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Eat, Pray, Merch: You Can Buy Happiness, After All

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Most movies just have soundtracks.

Eat, Pray, Love has a soundtrack, a home furnishings line, a clothing line, a jewelry line, a tour package that follows author Elizabeth Gilbert's itinerary across Italy, India, and Indonesia, a fragrance, a tea, and, for its piece de marketing resistance, an unprecedented three-day selling orgy on the Home Shopping Network, beginning Aug. 6, a week before the movie opens, of "more than 400 items across a variety of categories, including beauty, electronics, home decor, travel, cooking, jewelry, accessories, and ready-to-wear," including, as Variety reported this week, a line of lip glosses from Lancome, for whom Julia Roberts, star of the movie, is a spokesperson.

Many of the book and movie's licensees seem to also have a personal stake in Gilbert's story, er, "journey," and are more than happy to share when promoting their product:

"When I read Eat Pray Love, I immediately identified with the story, as many aspects of Elizabeth Gilbert's journey were synchronous with my own personal odyssey. Because of the immediate connection I felt to the story, as well as its emphasis on the culture, philosophy, and, in particular, alluring mystique of the East, I was able to create a collection that was striking, exotic, and timeless, and organic to the journey in the book and forthcoming film."--Sue Wong, designer of the Eat Pray Love clothing collection

"This is a totally natural fit for Dogeared. We relate to the theme of a woman's journey for self-fulfillment and happiness."--Marcia Maizel-Clarke, founder of Dogeared, creator of Eat Pray Love Jewelry

"Liz Gilbert is a modern woman on a quest to marvel at and travel the world while rediscovering and reconnecting with her true inner-self in Eat Pray Love..In her wondrous and exotic travels, she experiences the simple pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India; and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of love in Bali. Based on an inspiring true story, Eat Pray Love proves that there really is more than one way to let yourself go and see the world...

As a company whose buyers shop the world - including the key locations of Italy, India, and Indonesia - to bring back unique, authentic, and affordable items to its retail locations, World Market was the perfect choice to partner with Sony Pictures Entertainment."--Press Release, Cost Plus World Market, retailer of Eat Pray Love home furnishings

The question is, will the book and movie's targeted demo fall (eat)prey(love) to this? Gilbert's bestselling memoir is ostensibly about spiritual enlightenment, and this merch run-up to the movie version's release could be perceived as its opposite, an orgasm of tie-ins, of products designed to make a woman of a certain age feel young, beautiful, adventurous, exotic--at least for the few minutes following her ripping-open of the product packaging--a marketing strategy that's almost comically venal, the brainchild of some licensing whiz who knows well and good that women buy shit to feel happy and why make bones about it. You can't read about the movie's three-day HSN tie-in, for example, without stumbling across the same fact over and over, that HSN estimates its demo is "83 percent female between the ages of 30-50 years old with an above average income." There isn't even any foreplay to this Eat, Pray, Lovemaking, it's all just: You know you want it. Bam.

Is that, to quote another Female Masturbation Vehicle directed by Female Masturbation Vehicle Director Non-Pareil Nancy Myers, what women want? Plenty of signs in our culture point to yes. For example, how many times have you heard the phrase, "Shopping is better than sex"? In 2007, 4 in 10 British women said they'd rather go shopping than have sex. A 2005 survey of 12,000 British women AND men had similar findings. In case you think this is just a British thing, consider that in 2008, 46 percent of American women (and 30 percent of men) polled said they'd rather give up sex for two weeks than the internet, with 68 percent of the 2,000 respondents relating the internet's indispensability to its money-saving capabilities via online shopping. Even Kim Kardashian, whose celebrity was launched by a sex tape, said in a recent interview that she'd rather be celibate than not spend money.

Cultural provocateur and sex academic Camille Paglia made the case in the NY Times recently that American women don't have sex any more because of our middle class values and the cultural movements we've experienced over the last 100 years or so, with one exception:

"Only the diffuse New Age movement, inspired by nature-keyed Asian practices, has preserved the radical vision of the modern sexual revolution."

(Which may explain why the "pray" portion preceded the "love" portion in Gilbert's book, and why those two parts took place in Asian countries, India and Indonesia, respectively. Which means, no stereotypes here, they haven't run out of sex or spirituality in Asia yet--phew!)

Sex aside--See? My middle class American values at work!--the most compelling argument as to why fans of Gilbert's memoir will buy all this shit in the small sense and, in the larger, more insidious sense, buy into this shit, that Eat, Pray, Love isn't just a book or a movie but a gateway to happiness, was made a few months ago by Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown in "Eat, Pray, Spend: Priv-lit and the new, enlightened American dream," which appeared in Bitch:

Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women's hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial.

Which means even when you embark on a so-called "spiritual journey," you're still going to have to pay for its souvenirs.

(Not to mention the "jewelry from India, gourmet food baskets, incense, mats, lanterns, Indonesian bench, and Italian bistro table set" available at Cost Plus World Market locations beginning July 17 in their exclusive Eat, Pray, Love in-store shops.)