I consume authentically, therefore I am

Another area in which Slavoj Žižek (see previous post) is interesting is his analysis of the “post-’68 spirit of capitalism”: the way in which the anti-capitalist protests of the 1960s have been assimilated and usurped by modern consumer capitalism, in particular in the change from a managerial and hierarchical approach to business to one which presents business and capitalism as “an egalitarian project”.

As he writes:

The new spirit of capitalism triumphantly recuperated the egalitarian and anti-hierarchical rhetoric of 1968, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organisations characteristic of both corporate capitalism and Really Existing Socialism – a new libertarian spirit epitomised by dressed-down “cool” capitalists such as Bill Gates and the founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (First as Tragedy, then as Farce, p.56)

This can be seen in how we behave as consumers, where:

…this new spirit is that of so-called “cultural capitalism”: we primarily buy commodities neither on account of their utility nor as status symbols; we buy them to get the experience provided by them, we consume them in order to make our lives pleasurable and meaningful. (p.52)

Hence consumption ceases to be about “keeping up with the Joneses”, but “the time of the authentic fulfilment of my true Self, of the sensuous play of experience, and of caring about others, through becoming involved in charity or ecology, etc.” This can be seen in how Starbucks markets itself (“you’re buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee”), Hilton ads telling us that travel “should also make us a better person”, and so on. Žižek continues:

Is this not also the reason we buy organic food? Who really believes that half-rotten and overpriced “organic” apples are really healthier than the non-organic varieties? The point is that, in buying them, we are not merely buying and consuming, we are simultaneously doing something meaningful, showing our capacity for care and our global awareness, participating in a collective project…

This of course links in with the topic of my previous post: in buying an Apple product (as opposed to an organic apple!), I believe myself to be expressing something of my “real Self” – the creative, cool Self to which Apple directs its products – which therefore exempts me from feeling implicated in, say, the working conditions of the people who manufactured the item or the environmental consequences of my consumption.

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2 Responses to I consume authentically, therefore I am

  1. The Scylding says:

    Hammer meet nail….

    I’ve been contemplating writing a post on these matters. A great revolution started around the early 70’s, and no it wasn’t THAT one. This insight supports what I’ve been thinking for some time.

  2. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Time for some “disciplinary terror”? Try again.

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