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:
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.To social media:
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.
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.
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments