[OPE-L] Reverse Shoplifting

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Dec 25 2007 - 12:19:29 EST

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------

This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for
Tactical Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade
T-shirts into Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The shirts feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of
Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says,
"Peace on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism."

"Shopdropping" or reverse shoplifting wherein goods are
added to store

Anarchists in the Aisles? Stores
Provide a Stage


This is the season
of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it's also the season of
spirited shopdropping.

Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting,
shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather
than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.

Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political
messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets
between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.

Self-published authors sneak their works into the "new
releases" section, while personal trainers put their business cards
into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make
homemade cards, their Web site address included, of course, and covertly
plant them into stationery-store racks.

"Everyone else is
pushing their product, so why shouldn't" said Jeff Eyrich, a
producer for several independent bands, who puts stacks of his
bands' CDs  marked 'free"” on music racks at
Starbucks whenever the cashiers look away.

Though not new,
shopdropping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially as
artists have gathered to swap tactics at Web sites like Shopdropping.net,
and groups like the Anti-Advertising Agency, a political art collective,
do training workshops open to the public.

Retailers fear the
practice may annoy shoppers and raise legal or safety concerns,
particularly when it involves children's toys or trademarked products.

"Our goal at all times is to provide comfortable and
distraction-free shopping," said Bethany Zucco, a spokeswoman for
Target. "We think this type of activity would certainly not
contribute to that goal." She said she did not know of any
shopdropping at Target stores.

But Packard Jennings does. An
artist who lives in Oakland, Calif., he said that for the last seven
months he had been working on a new batch of his Anarchist action figure
that he began shopdropping this week at Target and Wal-Mart stores in the
San Francisco Bay Area.

"When better than Christmas to
make a point about hyper-consumerism?" asked Mr. Jennings, 37, whose
action figure comes with tiny accessories including a gas mask, bolt
cutter, and two Molotov cocktails, and looks convincingly like any other
doll on most toy-store shelves. Putting it in stores and filming people as
they try to buy it as they interact with store clerks, Mr. Jennings said
he hoped to show that even radical ideology gets commercialized. He said
for safety reasons he retrieves the figures before customers take them

Jason Brody, lead singer for an independent pop-rock
band in the East Village, said his group recently altered its shopdropping
tactics to cater to the holiday rush.

Normally the band, the
Death of Jason Brody, slips promotional CD singles between the pages of
The Village Voice newspaper and into the racks at large music stores. But
lately, band members have been slipping into department stores and putting
stickers with logos for trendy designers like Diesel, John Varvatos and 7
for All Mankind on their CDs, which they then slip into the pockets of
designer jeans or place on counters.

Bloomingdales and 7 for
All Mankind present the Death of Jason Brody, our pick for New York band
to watch in 2008,€ read a sticker on one of the CDs placed
near a register at Bloomingdales. "As thanks for trying us on, we're
giving you this special holiday gift." Bloomingdales and 7 for All
Mankind declined to comment.

For pet store owners, the
holidays usher in a form of shopdropping with a touch of buyer's remorse.
What seemed like a cute gift idea at the time can end up being dumped back
at a store, left discretely to roam the aisles.

Easter, there's a wave of bunnies; after Halloween, it's black cats; after
Christmas, it's puppies," said Don Cowan, a spokesman for the store
chain Petco, which in the month after each of those holidays sees 100 to
150 pets abandoned in its aisles or left after hours in cages in front of
stores. Snakes have been left in crates, mice and hamsters surreptitiously
dropped in dry aquariums, even a donkey left behind after a store's annual
pet talent show, Mr. Cowan said.

Bookstores are especially
popular for self-promotion and religious types of shopdropping.

At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., local authors have been putting bookmarks
advertising their own works in books on similar topics. At Mac's Backs
Paperbacks, a used bookstore in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, employees are
dealing with the influx of shopdropped works by local poets and
playwrights by putting a price tag on them and leaving them on the

At Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups
have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers
featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving
Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.

This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for Tactical
Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade T-shirts into
Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The shirts
feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of Karl Marx,
Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says, "Peace
on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism."

point is to put a message, not a price tag, on them," said Aaron
Gach, 33, a spokesman for the group.

Mr. Jennings's anarchist
action figure met with a befuddled reaction from a Target store manager on
Wednesday in El Cerrito, Calif.

" don't think this is a
product that we sell," the manager said as Mr. Jennings pretended to
be a customer trying to buy it. "Its definitely antifamily, which is
not what Target is about."

One of the first reports of
shopdropping was in 1989, when a group called the Barbie Liberation
Organization sought to make a point about sexism in children's toys by
swapping the voice hardware of Barbie dolls with those in GI Joe figures
before putting the dolls back on store shelves.

Scott Wolfson,
a spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, said he
was not sure if shopdropping was illegal but that some forms of it could
raise safety concerns because the items left on store shelves might not
abide by labeling requirements and federal safety standards.

Ryan Watkins-Hughes, 28, a photographer from Brooklyn, teamed up with
four other artists to shopdrop canned goods with altered labels at Whole
Foods stores in New York City this week. "In the holidays, people get
into this head-down, plow-through-the-shopping autopilot mode," Mr.
Watkins-Hughes said ˜I got to get a dress for Cindy, get a stereo
for Uncle John, go buy canned goods for the charity drive and get back

"Warhol took the can into the gallery. We
bring the art to the can," he said, adding that the labels consisted
of photographs of places he had traveled combined with the can's original
bar code so that people could still buy them.

"What we do
is try to inject a brief moment of wonder that helps wake them up from
that rushed stupor," he said, pausing to add, "That's the true
holiday spirit, isn't it?"

Christopher Maag contributed

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