzyme action. I am seduced into believing that these products will make me, in the immortal words of Oprah, “as cute as I can be.”

 

So there I was, loitering among the age-defying moisturizers, when a young woman… More…

One of the reasons many of us watch the AMC series Mad Men is “for the clothes.” This isn’t as superficial a reason as one might think. Clothes say a lot not just about a person but about a period. It’s true that fashion trends are often resurrected, and we are now seeing the narrower tie, the thinner lapel, and the angora sweater — the latter, with the concurrent popularity of breast enlargement, making for a lot of Joan look-alikes walking around. But though we may bring back the clothes, and even the breasts, that doesn’t mean we aren’t saying something entirely different with them.  I know this because I was the age of Sally, Don Draper’s daughter, in 1963. I looked up at that world, literally speaking, carrying around the tray of pigs-in-a-blanket at my parents’ parties.

 

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In my previous column I ruminated on logo-ed merchandise and confessed that I coveted a Louis Vuitton handbag (Artsy GM — $1,630, as advertised on the Louis Vuitton site). I realized that the thing was made of laminated canvas, stamped with muddy LV monograms, and had the unprepossessing shape of a beach tote. I understood that it was an expression of what Marx would call “exchange value” — its worth purely imaginary, with no connection to its usefulness. Yet I desired it, and desire, as any good Third-Wave feminist will tell you, ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

 

The issue becomes clearer — or perhaps more foggy — if one moves from consumer goods to fine art. Here, the idea of authenticity suddenly seems more elevated and inspires more reverence. The difference, one might argue, is… More…

Pull up to a Wendy’s drive-through window and you can get a Baconator and a side of fries in 131 seconds. But if you try ordering an upright bagless vacuum cleaner, you can wait forever and Wendy’s won’t be able to accommodate you — and neither can McDonald’s, KFC, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, or any other fast-food chain in the land. But is there any good reason that we have dozens of places where we can procure deep-fried animal parts without exiting the soothing cocoons of our automobiles but must battle for parking spots and bushwhack our way through maze-like department stores whenever we need a new pair of crew socks? Earlier this year, the Sears Holding Corporation introduced a new concept store in Joliet, Illinois called Mygofer that addresses this weird imbalance of modern life. It is the world’s first drive-through department… More…

 

You probably don’t remember the first time you saw the human-powered public address system known as Billy Mays, but chances are it was a lot like the 10th time you saw him, or the 100th, or the 1,000th. It was late at night, you were nodding off to a Law & Order rerun, and then, suddenly, some guy who looked vaguely familiar was yelling at you about an overachieving dish rag, or spray paint for your lawn, or a wall hook that could change your life. He was stout and bearded and looked a little bit like comedian Dennis Miller, or your old high-school wrestling coach, or a less nuanced version of Popeye’s nemesis Brutus. His crisp blue oxford and the radiant flash of undershirt that peaked out beneath its… More…

 

I’m just back from Paris where the architecture is dazzling and the food scrumptious. In the matter of fashion, however — that third prong in the Parisian esthetic — I was disappointed. It’s just not what it used to be. French women are still thin (their secret, presumably, is small portions — I say it’s smoking). They are also enviably ass-less, which helps enormously in the draping of clothes. But the clothes themselves, once so original, have become pedestrian. What is it with blue jeans? How do they manage to replace all the pencil skirts and twill trousers? Jeans are American hegemony run amok; they are to fashion what Disney World is to architecture, McDonald’s to food. But where the French have fiercely opposed the latter two incursions, they have left themselves open on the fashion flank. The… More…