Matt and Betsy Jabs could be like any other American couple. Matt used to work as a computer technician and Betsy worked at a public elementary school in the small town of Bath, Michigan. Maybe they would still have those jobs if, in 2009, they hadn’t decided to quit and start seeking natural, healthy, sustainably habits in life.
That’s how the DIY Natural website was born, in which Matt and Betsy share their natural recipes (mostly vegan) for food and cleaning, personal hygiene and beauty products.
Independent production no longer means lower quality than large scale production. As the access to technology and information in the post-internet era has become more massive, Do It Yourself becomes an expression of almost anything: from creating furniture to encouraging home vegetable gardening. YouTube tutorials, slow food, and the search for natural healing methods are some examples of how DIY echoes our emerging contemporary habits.
If making your own deodorant may still sound weird, maybe it’s time to see the Do-It-Yourself movement from a political angle: it encourages individuals to consume less manufactured products and make their own alternatives.
Consumer society, society of the spectacle
“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” they sing in the 1967 musical Hair, the chorus of one of its most popular songs. The new age, which would have started in the 1950s, promised “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, and the mind’s true liberation” through the lyrics by Galt McDermott.
Coincidence or not, those are also very particular aspects of the punk movement, which came about and became popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States in the mid-1970s, known for its anti-authoritarian views of non-conformity and promotion of individual liberty.
Those very notions gave the Do-It-Yourself movement momentum, which is actually not new, with reports about this consumer practice dating back to 1912. DIY became popular in the 1950s, mostly related to home improvements at the time. It was the punk movement, coming from an ethic that removed from an ever-growing consumerism spectrum in society life, that spread DIY, and since then it has become increasingly relevant.
In essence, both punk and DIY ethics emphasize a more intimate relationship with our personal consumption.
Followers of that movement started to buy fewer clothes from big stores, giving precedence to thrift garments or pieces they remodeled themselves; musicians who followed it produced their own albums and concerts independently, removing the intermediation of record labels or distribution companies and strongly relying upon advertising strategies like design and flyers, posters, and other graphic design pieces.
Right around the same time, French thinker Guy Debord’s book “The Society of the Spectacle” was released, in which he explains the role of the spectacle manufacturing alienation in society, in which economic expansion mainly comes from industrial expansion.
His critical view on the industries that are built on individuals’ needs is quite intriguing, especially when we consider our contemporary scenario, in which advertising is not about marketing products, but about marketing desires and experiences.
Debord’s work is a landmark in situationist thinking, but it’s in this quote that he is even more accurate:
“Once society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy, in fact, depends on society.”
That reasoning is greatly responsible for bringing new meanings to DIY and making it boom as we are witnessing today. While the notion of reduced, conscious consumption grows stronger, our habits and behaviors are constantly evolving. More and more aware of the human impact on our ethos, there is a large number of individuals who are following, one way or the other, the punk spirit within the “do-it-yourself” method.
Do it yourself too
The internet has set up a process of horizontalization, giving voice to any and all individuals from numerous platforms. Social networking sites such as Pinterest, DeviantArt, Tumblr, FanFiction.net, and ao3 are evolving exponentially, along with blogs specializing in basically anything — whether it’s food recipes, arts and crafts, movies, clothes, web design, or so many other possibilities.
We can also mention popular websites such as Instructables, which offers a slew of tutorials on basically everything as well. Those platforms promote a return to the political use of DIY, now linked with the production of homemade goods or products with minor environmental impact.
It is important to observe that the DIY ethics goes beyond products we can make or supports we can build to cover our needs. The core idea behind DIY comes from two very simple ideas: self-sufficiency and the creation of something completely custom-made, following all your own unique specifications. They are also two of the most important premises of the punk movement, specifically related to the search for liberty and identity, which we see expressed in all sorts of initiatives.
The DIY movement is a threat to big consumer industries. As a micropolitics instance, DIY encourages local production – whether by buying handicraft products and organic food from local growers, or even by making something yourself – and ensures conscious, collaborative consumption, in addition to highlighting individual self-sufficiency and independence.
DIY ethics is a political instrument, an ideological statement of sustainable social and environmental alternatives. It’s the discovery of dormant potentials not only in the materials we manipulate and the things around us, but also within each one of us.
It’s not just about building things from scratch, but making up new solutions, being heedful of new innovation possibilities.
When we are kids, we are encouraged to play with our imagination, with sensory stimuli and our physical skills. There is no reason why we should lose touch with any of those things after we grow up. Feeling proud of ourselves when we create, build, or discover something is something that never changes, no matter if we are kids or adults.
Apart from micropolitics, DIY is a game. It’s an experiment. A hobby. It’s accepting our mistakes and looking for creative, money-saving solutions. It’s learning with every project, and especially, finding out we are capable of doing basically anything.