Alibaba.com, sometimes known as “the Chinese eBay”, connects shoppers looking to purchase commodities in bulk directly with manufacturers from across the world. The site encompasses more or less every salable object in existence.
The visualizations below were made by scraping data and images from various product categories of interest on Alibaba’s site. They recreate the “warehouse” Alibaba doesn’t need to maintain, and represent only a tiny sample of what’s available for purchase.
Click on the images to view the full visualizations.
The media fascination with Black Friday’s deal seeking micro-riots and the liberal hand-wringing over such #FullConsumerism both work on an underlying premise: that such economic activity, rather distasteful though it may be, is necessary to the functioning of the economy. The spectacle of Black Friday helps to reenforce the notion that our economy is predominantly built on shopping: after all, it’s the majority of economic activity that most individuals encounter. This Black Friday, activists are urging that people refrain from buying anything that supports the deadly anti-black social order, that is, anything at all.
And so, to help demonstrate how commodity circulation cannot be separated from the work of the Ferguson police department, we present an interactive graphic of the “dark” economy. This economy is not “dark” as in opposed to the “regular”, “real” economy, but is rather the global supply chain, labor marketplaces and weapons manufacture whose daily workings are normally obscured from view. On Alibaba.com, where wholesale state military gear and individual ultra HD televisions are both readily available, we gain an opportunity to see behind the curtain, if only slightly. It presents a way of beginning to uncover the connections between Black Friday retail and the military-police-prison-industrial complexes that flow through the same logistical networks.