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The Jennings sisters have also been interviewed for an upcoming article about radical cheerleading in Spin magazine and were sent an application to be included in a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Though the concept has changed in ways they never imagined, the Jennings sisters don't sweat it. Dissent always gets co-opted, Cara notes. Ideas that were once radical get absorbed by the mainstream and commodified.
For example she heard that the Spice Girls were a commercial outgrowth of the riot grrrl movement, and while they might not be explicitly feminist or anarchist, Cara concedes that the perky girl-group does have attitude -- and a song in praise of nonmonogamy.
"It'd be nice, though, if they looked like other women," Aimee interjects.
"OK, I take it back," Cara says dryly. "The Spice Girls are fucked."
Radical cheerleading may have struck a chord globally, but it's only one aspect of life at the Villa de Vulva. On Tuesdays the residents hold a "stitch and bitch," which is sometimes suspended in favor of 99-cent bowling at a local alley. (To save money, they share shoes.) Thursdays they put on a theme movie night using a borrowed VCR.
Villa residents work to keep things free, cheap, or DIY -- a practice for which un- or underemployment is both cause and effect. Since it's hard to keep both your job and your principles, residents are sometimes fired or forced to resign for speaking their minds. It's just as well, they shrug, for while they usually need to work to live, they don't live to work. Chronic joblessness forces Villa residents to rely on the excess of capitalism, which they find all around them in forest-green bins.
Everyone who Dumpster-dives, like everyone who fishes, loves to tell the story of his or her greatest catch. For Mel it was the time she found a pink Hello Kitty hair set in an Eckerd Dumpster. "I was so happy," she gushes. Another time she and a fellow Dumpster-diver unearthed a perfectly good boom box with just a few messed-up buttons.
Peter's fondest memory is the time former Villa resident Waffle found toy swords in the trash behind a drug store and the two fought a Dumpster duel amid the garbage. He laughs, but Sue keeps a straight face. Things have changed at that particular Dumpster: "They got a compactor now. Fuckers. All of them."
In fact Sue says Dumpster-diving has gotten tougher as more and more stores padlock their trash bins or do away with them altogether in favor of irretrievable methods like compaction. She doesn't want the location of the remaining Dumpsters revealed. It's not that she worries they'll get caught. "No," Sue laughs, "we don't want the competition!"
Villa residents Dumpster-dive the way some people shop at 7-Eleven. If they pass one late at night, they pop in to see what's available. Like most consumers, Villa residents go to the store that specializes in what they need, be it auto parts or home-improvement supplies, but instead of grabbing a cart and perusing the aisles, they wander out back to "browse" through the trash.
They don't always wait for things to be thrown away. Most anarchists, including those who live in the Villa, feel it's OK to steal from corporations because they are corrupt and oppressive. In essence such stealing is a strike against the capitalist system and also happens to have the added benefit of letting one take what he or she wants or needs. Moreover, anarchists argue, stealing from corporations enables those who steal to work less, which is good, since work under capitalism is inherently oppressive. Some don't keep the things they steal but instead return them for cash.
There's no telling a pro-theft anarchist (and most of them are) that filching merchandise from a corporation drives up prices, thus hurting the working poor, or puts the screws to the workers and management, who are paid to prevent theft. Prices, they argue, are artificially low because they don't account for true labor costs, and if workers get fired as a result, well, they should quit working and take to stealing, too. Theft, one anarchist giddily suggests, could help hasten revolution.
For most anarchists, however, there is a sort of ethical code to theft. Stealing from individuals is wrong, as is stealing from independent, mom-and-pop stores. Stealing overpackaged merchandise is not as acceptable as stealing bulk foods, for example, since overpackaged products are wasteful. But ultimately, they say, the ethics of stealing are (conveniently) left up to the individual, which means some forgo deep thought in favor of impulsive shoplifting: "I'm not fronting like that," says one Southern Girls participant when the topic turns to "revolutionary" theft. "If I want a candy bar, I take it."
In any event Dumpster-diving poses fewer risks than stealing, though the spoils are often exactly that. One recent night, on the way home from a show at Soundsplash, an indie record store in West Palm Beach, Peter and a friend pulled behind a certain health-food grocery store and snagged some grapes, lettuce, and a papaya from a mass of smelly wet cardboard. It was a disappointing Dumpster run, Peter admits, but it was better than nothing.