The downsides of commodifying Street Culture

In general, if someone or an organization like a business, can make a buck they will.

From the agricultural to utility sectors, this approach is the backbone of capitalism.

Recently, this phenomenon has been increasingly visible in the field, actions, and products produced in the realm of street culture (i.e., the beliefs, dispositions, ideologies, informal rules, practices, styles, symbols, and values associated with, adopted by, and engaged in by individuals and organizations that spend a disproportionate amount of time on the streets of large urban centers, Ross, 2018, p. 8).

From streetwear to street art, from street music to concert halls, and from ghettos and barrios to now gentrified parts of cities, there are an increasing number of items, situations/experiences, and places once derived (or originating) from, or that embody elements of street culture, but are then modified, marketed, and sold as products and services to interested consumers.

On the upside, this process of commodification (e.g., turning something into an object of value) can provide jobs, income, and opportunities for some individuals and communities.

And, I don’t have a beef with this approach as long as the original creators are

• acknowledged for their original ideas and hard work,
• fairly compensated for their ideas and work,
• treated fairly after their products and items make their way into the market place, and
• the products and services don’t lead to damaging externalities (i.e., killing the environment, etc.).

But that’s rarely the case.

Commodification of street culture usually results in a:

A. Distorting (or exaggerating) the original intent and meanings of the things and services emanating from street culture. In a world where honesty and authenticity are increasingly in short supply, these modifications can distort intended meanings. This includes a process that selected elements of the original products are overly simplified, reduced to tropes, or more specifically kitschified. Sometimes this process borders on cultural appropriation.

B. More importantly, the generative products and services usually do not appropriately compensate the original creators. And this is bad. Frequently there are no or minimal copyright, patent, and trademark protections for many creators and thus they can’t reap an economic benefit. Individuals and organizations who profit from activities just described are often referred to as culture vultures.

On the positive side, we are seeing scholars in different social science and fields examine the commodification of lots of processes, including selected elements of street culture, and this is great to see. More light, however, needs to be shed on this topic in order to better contextualize its’ dynamics and better guide its development.