It’s over, consumption: celebrity culture and climate anxiety

We’re stuck in a cycle of production and consumption, and we’re getting sick of it

Greenwashing strategies from the world’s best marketing agencies have successfully commodified the environmental justice movement. Our culture has a shopping addiction, and it’s going to kill us.

Even those of us that are self-aware about this fact can have a difficult time denying manufactured desires. We have been trained to collectively consume both media and products before we could think for ourselves. Can we really be blamed for finding it a hard habit to kick?

Capitalism pushes the belief that if we cannot consume, we should aim to produce. Our society doesn’t exactly place a great value on simply “being.” The 21st century has brought forth the first period in creative history in which artists are creating “content” rather than their own “art.” It’s created an insular experience that focuses on aesthetics and a culture of fashion “micro-trends” that develop at increasingly rapid rates. And it’s become more and more difficult to source clothing in order to keep up with these rapidly changing trends. It’s hard to tell if the emergence of fast fashion retailers like Shein are a response to the problem or the source of it. We could easily blame influencers, but under late-stage capitalism, I can’t really blame anyone for taking a shot at joining the ranks of celebrity, C-list or otherwise.

We are far too aware that there is a divide between economic classes, and with the democratization of media and a “produce or consume” mindset, it’s not surprising that more and more people are choosing to seek power by producing content in the hopes of attaining at least a modicum of fame. Celebrity, or at least influence, seems to be the go-to escape plan from the collective paralysis we feel about our climate. 

What is it about our culture and celebrities? We are fascinated by them and appalled by their existence. They’re our inspiration and the evidence of our downfall. Celebrity is the aristocracy of the postmodern world. They represent something beyond the entertainment industry, the characters they play, or the stories they write. They represent the small part of the world’s most powerful population that is public to us. Rarely do they hide their material wealth because, unlike other members of the one per cent, they do not have the luxury of keeping their finances or their lives private. They are public figures, and to us, the dazzling glamour can make it difficult to recognize them as real people.

Our relationship to fame is one in which we transform individuals into God-like figures. This process has been democratized, and average citizens and politicians can often reach the ranks of the most famous elite. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a unique example of this practice of glorification. AOC has done a lot of great work in the United States political system, but with that said, why was she at the Met Gala?

The relationship between political figures and celebrity status is a sore topic in the newly post-Trump world. Why risk violating the principles upon which you were elected just to join the ranks of the rich and famous? The Met Gala is an event designed for the most elite population in the fashion world, an industry that famously is one of the greatest drivers of climate change. Why align yourself with an industry that is exacerbating the effects of climate change, when you yourself are advocating for climate reform?

The thing is, the climate crisis we have spent our whole lives anticipating is here. It’s already happening, and we still cannot take concrete action to prevent it from getting worse. This really isn’t our fault, we were born into this mess, but our leaders don’t seem to be doing a great job either. We’re living in a state of paralysis, caught between the desire for the life we were promised and the reality facing us all.

The stability and wellbeing of our planet hinges upon either the embrace or abandoning of capitalism, therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that economic instability impacts our ability to advocate for better. Climate anxiety is our collective nihilism pushing us to take action, but we continually find ourselves with little we can do. Our collective hopelessness about systemic change has pushed us to a point of ecological nihilism.

Ecological nihilism is the acceptance of the climate crisis, and that it will be the beginning of a societal collapse. It’s the final sign that we have moved from paralysis and fear to complacency. It might feel like the end of the world, but if there’s still a chance; we can’t look to celebrities or fiction for solutions.

Last Friday, there was another climate march here in Montreal, which demonstrates that people are still coming together to demand change. Community organizers are not demanding impossible change, it is the failure of our government that refuses to take reasonable action to combat the violence of the climate crisis. We cannot depend on government approval to take action against climate change. The power remains with the people, and it isn’t time to give up yet.


Graphic by James Fay

From fall trends to corporate transparency: fast fashion at Jean Coutu

How a trip to the pharmacy opened up a world of questions

I rarely leave the house these days; partly because of the colder weather, mostly because of the deadly pandemic that most people seem to be taking less-than-seriously. One of the stops I absolutely must make, once a month, is to the pharmacy.

One Saturday, I was getting my medication refilled, and regardless of how much notice you give the pharmacy, there’s always a five-minute wait. Those five minutes of limited freedom to roam the aisles, avoiding other bodies and following little tape arrows along the floor, feels like a luxurious return to a somewhat normal routine.

Rack of sweaters at Jean Coutu

It was in the final corner of the store — behind the snacks, the assorted phone cables available for purchase, and the passport photo studio — that I noticed a clothing display. To someone who hasn’t been shopping in a while, my excitement was palpable. My excitement exponentially grew when I noticed a familiar tag on an item I had been seeking all summer: the perfect knitted vest. To my surprise, it looked like this item had gotten lost along the way to the nearest H&M retail location. How did this cute little vest end up in a Montreal pharmacy?

Earlier this year, several major fast-fashion retailers came under fire as a result of their failure to fulfill their orders to garment factory workers in Bangladesh. H&M was named as one of the major brands with the largest number of postponed or cancelled orders. The retailer was later absolved from this public relations disaster by working to compensate suppliers for finished goods and goods still in production. If finished goods and orders were fulfilled by H&M, why did this vest end up in the bargain clothing section at a Canadian drugstore?

Perhaps part of the reason that H&M remained relatively unscathed by this incident is a result of the brand’s positive public relations campaign about the transparency of the corporation’s supply chains. Following the reporting on the cancelled orders and unfulfilled payments, there was a flurry of articles focusing on H&M’s commitment to transparency of supply chains. This commitment to transparency is part of the brand’s turn towards sustainability, but the company lists a total of 261 suppliers in Bangladesh alone, making it difficult to pinpoint a specific supplier who could have produced this item.

H&M is undeniably a global brand, with production taking place in 40 countries across the globe, and retail locations in most major cities. The company purports a commitment to transparency and sustainability, and is celebrated in the media for its forward thinking approach. What is sustainable about a fast fashion brand with a surplus of goods and a supply chain that includes one in five countries around the world?

It is because of the scale of this retail giant that this goal of transparency is largely impossible. Despite the abundance of information on their website, it is impossible to determine what supplier created this item. The product is not listed on the H&M website, and as a pharmacy, Jean Coutu doesn’t exactly have a system in place for transparency of clothing suppliers. Despite reaching out to the corporate offices of Jean Coutu, I was unable to find anyone who could clarify where this item came from. Still, the familiar little tag makes one thing abundantly clear: the claim that H&M paid for all of its cancelled or completed orders cannot be true.

H&M is ultimately a corporation that prioritizes profit before all else, and the majority of the brand’s corporate social responsibility is a side effect of necessary marketing campaigns and shifting demographics. Late-stage global capitalism is wildly unpopular with many consumers, and as a global retail giant, H&M is poised to be hit the hardest by this social shift.

The company’s willingness to internalize this discourse of sustainability could be interpreted as a step in the right direction, or as a sinister commodification of environmental activism. Ultimately, I think COVID-19 has brought forth the destructive capacity of global capitalism, the ability to destroy business, and the ability to end lives.

It is a testament to western privilege that I am able to write and research an article about the transparency of supply chains, rather than live the reality of being an unpaid labourer struggling to survive on a bag of rice. I am afforded the luxury of aimlessly wandering pharmacy aisles and delightfully discovering a garment that has travelled further than I ever have. A major corporation worth billions of dollars found that they overestimated their seasonal profits and failed to consider the impact of COVID-19 on spending. If H&M is the industry standard for transparency, the company will continue their corporate legacy of empty promises to sustainability.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab, photo by Meagan Carter

Student Life

Concordia, I love you, but you’re bringing me down

Concordia’s new online system glosses over student needs

Concordia is asking students to invest in a community which has largely abandoned lofty goals of equitable access, in favour of a new remote model which fails to meet student needs.

When the pandemic began, I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands, and I certainly didn’t have a lot of resources to manage my mental health. I was working part-time as a barista near campus, attending school full-time, and struggling to balance a relationship and extracurriculars on top of it all. I honestly hadn’t heard about COVID-19 until it came up in a class discussion about whether we would be transitioning to online classes. To say it was a wake-up call is an understatement.

In the months that followed, I would lose my barista job, end my relationship, my internship would be cancelled, and plans for a summer directed study with my favourite professor would disappear with the melting snow. My life, previously entirely defined by school, my work, and my relationships with my peers and mentors, has completely changed; and I’m not the only one. COVID-19 has had far reaching impacts on every aspect of life, including the mental health of staff and students alike.

Concordia has made a lot of promises since the pandemic hit, jumping into action with a public relations response that has left many feeling disappointed with the reality of online classes as the fall semester begins. Access has become a positive buzzword that many universities have been utilizing to frame this transition to digital learning — but what is access, really?

Access can be understood as the absence of barriers; it is active in its commitment to enabling success through resolving conflicts with diverse strategies. What does access look like in an academic institution? This is a question universities have been struggling to address since long before the pandemic began.

Concordia has always had issues with creating access. Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) is designed to aid this problem, but there are barriers to the average student’s ability to become registered with the centre. The ACSD requires official documentation for medical conditions, mental health conditions, attention deficit disorder, and learning disabilities. Many Concordia students come from outside of the province or country, and do not have access to their family doctor. Students are encouraged to use Health Services, but wait times create barriers to getting the assistance and support they need. In an emergency, students can pay out of pocket to visit a local doctor, but that creates an additional financial barrier to getting the support needed.

I am lucky to have had a diagnosis for my mental illnesses before coming to Concordia, and registering with the ACSD was relatively easy. The ACSD guarantees a certain level of support and protection, but the process of registering, on top of struggling with school work and the additional stress of being in crisis can create additional inhibitors to success. While the university continues to pilot programs intended to support students, they do not have the capacity to support the sheer number of students that require assistance. I fear for the possibility of how students will be impacted by this lack of mental health resources, and the ways in which remote learning will absolve Concordia’s responsibility to student’s mental health.

Administrative response to the rising pressure to reduce tuition fees and address issues of fiscal access was the introduction of Concordia’s COVID-19 Student Emergency Relief Fund. Concordia invested $1 million to create this fund, though, given the university had 46,000 students in the 2019-2020 annual year, this would be equivalent to roughly $21.74 per student. The school is encouraging donations from the community to support this fund, while the university president receives a salary equivalent to the Prime Minister of Canada.

The official administrative response to general inquiry into the preservation of regular tuition fees is that remote courses are being designed to “the highest possible pedagogical standards” and that students will have access to academic advising and one-on-one mentoring, resources which were available prior to COVID-19.

Remote access is theoretically liberating, but the reality of virtual learning is much more complex than what the university administration is addressing. How are students with inadequate access to wifi supposed to access course materials? How is Concordia supporting the many students who cannot afford rent and no longer have a designated learning space? What about parents struggling to manage the responsibilities of their own education while homeschooling their children? What is Concordia doing to incorporate these access needs into the university’s “high pedagogical standards?”

Myself, like a number of other students, considered not returning to school this year. I considered the possibility of taking time off from school, focusing on work, but unfortunately this is not a reality I can afford; I do not have a choice. Concordia is reliant on students like me to continue enrolling so that the school can pay its necessary fees and salaries. I’d be happy to continue contributing to supporting my community, if only I felt more valued rather than a resentful prisoner to the new order of things. It’s possible to have successful remote learning, but the plans put forward by Concordia do not warrant the claim of “accessibility” that the administration is purporting.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion @the.beta.lab

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