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By Mehita Iqani (auth.)

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Extra info for Consumer Culture and the Media: Magazines in the Public Eye

Sample text

For Marx, the social meaning of commodities was the alienation of labour and the mutation of the aesthetic potential of the artefact into something abstracted from the intimacy of the human subject’s potential to produce and use objects. Marx viewed the commodity ‘as the antibook of the aesthetic object, a kind of artefact gone awry’ (Eagleton, 1990: 209). Critical views on the commodity therefore perceive it as a manifestation of manipulative capitalism; as a distortion of a previously pure utilitarian relationship between production and consumption.

Consumption has also been theorized as part of a semiotic system, ‘which secures the ordering of signs and the integration of the group: it is therefore both a morality (a system of ideological values) and a communication system, a structure of exchange’ (Baudrillard, 1970: 78). Although this view bears traces of the manipulationist position, it is countered by the acknowledgement of the ways in which subjects can use consumption to communicate. The practice of acquiring and displaying goods can be understood as a communicative practice – where conspicuous consumption allowed class hierarchies to be mediated through displays of good taste (Veblen, 1899).

As already discussed, material perspectives on commodities as a community of things are rooted in both Marxist and anthropological accounts of the significance of objects (their production and exchange) in human culture. Image-centric perspectives on commodities argue that their 24 Consumer Culture and the Media informational symbolic properties have displaced the significance of the material (as epitomized by the theories of Baudrillard, 1988). This is echoed by arguments rooted in Marxist aesthetics suggesting that lived experience has become consumed by an accumulation of images, or a ‘spectacle’ that distracts the masses from ‘the age of power’s totalitarian rule over the conditions of existence’ (Debord, 2004: 19; see also Haug, 1982, 1987).

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