Marketizing Insideowl • 7 October 2010

I've been tracked by one Dr. Natura. Dr. Natura makes products with names like KleriTea, ParaNil, and ColoNix. Puns plus lower intestine. You get the idea.

It seems Dr. Natura likes what I’ve said in past years about the Master Cleanse and Dr. Schulze: stuff about getting your sphincter to shift on the fly.

So, the Dr. (a corporate entity, though perhaps also a human one) contacted me last month. After I said I might or might not use or write about their/ its/ her products—and that my commentary might or might not be positive—I received sufficient almost-expired colon remedies to sweep clean the bowels of every last ashtangi in town.

The day after we first spoke, one of Dr. Natura's sister companies contacted me to see if I would also write about an product designed to make women fee self-conscious about their asses in yoga pants—a kind of skirt you’re supposed to wear over your lulus. I told them I would, indeed, REFRAIN from writing about the latter product if they would promise never to contact me again and, furthermore, spread the word to their schwag-marketing friends that I am not that kind of blogger. Thus I will not name this product. Nor will I comment on the ill-timing of the yoga skirt’s launch in the era of, why pelvic shrouds do not interest people like us, or the improbability of slinging your feet behind your head while wearing a skirt.

Anyway. The problem with Dr. Natura is that after they sent me enough psyllium to seal off an oil well, they commenced lobbying me with emails (even after I requested they stop), and even a hand-written letter.

Promoted with a tag line sure to induce anxiety in any good Christian – "Are you clean inside?", their main product turns out to be the Cleanse for Beginners. A root chakra version of Golstein and Salzburg’s Insight Meditation: the contemplative practice in a box. Wonderful ideas, both; and very good places to start. But, as such, Dr. Natura’s product takes six times longer than Dr. Schulze’s “hardcore” cleanse, so I’d be in no place to write about it until about January (after the supply they sent me has expired). Still, I’m sure that the product is great for beginners (who might actually want their psyllium husk powder flavored like bananas and described as “delicious,” who haven’t talked to enough cleanse-warriors to hear the hazards of psyllium, and who might not care about certain FDA-unregulated claims). It’s gentle and very easy, and the company does seem nice. All very fine.

What isn’t fine, Dr. Natura, is lobbying your reviewers. Or trying to manipulate us emotionally: to feel like your product was a “gift” for which we should write you a loving, public thank you.

It would be cute to turn this in to a cultural studies topic, talking about relations of cultural production and the politicization of everything, name-checking fashionable dead Frenchmen. But cultural critique—which was fashioned out of continental and Birmingham Marxism in to an “emancipatory” tool for modern capitalist times—is dead in the water when it comes to the big fat topic of 21st century capitalism and yoga. Bad advaita gives the theory a back door: when you hit a logical problem (usually manifesting as a contradiction between pluralist "anything goes" beliefs and half-conscious, humanistic "conservatism/ consumption / modern life is bad" beliefs), all you have to do is assert that there’s no write or wrong anyway or that the other guy is projecting. It’s in Stefanie Syman [OR NOT – SEE CORRECTION IN COMMENTS BELOW]; it’s in the nauseatingly immature debate around ToeSox; it’s all over the New York Times’ coverage of yoga. It no longer makes sense to talk about yoga culture in terms of “exploitation,” because critical studies has rotted to the core. 

I mean really. Dr. Natura is not an antagonist on any level; he and I aren’t locked in some dramatic little struggle of cultural production and exchange.  Resources are abundant! The internet is basically free. My blogging energy is an elastic resource. And furthermore, I have no axe to grind about small businesses who want to create new markets for self-care. In other words, I don't see Dr. Natura as a hostile entity: he/ it/ they and I are are different-sized organisms with different needs and wants, but hus existence does me no violence.  (This is the piece that smart people who rely on their argumentative skills to feel free still do not want to get.) Rather than some cultural production issue, the rub between me and Dr. Natura has something to do with the relations of information.

You want to get on the radar, Doc? That’s fine. But you need to do your own emotional accounting and recognize your power here (like mine) is relational. Respect my autonomy; and don’t think of communication as free just because it is easy. In this case, communicating too much with me, without much sensitivity to my feedback, cost you my goodwill. I’m not prude or squeamish about the old human tendency toward market exchange – commerce and money are not "dirty." But if you want to marketize here, it’s only going to work if you take the time to really know the locale. Probably not worth your effort, given the dispositions of the locals. We've usually got better things to talk about. 🙂