We are the fresh food people: The Supermarket as a performance of happiness

Edie Paterson


The value most characteristic of the society of consumers, indeed its supreme value in relation to which all other values are called on to justify their worth, is a happy life … in short, an instant and perpetual happiness. (Bauman, 2007: 44)

This paper examines Wondermart (2009), an interactive audio performance by British company Rotozaza, which premiered in Australia as part of the first season of 2010 at North Melbourne’s Arts House. Accessed as a downloadable mp3 file and listened to alone in a supermarket, Wondermart is a performance for one. This performance raises critical questions about the choices we make as consumers, the ethics of shopping, and how a simple trip through a supermarket may support what sociologist Zygmunt Bauman calls ‘an ideology of privatisation’ (2008b: 20). If, as Bauman argues, affluent Western society ‘re-presents the world as a warehouse of potential objects of consumption, and individual life as a perpetual search for bargains…’ (2008b: 21), is the supermarket an ultimate expression of our contemporary pursuit of happiness? This paper will discuss how the Wondermart performance brings about reflection upon current consumer habits and argues that the ways in which we are encouraged to consume, far from promoting a ‘happy life’, actually limit our capacity for happiness.

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