All images courtesy of www.yomango.net
The world's economy is still fucked. And ever since the West went into an economic meltdown in 2008, anti-consumerist sentiment has been steadily on the rise – presumably because you kinda have to eschew materialism when you've got the spending power of a Dickensian chimney sweep. But while Britain's proletariat has largely settled for shivering in Occupy camps or running around Oxford Street confusing the tourists, the Catalan civil disobedience movement "Yomango" has been getting out there, actively raging against consumerism since 2002. How? Through a campaign of ideological shoplifting.
Spawned in Barcelona by your usual black bloc types and those hash-smoking crusties you see hanging around in the Gothic district with dogs, yomango is Spanish slang for "I steal", as well as a pun on local clothing company, MANGO. Falling somewhere between social experiment and sixth-form political statement, the movement's members claim that what they're doing is raging against the machine.
Yomango practitioners pillage multinational franchises for five-finger discounts and turn their stolen winnings into feasts. These feasts are kind of like counter-cultural Christmas dinners, with those taking part sharing shoplifting tactics (which, handily, are also now available as instructional YouTube videos), exchanging loot and discussing ways of turning throwaway junk into DIY thieving accessories. If you're not using an alarm detector-resistant handbag or a jacket with “magic” pockets that disappears swiped goods, you're not shoplifting like these pros.
A bag made from a cookie box, which is apparently impervious to alarm detectors.
Paul Bannister, the head of yomango's “mangueting department” explains, “It’s very different to the idea of boycotting. The fact is we want these things and we’re trapped within these psychological mechanisms that are very hard to escape. We’re not trying to negate our desire or say, 'This desire is right,' or, 'This desire is wrong,' we’re just trying to make the product useless to the people who manufactured it.”
Beyond attacking consumerism, yomango also attempts to hijack the entire concept of branding, which is obviously a little more challenging than stealing some cheese from a supermarket. “Branding is about convincing someone that paying for this thing achieves some sort of psychological goal," Paul muses. "Buy these boots, you’ll feel outdoors-y, buy this watch, you’ll feel successful. Yomango gives you this experience, but then it takes money out of the equation, so it’s parasitic to the work brand makers are doing.”
After taking off in Spain, yomango has since spread to Germany, Italy, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, but Paul was keen to stress that it’s simply a tactic, not a movement, so its goals or purpose are defined entirely by the individual. But if it's being appropriated by different people to mean different things, how can they claim that what they're doing is any different to regular, bog-standard, non-ideological shoplifting? “The difference is we frame it as a form of civil disobedience, as a political act,” Paul explains. “We gave it some prestige, turning it from something invisible that you’re supposed to be ashamed of into something that you’re proud of.”
Granted, every shoplifter who doesn’t get their collar felt is probably swept up in a rapture of smugness while they pig out on their complimentary Twiglets. But this celebratory aspect is essential to the yomango ideal because it helps to foster the counter-cultural community they've spent a decade cultivating. “There’s a lot of sharing and gift-giving in yomango,” says Paul. “It changes your idea of value because the price isn't the value; the value of the product is its value to you and its value to other people.”
Some might see it as romanticised gluttony rather than political insurgency, but they have tried other forms of protest. In 2002, as a show of solidarity with struggling, austerity-struck Argentineans, there was a "yomango tango" at a Carrefour supermarket just off Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Tango music was played over a mobile PA, while yomango devotees danced the tango while brazenly shoplifting 13 bottles of Cava. The bottles were then opened in a celebratory spraying the next day at a nearby Santander Bank – an institution that profited handsomely from the Argentine recession of the early 2000s.
There’s some question as to why shoplifting was picked as yomango’s modus operandi; Paul tells me it’s because some of its earliest pioneers were disgruntled retail workers retaliating against their paymasters. But some sources on the internet say it’s because custodial sentences for shoplifting are virtually unheard of in mainland Europe, and Paul admits that he hasn’t heard of anyone who’s been so much as fined for doing what they do. So how about we all stop whining about the bedroom tax and shoplift our way out of austerity?
Follow Aleks on Twitter: @slandr