Human-Billboards: The Commodification of Invisible People

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 1:00 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Luciana SHINODA , INPG, São Paulo, Brazil
Ines PEREIRA , FGV-EAESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil
According to Zygmunt Bauman, since mid-20thcentury modern society has been experiencing a gradual shift toward a "consumer society", whose main characteristic is the transformation of consumers into commodities. In this context, the objective of consuming is to grant social status to individuals, who worth as much as they are able to consume. Bauman posits that people consume to invest in their own social affiliation. By consuming, individuals become a more valuable commodity, recasting themselves as products capable of drawing attention and standing out from the monotony and dull invisibility of ordinary things. Those who do not have enough resources to consume are considered invalids, commodities that will never be noticed or coveted, and that can only resign themselves to their invisibility. However, by analyzing Brazilian human-billboards, this study intends to show that even those individuals are salvageable in the world of consumption.

In the city of São Paulo (Brazil), legislation has established several restrictions on advertising placement in order to avoid visual pollution. The real estate sector has circumvented that legislation by using the so-called "human-billboards": men and women from under-age to elderly who remain standing for periods up to 8 hours without breaks and regardless the weather, in corners of upper middle class neighborhoods with signposts hanging in their necks. For this job they are paid under 10 dollars a day, with payment discount if their supervisor finds them sitting.

In principle these people would be considered "invalids" in the society of consumers. Nevertheless, they end up being "recycled" and become functional to it. The case study intends to reflect on how the society of consumers absorbs the dysfunctions that it produces itself. In this case, people’s invisibility is not equivalent to death: it is also turned into merchandise.