Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I DIY: Freedom in a Consumer Culture

Photo by Jeremy Brooks via Flikr under Creative Commons license
We "make" almost all of our household cleaners and personal hygiene products.  For the moment, the exceptions to this are toothpaste and glass cleaner.  I love punk rock and much (though not all) of what the movement stood for.  My favorite band of all time is Fugazi.

What do punk and homemade laundry detergent have to do with each other?  For me, quite a lot.

One thing the punk movement is known for is its DIY approach to just about everything.  This was born partially out of punk's "stick it to the man" attitude, but it was also out of necessity.  The powers that be were uninterested in producing punk music (i.e., they didn't see profit in it).  Getting signed required a great deal of money or fame or networking, which made it inaccessible to garage bands no matter how good they were.  Worst of all for punks, signing to a label meant loss of creative control and becoming a slave to profiteering corporations (note: explicit language), something they were vehemently opposed to.  They didn't want a boss calling the shots.

On the surface, this might seem like bratty "Don't tell me what to do" behavior, but there were nobler reasons for this as well.  Fugazi, for instance, insisted on only playing venues that allowed all-ages shows.  They wanted their music to be available to everyone, whether they were over 21 or not.  They turned down any offer no play, no matter how lucrative, if the venue wanted to place age restrictions on admission.  A contract with a major label meant they would be told when and where to play, regardless of their desire to be inclusive.  Fugazi was not willing to compromise this.

This created a dilemma for punk bands:  break your back to "sell out" to a major label that was only interested in money or make music in obscurity with no way to share your art with a larger audience or make a living doing what you love.

But punk bands like Fugazi rejected this. 

 They hosted their own shows and set up underground tour circuits for punk bands around the country.  Grassroots "punk house" venues are still a norm.  They recorded their own music and published punk zines to spread the word about up-and-coming bands.  Fugazi refused to make or sell merchandise because it added to overhead and distracted from the music.  Fugazi front man Ian Mackaye went on to create Dischord Records which has maintained its independent, DIY ethic for longer than I've been alive.

In short, the punk scene demonstrated that they were not at the mercy of corporations who did not have their best interest at hand.  Punk bands did not have to play by rules they disagreed with to make the music they felt compelled to play.  They said "Thanks, but no thanks" and opted out of a system that was greedy and stifling.  They created a space where they could be both successful and free.

Making my own products lets me opt out of a system, too.  Yes, it is cheaper and greener, but it also lets me say "Thanks, but no thanks" to a consumer culture that tells me that my role is to buy without asking any questions beyond "Which scent do I prefer?"  It's a system that spends millions of dollars trying to convince me that my home isn't clean enough and that my skin isn't clear enough while filling their products with chemicals they won't disclose or properly research for safety (source).

Is this a perfect solution?  It's not.  I still need to buy the ingredients for cleaners and hygiene products, so I am not opted out entirely.  And I am far from immune to consumerism in other areas of my life.  Like everyone, I'm just doing the best I can with the information and resources that I have.  For me, though, using homemade products is an exercise in freedom and independence (in addition to a myriad of other benefits).

Well, that and the punk kid inside me still enjoys "sticking it to the man" when I have a chance.

Note:  This post is not intended to pass judgment on anyone who chooses to purchase commercial cleaners.  I do not believe you are a sucker to "the man" or endangering your family for making different decisions than I do.  We all just have to do our best to make life work for us, whatever that looks like.  This is just what works for me.

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