CMN 2173: Reading #1 Jan 12 2014
The Introduction: fundamentals and starting points
People and things
The relationship between people and their things should not be considered a superficial or optional feature
of life. It is in fact a definitional component or human existence.
Objectification we objectify ourselves and our lives in the materiality of the concrete world.
Humans need things
Use, symbol and power
To avoid stagnation and the ultimate demise of capitalism through a depressed economy, manufacturers
have to ensure that what is produced is also consumed.
To this end advertising works to create false needs in people(false because they are the needs of
manufacturers rather than consumers.
Theodore Levitt goes so far as to equate advertising with art. Art presents by definition a distortion or
interpretation of reality with the aim of influencing an audience to think in a particular way= beyond
functionality and practicality to abstraction.
Anthropological approach would regard consumption as part of the cultural pattern in any society
The capitalist market and goods:
Anthropological evidence shows that goods are simultaneously communicators (about social ideas and
power) and satisfiers of human needs.
Totemism is the symbolic association of plants, animals or objects with individuals or groups of people. In
the most sophisticated exposition of toteism, LeviStrauss argues that the essence of the concept consists
of the almost universal tendency of cultures to divide nature into different groups of species and things to
correlate these differentiations in the social world of people.
If goods have a symbolic aspect it is largely because advertising gives them one. It is part of the process
with which we endow objects with certain meaningful properties. It is advertising that makes goods
communicators. Consumption today is concerned with the systemic manipulation of signs within the workings of a broader
behavioural code. As for Sahlins, so too for Baudrillard, the manipulation of a symbolic code is the most
important feature of advanced capitalism. Objects lose any real connection with the basis of their practical
utility and instead come to be the material correlate (the signifier) of an increasing number of constantly
changing, abstract qualities.
Control over demand and symbolism, rather than contradictions in production, becomes the vital focus of
advanced capitalism. This is acheieved through the control of the symbolic code such that commodities can
be given any meaning (totally divorced from what they are used for) by the manipulation of their relationship
to other signs.
The paradox of affluencecommodities and satisfaction
There is a consumption norm which exists in a given society at a given time , and which enters into the
reference standard of virtually everyone. This provides a common point of reference in self appraisal of
wellbeing, leading those below the norm to feel less happy and those above the norm, more happy.
If the market is like a voting machine then it will most reflect the choices of those who have most to spend.
Thus consumer sovereignty at one level is a rule of the rich.
Plutocracy and mob rule thus are the twin features of the capitalize marketplace, but because the
profitability of producers res