Teen shoplifters find community on Tumblr

We R Cute Shoplifters [Good – Tasbeeh Herwees]

Shoplifting has a long history of political activism. Attitudes toward shoplifting parallel attitudes toward women and respectability.

Or maybe it’s just petty theft.

“I lift because I’m poor,” Lifterslife responded. “I’m at that age where I feel bad when I ask my parents for money that they can’t really spare. ‘But why don’t you just go without?’ you ask. Because in today’s society dressing like you’re poor and a bum will get you nowhere.” Members of Liftblr feel empowered by a sense of social justice. They reblog Bernie Sanders memes and post anti-racist screeds. When one anonymous user threatens them with “karma,” they turn the thread into a conversation on the cultural appropriation of non-Western concepts. Feminist rhetoric infuses their language. And they’re extremely anti-corporatist. “Shoplifting can be an act of civil disobedience,” writes one user. “If you do get caught, tell them: This is not petty theft. This is non-violent resistance to a violent and oppressive economic system in which we are trapped.”

Britney Summit-Gil, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher of digital media, gender representation, and consumer identities at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, says the lifting community is participating, knowingly or unknowingly, in a historical practice of theft as activism. “Shoplifting, whether you mean it to be or not, is an anti-capitalist action,” says Summit-Gil. “You’re undermining one of the basic tenets of capitalist ideology, which is that it’s a mortal sin to steal or to get anything you didn’t work for.” This idea infiltrates the earliest anarchist doctrines, which called it “individual reclamation”—resistance to what activists of the time saw as a violent capitalist ideology. Late 19th-century French anarchists implemented individual reclamation against the Parisian elite, squatting in their homes and setting fire to their belongings. More recently, in 2000, a group of Spanish anarchists formed Yomango, which means “I steal” in Spanish slang, and billed it as an anti-consumerist movement.

19th Century women, many of them affluent, began shoplifting as a reaction to the newfound freedom that the ability to shop gave them. Middle- and upper-class women were considered respectable by society, “and to label them criminals would undo a social order the elite establishment held precious to its survival. So they were labeled ‘sick’ instead.” And that’s how “kleptomania” became a thing.

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