Shopping for social justice?
In my online preparation for Passover, I came across a site called “japshopper.” How is this connected with Passover, you might ask? It’s actually the site of an artist named Melissa Shiff, and JAP stands for “Jewish art projects, products, politics.” Redefining the term, Shiff is selling her Jewish-themed, activist art creations (e.g. the Crush oppression matzo pillow and Matzo Ball Activist Kit) and donating a percentage of the profits to feed hungry people and to support progressive art projects. As she writes, “JAP appropriates a common Jewish epithet and gives it a positive spin by turning shopaholics into art funders and mitzvah doers. JAP encourages shopping and consumerism but not as an end in itself.”
I’m a huge fan of art that makes sharp social commentary and provokes people to take action for social change, and I think Shiff’s work is cool (check out her website). I feel less positive about reclaiming JAP and consumerism. I get Shiff’s goal: to challenge us to think about how we spend our money and to choose purchases that both benefit others and stimulate us to further action. And I believe consumers wield great power. But I think we sometimes overestimate how much change we’re making when we buy even the best do-gooder products. After all, the real change-making decisions – what percentage to donate and to what cause – isn’t in our hands but in the hands of the person/company we’re buying from. And we walk away feeling good about ourselves when all we’ve done is pull out our credit cards. I’d like to encourage a broader, more powerful identity for Jewish women than consumer.