Thursday, April 14, 2005

Summary of Baudrillard's conclusion of 'The Consumer society'

...the main inspiration for Harvey seems to come from Baudrillard and from his quite pessimistic approach to consumer society. The centre of Baudrillard analysis in fact starts from the premise that postmodern consumers form their ‘identity’ following the ‘imposed’ models of the economic system especially those proposed by advertising. Viewed from this perspective, the narcissism of the individual is considered then just the refraction, or better, the negation of a real enjoyment of singularity (idem, 1998). On this escort, the so called fun morality and the invitation to indulge himself/herself (because pleasing oneself one is likely to please others) push consumers only to ‘consume’ a relation mediated primarily by signs. The obvious result is that everyone finds his or her own personality in living up to these models (idem, 1998, 96). The role of advertising is therefore considered pivotal in so far as it helps promoting these models by creating myths which are neither true nor false : advertising is thus considered a prophetic language as it presupposes no anterior truth promoting essentially hope instead of learning and understanding. This tautological mode of communication helps eliminating, according to Baudrillard, both meaning and proof from the exchanged messages (between the market and consumers) and as a result, everywhere it is the myth which finds its event, by means of a production of speech which is industrialized on the same basis as the production of material goods.

Reality is no longer anything but the model speaking itself. So it is with magical formulas, so it is with simulations and so also with advertising which, among other styles of discourse, plays – for preference- on the tautology. Everything in that discourse is a ‘metaphor’ for one and the same thing: the brand. The expressions ‘a better beer’ (than what?), ‘Lucky Strike, a toasted cigarette’ (of course, it`s toasted; they are all!) merely refer back to a spiral of self-evidence (idem, 1998, 128).

The myth of consumption is recalled by Baudrillard in the story of the ‘Student of Prague’, an old silent movie from the 1930s. The story is rather eloquent: it is about a poor student who whishes for a more prosperous life and that, thanks to the encounter with the Devil, eventually finds the woman of his dreams. But the woman, being rich, is beyond his grasp and brooding on his ambitions and dissatisfaction, the student decides to sell his image to the Devil exchanging it with gold. From that moment on, the student enjoys success after success, but then he realizes that his own image is frequenting the same circles and is following him around without letting him rest. It is the image that the Devil has revived and put into circulation. After many vicissitudes the image does not give in and continues to hound the student eventually ending up with killing a person as though to be avenged for having been sold. The student’s existence has become thus impossible and to put an end to all, he settles on the plan of killing the image. One day, passing in front of the mirror in his room, the student fires at it and the image vanishes into air. Unfortunately however, once the mirror is crashed the student dies, for by killing his image, he has killed himself. The only consolation before the death comes from seeing his real self again through a fragment of the mirror: his normal likeness is restored before he dies.

Baudrillard sees the story as a close representation of the consumer society. The relation between the self and the world is nowadays mediated by signs and images and in the case those images should be missing, then individuals can loose perspective on their selves and no identity would be possible any longer. Individuals become alienated. Nevertheless, the most peculiar aspect of this story lies in the fact that the image is sold, that it falls into the commodity sphere. That is to say that from the moment they are produced, our works and our acts fall out of our grasp and are objectivized: they fall into the Devil’s hands (idem, 1998, 188). In this story then, there is no second bargain, there is no way out but death. This is because, according to Baudrillard, the commodity logic has replaced every aspect of our life. It governs not only labour processes and material products, but the whole of culture, sexuality, and human relations, including even fantasies and individual drives (idem, 1998, 191). Everything is thus taken over by this logic in the sense that everything is spectacularized and orchestrated into images, signs, consumable models for the sole aim of profit. The conclusion reached by Baudrillard is thus quite apocalyptic to some extent: consumers never come face to face with his own needs, nor is he ever confronted with his own image. In other words, there is no meaning without reflection, and the worst aspect is that even the Devil has no more roles to play for our society is nowadays so affluent that one is given everything even without requesting it. The collective narcissism (a concept elaborated by Lipovetsky but also taken up by Baudrillard) is thus inducing society to merge itself into the image it represents of itself, to be convinced of itself in the way that advertising ends up convincing people of their bodies and the prestige values of those bodies (idem, 1998, 194). In the end, people end up with consuming a myth (the experience the so called ‘consumption of consumption’) as they are presented with tautological messages filled with what is 'already there'.


At 3:59 AM, Blogger mz said...

...and human relations, including even fantasies and individual drives (idem, 1998, 191).

May i now the bibliography of this? who is idem//?

Thank you.


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