Glitter Communism or: How to Party in Utopia

Solidarity glitter for sale online
‘Solidarity glitter’ for sale at ecoglitterfun.com

How about judging utopias by how they party? Utopia scholar and Bristol Utopian Book Collective member Dr Kirsten Harris made this suggestion in our discussion of N. K. Jemisin’s ‘The Ones Who Stay And Fight’, written in response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’. I think it’s an excellent idea. As a way into a utopia it’s potentially much more insightful and fun than talking educational systems and politics.

Will there be glitter in utopia?

Thinking about how an ‘ideal’ society parties helped me pinpoint my misgivings with the Transition movement.* Don’t get me wrong, the Transition Initiative is right up my street. I’m a member of the Long Ashton Growers, set up by Transition Long Ashton, and I have a copy of The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins on my lap as I write. But I can’t see the Transition movement having the impact it wants because it doesn’t party how people really want to party.

*The Transition movement is a network of communities in towns, villages and cities in the UK attempting to be the change they want to see in the world and lead the transition away from oil-dependency. This often involves producing food locally, for instance.

Transition town staging of Shakespeare
Transition town party: raising an amphitheatre and putting on The Merry Wives of Windsor

Not everyone wants to party like it’s 1599 (or thereabouts). There has to be more to eco-utopian parties than acoustic folk music and open air theatre. This is where I want to bring in Dr Nicole Seymour, and her work-in-progress on a cultural history of glitter.

Object Lessons from Glitter

Back in May 2021 I attended an online talk by Seymour, hosted by UCD Environmental Humanities, entitled ‘Facing the Plasticene: Object Lessons from Glitter’. Glitter provokes a lot of ecological ire, being as it generally consists of tiny bits of plastic. But, as Seymour explained, glitter makes up a tiny proportion of the microplastics that make their way into soils and oceans. By far the biggest source of microplastic pollution is fibres from clothing. So why the disproportionate fuss about glitter?

Nicole Seymour, glitter researcher
Nicole Seymour

Seymour pointed out that while some environmentalists might consider glitter a needless frivolity, it is culturally important to LGBTQ+ communities and (typically Black) cultures with a carnival tradition. Imagining celebrations without glitter therefore, consciously or unconsciously, excludes certain groups from the utopian party.

Model wearing biodegradable glitter
Model wearing verde green standard, biodegradable glitter. Source ecoglitterfun.com

One solution is eco-glitter. Seymour briefly surveyed this industry and how it agonises over how much plastic is in the product and the ethical sourcing of natural alternatives. Sparkly mineral mica, for instance, is sold as an ecological alternative to plastic glitter, but naturally occuring mica is often mined using child labour. Ethically-conscious companies have turned to lab-made mica instead so I guess you have to check before you buy.

The advantage of eco-glitter is it facilitates being both sparkly and environmentalist. The two need not be mutually exclusive. This is great news for the eco-utopian parties and their guest lists. But I have some lingering doubts about the necessity of this product. Specifically about the need to buy premium cosmetics. Does eco-glitter exist because glitter is a big ecological problem, or because eco-glitter is a lucrative product to sell?

Glitter communism

In the Q&A following Seymour’s talk, one of the other attendees expressed their discomfort with the capitalist nature of the eco-glitter market. They asked if there might be such a thing as a glitter commons. Now this captured my attention. Given that, as Seymour noted, the practice of decorating oneself for special occasions and purposes is universal across human cultures, why are we buying in the glitter?

Before a party, someone preps the food, gets in the drinks, puts together the playlist, sorts out the lighting. The guests try on their outfits, decide what to wear, work out how to get to the venue. Often these things are done in collaboration and that’s part of the fun. Add in team glitter creating the sparkles and we might be on the way to a utopian party.