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Consuming Signs Lecture 1 Consumption as Manipulation? Lesley Scott Andrea Peach consuming involves the using or using-up of something browsing touching listening time shopping owning acquiring eating looking The act of consuming expresses (consciously or unconsciously) a wider set of cultural and ideological systems Consuming within a free market place is about personal choice … … access to goods is limited only by the consumer’s ability to pay for them … Consumer culture is based on a constant expansion of demand Western economy is fuelled by insatiable desire to produce more wealth, acquire more power and consume more goods Tracey Emin I’ve got it all 2000 Consuming Signs Consumption becomes the leading device through which individuals construct their identities Cultural Consumption as Manipulation? If consuming requires making individual choices … Is consumption an expression of personal freedom and individualism? …. Or is it a manipulation of needs and wants by dominant institutions? Are we Passive or Active consumers? Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) The Frankfurt School The Culture Industry Adorno believed that consumption was being used as a vehicle for pacification, coercion and manipulation of the masses As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light of music [popular music], once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come. Theodor Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment 1947 A key feature of the culture industry’s products is standardisation coupled with a pseudo-individualisation The Culture Industry is a product of capitalism generates false needs. These needs work as a means of social control. This is because work under capitalism is dull and boring, leaving little energy or imagination for real escape The culture industry makes people aspire to the false fulfillment of wish dreams such as wealth, adventure, passion, love, power and sensationalism Problems with Adorno? Presumes consumer to be a ‘cultural dope’ a mindless victim of the consumer industry Imposes his own ‘elitist tastes’ on a culture he doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand (popular culture) Does not allow for any critical engagement or debate with cultural consumption … which brings us on to Baudrillard … “The fact that the worker performs acts of consumption in his own interest, and not to please the Capitalist, is something entirely irrelevant to the matter” Karl Marx ‘forced purchases based on inflicted desires’ R.J. Lane From production to consumption, from economic to social, from receiving to transmitting, from silence to communication, from passive to active consumption The Consumer Society: myths and structures Jean Baudrillard. 1970 “The circulation, purchase, sale, appropriation of differentiated goods and signs/objects today constitute our language, our code, the code by which the entire society communicates and converses” Veblen (1989) and Baudrillard (1972) Objects never exhaust themselves in the function they serve …….they take on their signification of prestige…they no longer ‘designate’ the world, but rather the being and social rank of their possessor For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. 1972 Active consumption • The consumer is using the goods to create and communicate a social identity, membership of one or more social groups. Thus products may be used to signify maleness as well as middle-classness. The consumer is also using the goods to signify a place relative to other social groups How active? • For Adorno, the consumer remains the passive participant in an authoritative commercial and social order, subject to the dictates of media and advertising, a recipient with minimal intervention in a prescribed set of practices • Baudrillard The Culture Industry “a window into the real world of the woman” Are we Passive or Active Consumers? Is consumption an expression of personal freedom and power? …. Or is it a manipulation of needs and wants by dominant institutions? Signs of resistance “commercial sites of intensified femininity” “So familiar are these that they enter our unconscious producing desires and pleasures …even when we might not want them to” “what is going on when oral sex and the quality of orgasm are the cover stories in magazines read by girls as young as thirteen” A better way of ‘doing’ sex education …magazines have broken the grip of clinical terminology “The readers of these magazines ..know far more about coercive sex, sexual exploitation, rape and incest than previous generations” Stevi Jackson – female sexuality continues to be organised around fashion beauty and personal appearance as if for male consumption Sassy An alternative feminism? “What they are rejecting is a particular image of the feminist which they associate either with an older generation or with a or with a stereotypically unfeminine image” By “doing gender” in an exaggerated and ironic way…(it can) give girls room to breathe; it gives them space to explore new emotional ground on their own terms Angela McRobbie. I “Female assertiveness, being in control and enjoying sex, are now recognised as entitlements” Irony and pastiche “There is an assumption that we are not so naïve as to imagine that these captions are not a parody of vulgar or downmarket literature” Or • A commodification of femininity which still views beauty and the thin body as the feminine ideal • Cynical marketing of a product which conceives of women as interested in little more than appearance, shopping, fame and sex • Establishing a damaging set of norms for young teenage girls • Making money on the basis that “sex sells” Are we Passive or Active Consumers? Is consumption an expression of personal freedom and power? …. Or is it a manipulation of needs and wants by dominant institutions?