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CHAPTER 6 Consuming Life.doc

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Sociology 2172A/B
Gale Cassidy

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- CHAPTER 6- CONSUMING LIFE - From Abstract Labour to Abstract Desire - British sociologist Paul Willis uses the Marxian concept of abstract labour to understand the alienation of “the lads” - advertisers increasingly market commodities by selling images of the self and the other: the self that we desire to be and the others that we desire - but the others that we desire and the selves that we desire to be are increasingly abstractions - sex is of course an elemental desire - intimate associations- and especially sexual relationships- have an important impact on one’s status - the reserve is also true; status tends to increase sexual attractiveness - consequently, the desire for status and the desire for sex are often closely related - but like desire in general, sexual desire has tended to become more abstract - instead of desire being stimulated by interaction with concrete real persons, sexual fantasies and ideals are often shaped by images of movie stars or supermodels - supermodel as a term is interesting because a “model” of something is an abstraction; in this case an ideal object of desire - since real people seldom match this abstract ideal of a sexual partner, this contributes to dissatisfaction and a continuing search for a sexual partner who exists only as an abstract ideal - this mode of desire is a reversal of the situation of the mode of production - abstract labour means nearly any worker will do; abstract desire means that no one will do - specific commodities in ads are offered, but almost never is the rationale for buying them some utilitarian need, but rather an implied need to improve or maintain one’s status - From Abstract Desire to Patriotic Consumption - terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 ➔ after these, people encouraged to “get back to normal” by going shopping and boosting the economy - supposedly people had a duty to buy more, even if the events they experienced caused them to focus on personal, family, and political concerns rather than economic ones - the article concluded “And who can name one thing that’s more intrinsically American than to buy something?” - not everyone necessarily agrees with this statement, but nobody outrightly disagrees with it either - The Problem - Robert Putnam ➔ decline of social capital: people’s neglect of their roles as citizens in voluntary associations and non-economic interpersonal networks that constitute “civil society” - others have pointed to the decline of marriage and family relationships - the problem of consumer capitalism, however, is not only the pride of place given to producing and consuming- at the expense of other social roles - there is also the tension between producer and consumer - Daniel Bell ➔ refers to this as the cultural contradiction of capitalism - his book argues that there is increasingly a conflict between the discipline and asceticism needed for efficient production and the hedonism and self- indulgence needed to maintain levels of consumption and market demand - the social ideal becomes the person who both “works hard and plays hard” - this has become a virtual philosophy of life among the profession and managerial classes - to be effective, ideologies must be sustained over time - The Solution: Preppies - in modern high schools, the prep embodies these two ideals - they want to be successful at school, but to avoid being labelled a brain or nerd, they must also learn how to “have a good time” - this cannot be simply a private experience, such as appreciating fine art or beautiful scenery, one’s commitment to a hedonistic good time must be publicly displayed - but this form of hedonism must be limited to weekends and special events if it is not to incapacitate the producing self - hence, an addition type of self-in
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