Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sam Mell Summary of Readings, Week 15

Klein – No Logo: Introduction

In the introduction to No Logo, Naomi Klein provides a brief history of the emergence of brand name marketing.  She pinpoints the rise of brand promotion in our economy to an important shift in the theory of corporate management.  Simply put, the transformation into a marketing economy was brought about by the idea that “successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products.”  It turns out that companies can do without the cost and complexity of manufacturing their own goods.  The obvious solution is to focus on the primary concern, to pitch the product to consumers.

Klein outlines the transformation of goods from local production to industrial mass-production, out of which brands emerged.  Mechanization necessitated branding by homogenizing mass-produced goods and products, as familiarity of brand names also came to advocate for the quality of products that were otherwise anonymously produced and packaged.  Brands came to epitomize the values that manufacturers wished to project into their products.  Companies realized that brand names carried enormous cultural capital in themselves, and this justified a steady rise in advertising spending.  However, there was a crisis in the 90s when premium brands began to lose business to their bargain equivalents.  It seemed that in times of economic hardship, people cared more about the product itself, which could be easily duplicated by no-name companies, than its brand name.

This is the situation out of which rose contemporary marketing.  Companies like Nike, Apple, and Starbucks are built exclusively around branding.  Every aspect of their corporate structure serves a set of cultural values geared toward selling their brand name.  Branding allowed companies to drive up prices and diversify their range of products.  In this model “the product always takes a back seat to the real product, the brand.”  Today, most brands will describe themselves as “not a product but a way of life, an attitude, a set of values, a look, an idea.”  Successful corporations today are marketing-oriented in nature, not production oriented.  This is a dramatic shift from the industrial economy critiqued by Marx, since the commodity is no longer the central concern.  The contemporary focus on marketing is more akin to DeBord’s spectacle.

Klein – “Patriarchy gets funky” from No Logo, chapter 5

Here, Klein focuses on the ways in which corporate marketing swallowed up the political controversy surrounding media representation of racial, sexual, and social identity.  She sets the scene in the late 80s, a time at which the politics of social equality were focused on media representation of minorities and alternative identities.  At first, the media and authority figures reacted strongly against accusations of political incorrectness.

However, corporations drew on issues of diversity and identity politics, seeing them as the key to a multitude of market niches, demographics waiting to be represented.  Nike sold racial awareness, MAC sold gender fluidity, etc.  Political radicals who had formerly thought they were instigating social revolution found that their ideas had only fueled the prevailing system.

Klein concludes that companies were able to accommodate cultural differences while remaining internally coherent by homogenizing the world’s needs and desires.  Enter the age of the global corporation.

Claire Bishop – Relational Aesthetics and Antagonism

In this article, Bishop criticizes artists whose work is based on interactivity with the viewer.  A prominent proponent of the movement, Nicolas Bourriaud, lays out a new realm of aesthetics that encompasses real human interaction (on the part of the viewer) and the social realities that it represents.  Bishop focuses on the artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, both of whom set up installations whose primary purpose is to outline a distinct social interaction between viewers.

While interactive work is novel in that it replaces detached opticality with intersubjective relations, Bourriaud’s analysis is inadequate in that it does not address this phenomenon with any distinct set of standards that would equip it with aesthetic value.  Bishop introduces the idea that democratic social structures are based on antagonisms that are never quite resolved.  Antagonism is the result of collisions between incomplete identities, which necessarily characterize the subject under Lacan’s definition.

Relational aesthetic judgments must be formulated with respect to the according realities of social interaction.  Bishop discusses two artists, Santiago Sierra and Thomas Hirschhorn, whose work highlights social antagonisms without resolving them via ‘microtopias,’ superficial notions of community evoked by the aforementioned artists.  Art that assuages reality by glossing over social divisions with shallow notions of community is dangerously akin to entertainment.  Even in the sphere of interactive performance and installation art, the goal remains to mirror and thus reveal deep, ubiquitous realities.

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