The XX Factor

Anthropologie Rage: Why We Love To Hate the Pretty Corporate Emporium

In case you haven’t heard, tonight at 10 p.m., the Sundance Channel premieres a new show called Man Shops Globe , which follows longtime Anthropologie buyer Keith Johnson around the world as “his eye ceaselessly searches for ‘scale’ and ‘a big statement,’…’something enormous’ and ‘important’; elusive, distressed objects that are ‘huge, incredible,’” as The Washington Post’ s Hank Stuever describes it.

I haven’t seen the show, but I have read today’s reviews, and they are filled with what can only be dubbed Anthropologie Rage-which inadvertently reveals the confusion so many of us have with regard to our objects. Anthropologie, a huge corporate chain that sells authentic antiques mixed in with reproductions of antiques as well as standard mass-produced replicas of pretty things, is the perfect outlet for expressing the rage of the female shopper. She wants authenticity in her life, as in her purchases-but she doesn’t trust the marketplace, which is where most of us go to carve out our identities, or at least art-direct them.

So over at Salon , Heather Havrilesky, the most enraged reviewer of the lot, classified Johnson’s esteemed job as little more than junk peddler:

His job traveling the globe to buy enormous overpriced pieces of weird, ancient junk so that Anthropologie can put that junk in its stores and sell it for truly ludicrous, mind-blowing prices … He’s a creative professional, one who’s exceptionally good at spotting exactly the sorts of rusty old bullshit that anxious, existentially wobbly, overworked yuppies find hopelessly, thrillingly, reassuringly authentic .

But then she contradicts herself-of course she does, who doesn’t like the dainty flea market wares stocked in Anthropologie?-writing: “Johnson’s job [is] traveling far and wide in search of grandiose antiques, impish art and off-kilter treasures.”

So are the wares in Anthropologie junk or off-kilter treasures? Keith Johnson becomes a whipping boy for our desire to settle on a definition of an authentic marketplace, a value-laden consumer experience.

Havrilesky continues, now taking out her consumer rage on mass-produced stuff:

Because if the world weren’t so filled with tacky, impermanent things, then we wouldn’t thirst so terribly for big, heavy, meaningful furniture flown in from Paris. If the world weren’t littered with Styrofoam cups and vertical blinds and stained wall-to-wall carpeting and other tacky junk, then we wouldn’t be so hungry for that meticulously branded, fully sanctioned and approved, carefully designed, obscenely expensive imported French junk.

Harvilesky, like so many of us, senses that she must put a value on objects-it’s become an ethical imperative to many of us either because of environmental concerns or thrift coupled with our desire to cultivate unique sensibilities-but discovers that that undertaking is likely a futile one. Man Shops Globe has become a soapbox upon which to vent our confusion and dismay. And for the record, I like Anthropologie. Johnson does a great job curating the place. What difference does it make, really, if the stuff comes from a Corporate Eye or a French bitty in a marché aux puces ?