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The Total-Corporate State May Have Arrived
June 6, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Rob Horning has a wide-ranging and insightful essay up at n+1 that seeks connections between three apparently disparate phenomena: global fast-fashion retailers with dubious labor practices like H&M and Forever 21; self-presentation on social media web sites; and neoliberal capitalism's new demands for workers to embrace precarity by endlessly reinventing their identities.

Fast fashion retail:
We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item. We work in lieu of advertisers to reconfigure trends and remix signifiers, generating new and valuable meanings for goods. The more new clothes come in, the more creative we can be.

Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market...  Fast fashion itself is perhaps best understood as a kind of social medium, a communication channel that the companies attempt to administer in order to extract regular profits.
To social media:
Facebook and other social-media companies have a similarly parasitic business model. They also appropriate the content and connections we generate as we recreate our identities within their proprietary systems, and then repurpose that data for marketers who hope to sell tokens of that identity back to us. Much as fast-fashion companies are routinely accused of pirating designs, Facebook continually oversteps once sacrosanct norms of privacy, opting users in to data-divulging mechanisms by default and backpedaling only when confronted with public outcry. It offers a space akin to the fast-fashion retailer’s changing room for the ritual staging of the self, inviting users to seize upon “stylistic elements” from wherever they can be grabbed. We become involuntary bricoleurs, scrambling to cobble together an ad hoc identity from whatever memes happen to be relevant at the time.
To neoliberalism:
1990s management discourse... depicted precarity as a kind of liberation, with workers as “free agents” cut loose from burdensome corporate bureaucracy. The personal brand was part of that ideological offensive: in 1997, management guru Tom Peters wrote the definitive treatise on the concept for Fast Company: “The Brand Called You,” which advises, “You’re not a worker . . . You are not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description. Starting today you are a brand”. Self-branding is “inescapable,” Peters claims, so he encourages us to ask ourselves, “What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about?” and “What do I do that I am most proud of?” and then promptly put these achievements up for sale, inviting capitalists to exploit them.
And the result:
Facebook... inextricably intertwines marketing with selfhood, so that having a self becomes an inherently commercial operation. Somehow, while we were optimizing our Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds, building up our LinkedIn contacts and building out Farmville empires, the total-corporate state may have arrived without our really having noticed it.
posted by AlsoMike (59 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a corollary to this kind of extreme branding we see the rise of Anonymous, a mechanistic void (onion routers, digital currency etc) that subsumes identity completely. The harder the push is towards a complete branding, the harder the reflexive response will be towards the complete dissolution of identity.
posted by kuatto at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The harder the push is towards a complete branding, the harder the reflexive response will be towards the complete dissolution of identity.

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā!
posted by theodolite at 3:03 PM on June 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


From TFA:
As the fast in fast fashion implies, the companies’ comparative advantage lies in speed, not brand recognition, garment durability, or reputable design. They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly.
I will say that I've noticed that the [younger skewing] 'targeted' clothing stores definitely do seem to turnover styles far, far faster than the seasonal approach of old. There is an H&M near where I live and I don't think I've ever seen that store look the same twice in regard to what they have available (not just display, but merchandise in general).
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:05 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is depressing shit.
And I feel very sorry for my children to have to live in such a cesspool.
That's all I got.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:14 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hasn't this been going on ever since we left the farm for the big city? It's the same thing, only faster.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:18 PM on June 6, 2011


I need to think this over a little bit more, because it so perfectly captures what high school/college society has been like for the last four years that I can't yet respond to it meaningfully.

But I think it's dead-on. Thank you for posting this.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2011


I love the bit in M.T. Anderson's FEED--set in a near-future where everyone has an ad-supported Internet neural implant--where teenage girls are always slipping away to do their hair because hairstyles changed so quickly.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's horrible when you have to actually think about where you can buy clothes and not be exploiting people. It's not just horrible, it's fucking depressing. The world sucks.
posted by Elmore at 3:26 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think the author's right, though, in grouping Uniqlo in with Forever 21 and H&M and Zara. Uniqlo's got some of that crowd, yeah, but their corporate philosophy's an interesting, weird thing of its own.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:43 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but when I see clothing from H&M all I see is stuff that is no larger than size "Large" for men (I suspect the same for women, top size of what... a 6?), and cheaply made shit that falls apart in weeks. The only people I know of that wear their crap constantly have new wardrobes, mainly due to the lack of durability. Sure, it's fashionable, but it rarely has style.

The other half is that these stores have existed forever. There have been stores churning out shit since snake-oil salesmen got their start. The only difference is that instead of generating shit from the inside, they crowd-source their shit. Polish that turd all you want, eventually people will notice that you are making terrible clothing and they have to spend triple the money to keep up with the fashions. This will all pass.

Shit.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:44 PM on June 6, 2011


This will all pass.

And quickly, probably.
posted by notyou at 3:46 PM on June 6, 2011


As Dr. Victor Ling told us all at Whistler this weekend, "Don't tell me what's good now, tell me what will last forever."
posted by Slackermagee at 3:49 PM on June 6, 2011


and neoliberal capitalism's new demands for workers to embrace precarity by endlessly reinventing their identities.

Neoliberalism is an adjective. It cannot demand anything. It is a word used to describe a particular set of economic relations. Since those relations are not alive, they cannot demand anything.

It is better to say that the management of these chain stores are is demanding this of their workers.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:50 PM on June 6, 2011


It is better to say that the management of these chain stores are is demanding this of their workers.

It is better to proof when requesting certainty of others.

It is better to say that the management of these chain stores is demanding this of their workers.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:52 PM on June 6, 2011


Neoliberalism is a noun, just like freedom and fear are.

And social and economic relations make all sorts of demands upon us; we may in fact be free to resist them although it seems that frequently we are too fearful to do so.
posted by notyou at 4:01 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This would be a great Adam Curtis doc.
posted by ao4047 at 4:04 PM on June 6, 2011


I read that first line as "Rob Horning has a hand-wringing and insightful essay".

Yeah, I think that misreading is closer to the truth.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:04 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think that misreading is closer to the truth.

I read his blog, Marginal Utility. He's a bit of a one trick pony. If his toaster burned his toast, he'd blame on the capitalist drive for obsolescence, it's consumerist drive making slightly imperfect toasters that almost, but not quite make toast all the time, necessitating constant repurchasing of appliances.

Which is some ways, is not that far from the truth, but he tries to align everything with it. He sees the grasp of neo-liberalism in a cup of yogurt.
posted by zabuni at 4:17 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


As if Orbach's hadn't made a ton of money on being the home of the "line for line" copy. Nothing new. I don't mind the essay, but his knowledge of fashion history is minimal.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:18 PM on June 6, 2011


The Australian program Hungry Beast just did a neat piece on Zara.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:27 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will say that I've noticed that the [younger skewing] 'targeted' clothing stores definitely do seem to turnover styles far, far faster than the seasonal approach of old.

See, that's the thing—I like it when I see stores starting to embrace the just-in-time way of operating, when I walk in somewhere and get the sense that "Hey, this stuff is like my dream incarnation of what's on the Internet—and I can buy it in realtime, right here, right now!" After doing a large part of my shopping for everything other than food online for quite some time (and most of my clothing shopping at thrift stores), visiting normal brick-and-mortar chain stores again toward the end of my wedding planning (when even Amazon Prime couldn't get some things here fast enough) was a bit disconcerting. What do you mean, no one carries nice white sandals before Memorial Day?

And even the performance of insanely gigantic online stores like Endless and Zappos was a bit disconcerting in that respect. Inasmuch as fast fashion connects to the industrial complex and social networking in some unfortunate ways, I can't help cheering the progress we're making toward rapid prototyping becoming a reality in fashion. I'm used to being able to buy just about anything I want asynchronously in the global online marketplace, with little regard to seasonality, but when it comes to fashion, you can see that most retailers just aren't there yet. I understand that rapid prototyping and production has its costs—I have friends who used to build architectural models, for instance, who were put out of work by exactly that—but that seems to be the way things are going. So I kind of just wish the future would hurry up and get here already.
posted by limeonaire at 4:30 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item.

This is pretty interesting, since I'm the least fashionable person imaginable and I still imbue my boring outfits with meaning, from purple sneakers to blue jeans and white t-shirts.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:33 PM on June 6, 2011


There's a new book out on the changes in the fashion industry, was recently profiled in the guardian but I can't find it there any more, this seems to be one of the few places hosting the profile now. The book is more focussed on the social justice and sustainability issues of accelerated production and turnover, but also has some nice insights into the changing attitudes and behaviours of consumers.

And the stellar fiscal achievements of fast fashion took place at a time when clothing prices were actually falling. In July 2001 sales of clothing and footwear in the UK were up on the previous year by 12%, the highest annual rate of growth since the mid-1970s. But in real terms the price of clothes had fallen dramatically. This is the point at which the dark side of the fast-fashion alchemy kicks in. Between 1996 and 2000 clothing prices fell each year, and in the epoch-defining year of high sales, 2001, they fell by 6%. In the four years from 2003 to 2007 average prices in retail fashion fell by 10%. We were simply spending less and buying more.

...

As consumers, we rapidly changed our priorities. Long-standing skills of buying clothing, such as assessing quality or looking at labels, were junked in favour of getting our hands on what was new as we adjusted to the thrill of swapping two wardrobe seasons a year for upwards of 20.

posted by doobiedoo at 4:36 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


as for the self-branding and social netwirling stuff, this site gets it. This is my life:
This has the effect of allowing everything we do to seem either significant or irrelevant, depending on which view suits our needs. The online repository has gradually become the privileged site of the self, the authorized version that redeems the frustration and desperation incipient with the provisionality of work life, that corrects the errors and discourtesies we commit in our confrontations with the physical world.

Or am I just saying that because 'guy who spends too much time on Facebook' is part of my MeFi brand?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:38 PM on June 6, 2011


I love the bit in M.T. Anderson's FEED--set in a near-future where everyone has an ad-supported Internet neural implant--where teenage girls are always slipping away to do their hair because hairstyles changed so quickly.

Oh man, yes. That book had some crazy good timing. Right when I put it down, it struck me as completely, implausibly over-the-top satire. And then little bits of it started inching closer and closer to coming true. (Still no fashionable lesions, though — right?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2011


Still no fashionable lesions, though — right?

Just you wait, someone will try to profit off of making pimples look like beauty marks any second now. Aaaaany second.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:54 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Don't tell me what's good now, tell me what will last forever."

Nothing. The heat death of the universe is on its way.

This thing, all things devours
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers,
Gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard bones to meal,
Slays king, ruins town, and beats high mountain down.


In the end time says "it was" about everything and writes it on our gravestones. However, here, now, in the moment, some things are the way we see them and the way we choose them to be. "It was...it was as I willed it." We can choose beauty, and not even the 2012 Mayan apocalypse can wipe that moment out of the history of the universe. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Think of that thing your significant other used to wear when you first started dating. Yes, that one. Can you remember the texture of it, how it caught the light, how it hung on and clung to his/her body as it was then? It was nothing fashionable but it was his/hers. He/she trashed it long ago and his/her sense of style has long since moved on, but the beauty of that scrap of cloth will survive any change of style and fashion. Nothing can make it so's the beauty wasn't so.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:32 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clothes are what you do in them. I bought a shitty h&m dress shirt years ago and it's still kicking. I have a pair of jeans with a hole from when I chainsawed a hole through my leg. It's now a pair of shorts. Turning fast fashion into a cardboard demon seems backwards.

The problem isn't h&m, it's us. We throw shit out before it's broken because we're insecure. It's that simple.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 5:34 PM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


the rise of Anonymous, a mechanistic void (onion routers, digital currency etc) that subsumes identity completely

I wouldn't lump the Anonymous, Tor, and bitcoin communities together as one entity like that. There is some overlap, it's marginal. More importantly, each community has different motivation for its use of anonymity.
posted by tylermoody at 5:36 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't tell me what's good now, tell me what will last forever.

Jeans, t-shirt, Converse/vans. I'll never be fashionable but I'll never be horribly unfashionable.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:37 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, it's fashionable, but it rarely has style.

Clearly, these sheeples are shopping at the wrong place. Style cannot be purchased at fast-fashion chain stores! It can only be purchased over thereaways.

-

That aside, I felt that the Horning was on to something with his description of the fast fasion business model as one that does away with creativity on the designer's part by supplying the user with the raw and ever-changing materials to "mash up" fashion. There is certainly a trend toward this form of expression in art and music - it's not just a horrible soul destroying consumerism thing. But then he wanted to say that actually, its the rapid throughput of their production and distribution network that when hooked-up to the pleasure nerve of the consuming populace via some sort of social-media mind control ray turns us all into fashion rats smacking the pleasure button until we suffocate under a pile of barely worn and horribly outdated velveteen jackets etc. from H&M. Do people actually buy more clothes than they did when GAP filled this niche? Do clothes wear out faster than they did 5 years ago?* These are numeric comparisons I don't see anywhere, but without which the hand-waving is unnecessary.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 5:44 PM on June 6, 2011


Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that this piece is a transparent attempt to individualise social problems, and thus avoid questioning the environment that produces such outcomes, there is some interesting science behind executive function - what we might call making decisions - and it's true that making decisions is harder, and gets harder every decision we make. Here's the kicker, it doesn't matter if the decision is a big one or small one; they are all exhausting.

Tough Choices: How making decisions tires your brain. The takeout: Don't make important decisions at the end of the day. Do them straight after breakfast!
posted by smoke at 6:01 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doh, completely wrong thread! Flagged.
posted by smoke at 6:02 PM on June 6, 2011


The sooner people toss out their newly unfashionable wardrobes, the sooner I score neat secondhand clothes.
posted by pernoctalian at 6:30 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your average Goodwill or Salvation Army (well, in a major metro area where many people dispose of their clothes regularly) offers the same constantly churning selection, and you don't need to feel bad about supporting corporate profits! Of course, if the disposable shoppers were to stop doing what they do, stop buying retail and throwing it away after a short time, the thrift shop selection would dry up too.

For what it's worth, I don't buy Forever 21, H&M, or Zara in thrift stores because it tends to be wrecked: pulled and puckered seams. I'm not sure if a whole cohort of people never learned how to do laundry, or if the stuff is that cheap. I find clothes from five to ten years ago tends to be better made and has held up better.

However, clothing from the '60s and '70s that ends up at SA and Goodwill seems just as badly made, despite being made by union workers (see the ILGWU label); probably made for the equivalent of Forever 21, and in the '70s during a recession.
posted by bad grammar at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting piece. Probably not going to stop me from using Facebook to post stuff that I like, and funny jokes to my news feed. Also: I've had a button-up from H&M that I've been using as a work uniform for around a year and a half now (wearing it at least twice a week and washing it a regular basis) and it's still kicking and hasn't faded. H&M sells some stuff that is timeless, and that stuff is pretty decent for the price.

I'm not sure that this stuff is the result of some cabal of neoliberalist big-wigs, as the author seems to be suggesting, but rather just the way of the world as it accelerates more and more. The real take-away is that this seems to be the result of increased ability to accurately and rapidly accrue and process large bodies of data. H&M can stay up-to-the-minute on fashion trends, Facebook can tailor your online experience to get you to keep submitting personal advertising data and hooking your friends like-wise into obsessively using the site, and the people at the head of monstrous corporate entities can reliably make hiring, firing, and supply chain decisions that maximize profits without much care for the ground truth of the worker.

I'd like to believe that there're also some positives mixed in with our rapidly accelerating, data driven culture, however.
posted by codacorolla at 6:54 PM on June 6, 2011



It's an interesting piece. Probably not going to stop me from using Facebook to post stuff that I like, and funny jokes to my news feed. Also: I've had a button-up from H&M that I've been using as a work uniform for around a year and a half now (wearing it at least twice a week and washing it a regular basis) and it's still kicking and hasn't faded. H&M sells some stuff that is timeless, and that stuff is pretty decent for the price.


I don't see the things the article is talking about as a bad thing. They're just the way life is. I like understanding them better, but there's no reason to stop doing them.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:03 PM on June 6, 2011


thsmchnekllsfascists: " The problem isn't h&m, it's us. We throw shit out before it's broken because we're insecure. It's that simple."

Style's a funny thing. The more you flip through a blog like The Sartorialist, the more you realize how looking good can look totally different from person to person and from situation to situation. There are definitely some rules, sure: people look better when their clothes fit, or when they're not layered with too many clashing colors or patterns. Still, what few rules there are all point to the same principle: we look best when we've invested thought into what face we want to show the world.

I realized some of this when I recognized that I'm attracted to women with a range of styles: simple to complex, traditionally masculine to traditionally feminine, quiet to loud. What I'm attracted to is the intentionality, which is a nice proxy for conscientiousness and personality development. The same can be said for the best ways to use Facebook, or the best ways to develop a "personal brand," or the best way to inhabit a capitalist culture at all. If we're very choosy about what we do, we can do and be amazing things. If we allow ourselves to get sold a personality, that's when it feels cheap, and that's when the lizard brain kicks in and pushes us to consume more and change more often.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do people actually buy more clothes than they did when GAP filled this niche? Do clothes wear out faster than they did 5 years ago?* These are numeric comparisons I don't see anywhere, but without which the hand-waving is unnecessary.

Sorry to self link, but Yes!

I thought that Horner's argument about the volume and turnover of clothes as a social medium was reminiscent of Jodi Dean's communicative capitalism

In the United States today there is a major disconnect between politics circulating as content and "official" politics. Today, the circulation of content in the dense, intensive networks of global communications relieves top-level actors (corporate, institutional and governmental) from the obligation to respond. Rather than responding to messages sent by activists and critics, they counter with their own contributions to the circulating flow of communications, hoping that sufficient volume (whether in terms of number of contributions or the spectacular nature of a contribution) will give their contributions dominance or stickiness.

Except how would this analogy work, or is it a terrible analogy? Is the catwalk meant to be the 'authentic' fashion and the high street merely content? Or perhaps big retailers are almost like media companies, it didn't matter what they designed, the only thing that mattered was that they kept on making noise with their name on it. And whilst it might be good for you the consumer to get raw noise to play with, every time you turned that noise into a signal - fished some personality out of a t shirt or jeans - it was a signal with the retailer's name on it. Your self expression re-enchants market exchange.

How did this happen? By seeming to mitigate the problems that neoliberalism creates by shifting economic risk onto workers, social media has been able to colonize the collective consciousness. Facebook, fast fashion, and the like provide new mechanisms of solace, quantifying our connections and influence (and thereby making them more economically useful to us) while enhancing the compensations of consumerism by making it seem more productive, more self-revelatory.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:12 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly.


I tell you what; I would pay a lot if there was such a thing as a site where I could upload a picture of a dress I want, (or even pick one from styles available, I suppose), pick the fabric and color, upload my measurements, and have a dress made and sent to me.

Yes, there are seamstresses. I've been a bridesmaid many times, usually the bride wanted custom made dresses. (I've given up on weddings until the bridezilla phase passes.) All of those dresses cost as much as an off the rack Versache and every single one of them was utter and absolute crap. (No doubt because the seamstress knew that the odds of any of us choosing to re-wear a beaded purple taffeta nightmare was pretty slim, but still, properly finished seams aren't too much to ask from a dress costing more than $500.)

If there were an online bespoke site that could really make what I want, when I want it, I would be a customer for life and would probably never shop anywhere else.
posted by dejah420 at 7:28 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see the things the article is talking about as a bad thing. They're just the way life is. I like understanding them better, but there's no reason to stop doing them.

Really? I took the idea of a total corporate state, as presented in the article, to be a negative thing. Especially given the context also discussed in the thread that this guy is pretty anti-capitalist.

I agree that this is the way of the world, and maybe bad, but not as bad as it's ever been (and with the potential to be better) but I also think the article was looking at it from a critical perspective.
posted by codacorolla at 7:34 PM on June 6, 2011


To me, the most interesting part about these new developments is how they appears as a response to anti-capitalist critiques of the industrial capitalist age of factory work, homogenization, monopolies, etc.

For example, the idea of individual self-expression came out of fears that capitalism was reducing us all to identical cogs in a machine. Uniqueness seemed to be threatened by the advent of mass production. Obviously in today's form of capitalism, that is no longer a problem, a fact that is celebrated in advertising and in the media. Consumer capitalism is, in large part driven by the ideal of self-expression, but why do we even think that is something important to do? Would this even exist without the help of the anti-capitalist critique?

Industrial capitalism was a bleak, inhuman place with no room for subjectivity, creativity, self-expression, etc. Today, it's much more horrifying: the production and expression of your personality is the raw material of global capitalism. Having humanized the system, we became embedded in it in even more frightening ways.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:35 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Industrial capitalism was a bleak, inhuman place with no room for subjectivity, creativity, self-expression, etc. Today, it's much more horrifying: the production and expression of your personality is the raw material of global capitalism. Having humanized the system, we became embedded in it in even more frightening ways.

On the other hand, I would argue, more able to subvert, change, and destroy it as well.
posted by codacorolla at 7:40 PM on June 6, 2011


I enjoyed this piece and thought it was insightful, but especially after reading the comments here i find myself wishing strongly that he had left aside the anti-capitalist tone. I think it weakened the piece. There are so few people out there just *describing* *reality* without feeling compelled to fit disparate pieces into a pre-arranged framework. Less truly is more.
posted by facetious at 7:49 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]



Really? I took the idea of a total corporate state, as presented in the article, to be a negative thing. Especially given the context also discussed in the thread that this guy is pretty anti-capitalist.


I make meaning from what I wear and what I consume. I create and maintain my personal brand on various social networking sites, including Metafilter. It can be annoying sometimes, but it's also my choice.

Personal branding marks a striking departure from the prevailing norms of even a decade ago, when such bald self-promotion as one typically encounters on Twitter and Facebook would have been in questionable taste, and the idea of explicitly leveraging one’s network of friends in order to maximize one’s notoriety would have seemed preposterously alienating.

I encounter this attitude sometimes. Australians call it 'Tall Poppy Syndrome'. Nick Cave was mocked for wanting to have a statue built in his hometown. Wellington, NZ, stopped building a 'Wellywood' statue after protests. I find THAT attitude to be silly and old-fashioned, to be honest. Why NOT crow about your achievements? Why not celebrate your own awesomeness? Why not build your own epics out of every day life?

I've found that even a few minutes browsing the used game bins at EB works as quick retail therapy, even if I don't buy anything. A pleasent afternoon at the thrift store is even better.

In social media, amid all the high school and college friends reconnecting, and the eager meme adoption and trend tracking, and the reawakening sense that the bands and books and clothes we like are of critical importance to the rest of the world, the great consumer promise of a return to the days of youth is perpetually reborn.

What's wrong with this?

I sense something wrong with it, and I'm glad the essay helps me explain myself, but again I don't see it as inherently bad. Better than working in the coal mines.

Though I wish more of my FB friends had Liked this link...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:03 PM on June 6, 2011


On the other hand, I would argue, more able to subvert, change, and destroy it as well.
I'd be (genuinely) interested in hearing how you think that's so, codacorolla.
My sense is that in the struggle for self-expression and more complete individuality, intertwined with a rejection of the totalising tendencies of capital we also jettisoned the social solidarities that similarly placed limits on us as individuals but were the glue in the mass movements of the past that offered the only substantial challenge to the overall dynamic.
I can't see anything emerging (as yet) from the fragments that can keep pace with the global spread and shared imperatives of capital (and conversely, in the Arab Spring, some further confirmation that what resistance remains will occur at the margins where social atomisation is less advanced). Thatcher's famous neoliberal rallying cry was 'There is no alternative'; as things stand not only does she appear to have been right insofar as no-one's offering one, the underlying premises of neoliberal ideology are barely being challenged and have become more hegemonic than ever even as economic events have shown what a deadly utopian fantasy they represent even where sincere.
posted by Abiezer at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have to think about it for a little bit and get back to you to say for sure, but I'll say that we're just at the start of massively networked social environments, and it's hard to say what the end position of them will be. I'm not saying that the results will be ultimately good or bad, but rather that we're not slouching inevitably towards some dystopia like in Feed, as people are mentioning up-thread.
posted by codacorolla at 8:33 PM on June 6, 2011


No, I demand a fully fleshed-out programme with associated manifesto and posters in the next five minutes! (arf)
Thanks -- look forward to your thoughts as I'm sure you're right about a counter-movement taking shape. Being a pessimist because, boiling my concerns down, I think it's that any such is going to have its work cut out to challenge the scale and reach and even pace of change of those other dynamics (and as it stands the networking seems to a great extent dependent on what it seeks to replace. New society from the shell of the old, maybe?)
posted by Abiezer at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2011


Why does it need to be 'subverted, changed, or destroyed'?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2011


My sense is that in the struggle for self-expression and more complete individuality, intertwined with a rejection of the totalising tendencies of capital we also jettisoned the social solidarities that similarly placed limits on us as individuals but were the glue in the mass movements of the past that offered the only substantial challenge to the overall dynamic.
I can't see anything emerging (as yet) from the fragments that can keep pace with the global spread and shared imperatives of capital (and conversely, in the Arab Spring, some further confirmation that what resistance remains will occur at the margins where social atomisation is less advanced).


WTF are you going on about?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:52 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


WTF are you going on about?
Long course of modernity, innit.
posted by Abiezer at 8:55 PM on June 6, 2011


dejah420 -- have you tried eshakti?
posted by jrochest at 10:50 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article to me seems to urge us to adopt some kind of quest for authenticity. But at the same time, that is what it decries as commodification.

I suggest that we focus on actual achievable political goals (healthcare, income equality), vice self-help and authenticity. If people want to enjoy buying clothes at Forever 21 and a night out at the club listening to not-terribly cutting edge dance music, and document it on Facebook, I'm okay with that. I'm more interested in whether they are involved in actually pressing for achievable political goals.
posted by wuwei at 11:02 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow that article was fascinating. Thanks for posting.

Wuwei: I think the argument is that these activities are intimately linked with our priorities and our political and economic outlook. [Neoliberal] Capitalism pushes us to increasingly define ourselves (and thus our goals) through a framework of commodified (and thus corporate-capital-friendly) instruments. We have to continuously curate and maintain our identity and are adrift on a "sea" of consumerism that leaves us unable to articulate our interests outside of commercialized spaces. (the whole citizen vs consumer idea)

So the point is that to some degree, politics and authenticity/commodification overlap. The relatively overt commercial-style branding of the Obama campaign comes to mind. To what extent did the that branding diminish the importance of programmatic policies?

Maybe this is all a bit of a stretch; in any case I'm not sure I agree with everything I've tried to explain. Neat ideas, though.
posted by ropeladder at 6:45 AM on June 7, 2011



The greatest critique of social media, shopping, constant rebranding, etc. is that he people who run it, i.e. the capitalists, do not participate in it at all. The people who own and run Google do not blog and tweet incessantly. Zuckerberg does not have a personal Facebook page where he takes pics of parties and posts them up.

The man who who runs Forever 21, Do Won (Don) Chang, does not obsess over creating his personal fashion brand. He, and his family who run the company with him, are by all accounts a traditional, conservative Korean family. When he first emigrated to America, he held a number of jobs, one of them was as a janitor. On his Facebook page, he identifies himself as a devoted Christian, and includes some quotes from scripture.

But none of that ethic, that worldview, is on display is his commercial creation. That outlook has enabled him to make sacrifices in his live, survive hardship, and build something massively successful. Instead his store promotes a lifestyle and a ravenous paranoid consumer mindset the he himself doesn't believe in and would instill in his children.

Consumerism is a carny hustle. A game. Ask yourself why it is that by and large the people who run the game don't play the game. Ask yourself who is really winning the game.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:25 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If people want to enjoy buying clothes at Forever 21 and a night out at the club listening to not-terribly cutting edge dance music, and document it on Facebook, I'm okay with that. I'm more interested in whether they are involved in actually pressing for achievable political goals.

You can't have the former and the latter. Forever 21 is only possible in the world where those political goals have not been achieved. The reason they haven't is that at the margin, people are happy with them remaining unachieved as long as places like Forever 21 (and Hollister, and the Apple stores, etc) exist. The entities are only possible because exploitation of workers and consumers alike is acceptable. Attacking the exploitation in any serious way means attacking the entities that depend on it.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:30 AM on June 7, 2011


It's interesting—what kind of a role will stores like this play when 3D printing like this enables people to print any item of clothing from their own homes? Will it be like Second Life, where there's an active trade in $2 clothing "designs"?
posted by limeonaire at 12:35 PM on June 7, 2011


Pastabagel,

My point is that in _today's_ world, Forever 21, mainstream club remixes and Facebook are around. I don't think it's very practical to try to get people to eschew these things and try to purify their lives until they are living authentically. That mentality is, to paraphrase Adam Curtis, a trap. Focusing on lifestyle issues is THE problem with the political left in the US, it's self-involved, neurotic bullshit that helps no one. All the artisanal stuff that people consume to show that they aren't involved in planned-obsolescence consumerism becomes another form of conspicuous consumption. The consumer of the artisanal good is trying to signal other people regarding his or her moral probity. It just becomes a status marker for another kind of sub-group. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I see it all the time. In small doses, consumerism and identity building are probably unavoidable, it's the basic condition of humanity.

The problem is that the focus on practicing the "proper" kind of consumption. Screw that. Let's focus on how to be citizens and what we should be doing to directly remedy the dramatic economic inequalities and environmental destruction that threatens us all.
posted by wuwei at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can't have the former and the latter. Forever 21 is only possible in the world where those political goals have not been achieved. The reason they haven't is that at the margin, people are happy with them remaining unachieved as long as places like Forever 21 (and Hollister, and the Apple stores, etc) exist. The entities are only possible because exploitation of workers and consumers alike is acceptable. Attacking the exploitation in any serious way means attacking the entities that depend on it.

Wait, what? We've got government healthcare in Australia, Britain, etc. We also have Facebook, Zara (the Aussie store opening was MASSIVE), and all that other stuff.

Screw that. Let's focus on how to be citizens and what we should be doing to directly remedy the dramatic economic inequalities and environmental destruction that threatens us all.

Eh we're going to die before the environmental destruction catches up to us. Facebook will probably have a more immediate impact on my life.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:29 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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