American Agrarian (On Sale Now)

by R. J. Snell on June 21, 2013 · 8 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low


How gratifying to learn of the cultural ascendancy of the Porchers! We’ve made it, we’ve convinced Americans of the abiding values of place, limits, and liberty.

As evidence, I direct you to the newish “agrarian” line of products from the household goods store Williams-Sonoma, which “connects virtues of the homegrown and the homemade.” The “agrarian” line includes products for canning and preserving ($19.95-34.95 per set of 4), vertical gardening ($139.95-399.95), beekeeping (including a suit “specially tailored for beekeeping tasks,” unlike all those cheaper versions), and chicken coops.

The coops are incredible. The “Belltown” ($1199.95) is a work of art, tasteful and well-appointed, designed “to utilized the inherent strength of the classic Gothic arch”—just like grandma’s coop. The “Cedar Coop and Run” is “Hand-built from sustainably harvested western red cedar, custom milled by a local, family owned sawmill and delivered to the workshop via ferry.”

Local wood delivered to the family owned sawmill via ferry. Be still my heart! Is the ferry powered by members of the local crew team, or muscled by Clydesdales fed from hay grown on the vertical gardening systems?

The “Reclaimed Rustic Coop” ($499.95-859.95) “combines modern green construction with the rustic appeal of an old barn” and is “decorated with a hand painted rooster.” Lovely! Nothing is worse than previous generation of coops without LEED certification, and the minimalist Bauhaus versions, however sustainable, just don’t speak “rustic” to me.

Thankfully, all this DIYing is made feasible with the “White Glove delivery” option, where trained agrarians (Mark Mitchell himself?) can “assemble the coop and place it for you.” It’s good to know that in these hard economic times my DIY projects won’t cost jobs. That’s socially conscious consumption, not like those other, less-enlightened DIY projects where you have to “assemble” and “place” the coops yourself.

Does Wendell Berry have an estranged grandchild in advertising who’s taking revenge on him? Did the PoMoCons buy a controlling interest in W-S so as to satirize the Porch?

Here, in a perfect snapshot, is the culture of narcissism. As Christopher Lasch explained, where once “advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages,” it now “manufactures a product of its own: the consumer.” One does not buy a product, you buy yourself.

But W-S has perhaps gone farther than Lasch imagined, for he suggests that contemporary advertising worked by fostering alienation, manipulating envy and anxiety—“Do you look dowdy next to your neighbors? Do you own a car inferior to theirs?”—whereas the agrarian line sublimates such alienation whereby dowdiness is a mark of authenticity. Don’t consume, DIY! Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor and in envy buy something from the store, get off the grid and back to a pre-consumeristic age (and we can set it up for you! What’s not to like?). Lasch only went halfway, for “mass production of luxury items” which “extends aristocratic habits to the masses” is now passé. Instead, the production of luxury items extends mass habits to the aristocrats. All his worries have been turned about in a very slick reversal.

Of course, one can expect (in a season or two) a revolt against all this, and perhaps one will be able to hire a lifestyle surrogate who can do DIY on your behalf. Or perhaps, the oppressive nature of DIY will be exposed and we’ll self-consciously refuse to do anything for ourselves, and a very slick ad campaign will promise goods “harvested from old growth forests and shipped on trucks powered via tar sands-harvested oil to the factory owned by a major multinational.” Who knows what makers of image hold for us next?

Perhaps this is a good thing, in the end. Much good could result, somewhat accidentally, almost invisible hand-like, from people growing a few tomatoes and making some jars of pickles. Or, perhaps in a few years the landfills will contain a bunch of stylish (mostly unused) chicken coops and jars, but it certainly shows the power of the current system and its endless power to subsume its critics and opt-outs. Almost any opposition can be incorporated, almost any dissident co-opted, by the power of consumption.

Which makes me think, it’s almost time for FPR t-shirts, no? What might some good slogans be? “Porchers do it locally” or “Old Porchers never die, they just change place”?

“My porch was ferried here, how bout yours?”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Nate June 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Wow. It is a very extensive collection. Did you see the $80 hardware cloth? That was my favorite.

Chickens seem to be getting the froofy urban dog treatment these days. Way more pet than stock. Which is fine, I suppose.

avatar Chris June 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Or maybe “Localists do it on the Porch.”

avatar John Médaille June 21, 2013 at 2:48 pm

As funny as this is–and it is hilarious–it is good news. A movement becomes a meme, and then a product, and then a commodity. Soon there will be chicken coop kits at Handy Dan.

avatar Thomas McCullough June 21, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Yeah, I’m inclined to satirize, but I agree with Mr. Médaille. This is probably a good sign.

Albert Schweitzer recounts that he spent years trying to get people to wear sandals to avoid acquiring parasites and they did not attend: it was shoes like fancy people or nothing. However, they did start wearing sandals when fashion magazines started showing models with sandals.

People who will not listen to Front Porch may well imitate these twits. The question is : Will the twits stick at it?

avatar love the girls June 23, 2013 at 12:50 am

While some of the William Sonoma products are a parody of agrarianism being nothing more than another consumerist trend. And while agrarianism is for the most part nothing more than just another consumerist trend, I am glad for the products at William Sonoma because unlike the trash made in China that Handy Dan’s will sell, William Sonoma sells products that are actually durable and and at a price that does reflect a living wage.

avatar Matt Stewart June 23, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I got the same feeling after reading this that I get when I am looking for books and see a title I’m interested in only to realize that Oprah and her book club have gotten there first.

avatar Katy June 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

Those composters make like a cup of compost.

But in 10 years maybe I’ll find some of this stuff at a garage sale (like I’m hoping to snatch up some “up cycled” Federal-style furniture in 10 years and strip off its awful “rustic/distressed” paint)

avatar John June 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I’m certainly a fan of the parody, but I also hope with Mr. Medaille that good can come of it. This seems an offshoot of the hipster revolution which, time will show, will prove to be either an enormously helpful or destructive historical moment. Hipsters teach localism and small town virtues because they’re cool and hip. If, however, localism, etc. is actually a good thing, we can reasonably hope that the hipster resurrection of localism can cause us to remember that localism is good and so to incorporate it, not because I’ll get the girl, but because I, with my friends and family, will flourish.

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