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Dr. Mookerjea - Cultural Studies 4

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University of Alberta
Sourayan Mookerjea

SOCIOLOGY 345 GUY DEBORD PLANNING EXPERIENCES BEFORE YOU HAVE THEM the systematic production of meaning and desire before people encounter those desires and meanings organically / naturally, apart from a commodity/profit complex. debord is developing one of marx's key ideas: COMMODITYFETISHISM Marx thought it strange that Labour Power was thought of like any other element that goes into the production process. human resources, our children are our greatest resources, etc. Industrial production turns people into just another cog in the machine. cf Charlie Chaplin's ModernTimes Marx is trying to think about the aspect of human experience in the elaborate division of labour and anonymous market relations. The fetishism—taking this word from the anthropology of his time. where people worship trivial and strange items. the word is from portugese traders trading along the coast of africa. they are interested in african gold, but the people they are trading with are interested in all kinds of things that are so trivial to the portugese that they see so worthless compared to Gold. fetish was used to describe these things that are worthless that someone values. it has a connotation of 'OVERINVESTMENT' in something that is not supposed to be valuable. Marx is drawing on that idea of primitive religion and magical power posited in an inanimate object. He is saying that economists of his time magically invest value into the things themselves and not the social relations and social needs that make the thing valuable. This illusion of the classical economists of their day have that things in themselves are valuable in themselves and that is the source of wealth (big debate at that time whether national wealth came from land and agriculture or from industry), and marx is saying no, these thigns are valuable because of the way it lets us live. commodity fetishism is not an error, but a structural illusion/misunderstanding. it is not just a mistake people are making in their head, but a misunderstanding inculcated by the system and society that espouses it. Guy Debord develops a whole set of implications out of this commodity fetishism idea in Marx. If you think about advertising in itself, there are a number of advertising strategies. one of them is to say "if you buy product x, it will let you express your individuality, it will let you be who you are." but since this is all mass produced, it is actually conformist. this then satisfies this other major imperative we have: to stick out and have no friends, etc. there is a whole other problem of conforming and belonging. an ad will make the promise that you will express your individuality, but you will also belong to somebody somewhere. these narratives are ubiquitous in advertising. this is what Debord is pulling out of commodity fetishism. - on the one hand we are separated and alienated to one another and to nature - on the other hand, the spectacle gives us a way to come back together, consumption and spectacle mediates our connections to one another. we come back together but still separated/alienated. - people are forcibly alienated from nature in capitalism. we are also alienated from other means and modes of production ie enclosure of the commons, the forests, the colonization of entire continents, and this has immediate and direct consequences in canadian societies. destruction of ecosystems also alienates us. making living in relation to this or other parts of nature impossible means we must now sell our labour on markets as the only way to reconnect to production and livelihood and existence and nature. see debord 43. customer is always right. "at this point the humanism of the commodity takes charge of the worker's 'leisure and humanity,' simply because now political economy can and must dominate these spheres as political economy. thsu the 'perfected denial of man' has taken charge of the totality of human existence." - somehow or other one's political ▯eedom is connected to consumer choices! - in the work world you are always doing what you are told. it is in the world of leisure once you leave work that you have any time to be free, to not be obedient, to be yourself. but that is appropriated as consumer time for you to realize your freedom in choosing between this toothpaste and that toothpaste, thus soviet russia is decried because 'everyone has to use the same toothpaste there, there is no choice or freedom.' - so our political freedom boils down to our freedom to buy this or that commodity consumption then begins to mediate the whole element of belonging or not belonging. Ditch the Joneses ad: lincoln navigator SUV ad, poised in the rocky mountainous regions in the sublime misty mountians, and it says "ditch the joneses"—at the bottom it says "although there is somethign to be said for getting ahead, the all new navigator has more to do with getting away and bringing life's luxuries with you." - the hierarchy of status
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