Liberation Theologies of a Consumer Society

…there used to be rather serious firewalls between the artist and the buying public – the gallery, the publisher. And technology demolishes that wall and basically says, self-promote or die. And that is a bad head for any sort of artist to be forced into.

Jonathan Franzen

If a number is so large that we have no way of measuring its magntiude, it might as well be infinity. If a number is non-zero, yet we cannot distinguish it from zero, it might as well be infinitesimal. How would we detect that a supposedly infinitesimal number is non-zero?

-Kalid’s Pages, Infinity Explanation

The boundaries between the serious and the frivolous have collapsed. We’re in the early post-revolutionary period now. As is standard in a post-revolutionary void, purges and infighting will occur repeatedly until the playing field stabilizes, only to break apart again over time.

Granted, the serious and the frivolous, high and low culture, were always categories defined by the reader and the strictures of power stacking the deck in order to make the most shining examples of the past falsely inflated to stand as the defining voices of their era. At the same time, this creates a textual void of power. As consumers of objects and texts, consumers with a voracity that easily dwarfs that of all other periods of human history, we cannot come to a shared text or a small enough number of shared texts so as to create social cohesion. The initial trauma to western civilization of discovering that there was no objective basis to claims of sovereignty over everything or even to the rightness of their accepted customs and beliefs or goals. The new worldliness, the signifier of sophistication, is the ability to consume and digest these texts more rapidly than the other people rapidly consuming and digesting these texts that produce themselves at a pace in which they can never be consumed.

Most US residents have not read The Bible. This is not a good or bad thing, just a sign times have changed. Before the time of the Protestant revolution, most Christians had not read the actual Bible. They were largely illiterate; there weren’t printing presses yet. The book stood as a thing imbued with mystical power for its rarity and social prestige; like the ultra-rich it had agents meant to propagate its public image and through their lens and careful custody it did weekly press conferences. Its power was, as rare book collectors know when they seek first editions, the power of the book itself as a mystical talisman, as an aura.

Still, a culture deterritorialized from their geographic space must find a shared text as a bedrock. Sometimes this is The Bible, sometimes this is The Simpsons. Sometimes its both. Texts separate themselves in the social eye into genres and traditions in order to confine them into serving as glue for a community hoping to gather together commentary on them.

The responsibility of the consumer in a market society is two-fold: 1) The consumer must use up the products produced, 2) The consumer must provide the person at the point of exchange with expanded value over his materials. The consumer frequently takes their duties quite solemnly; we don’t usually recognize this because part of their duty is to seem to have fun. It’s usually a very strained fun unless it can push itself into the realm of shared hysteria.

The perfect balance between their consuming things and their satisfying the theatrical trappings of their desired self is desired. Confidence often wanes. Xanadu moments are had wherein the consumer looks around and thinks “What’ll I ever do with all this stuff?” This confidence has to be reinvigorated.

The recent Ashley Madison hack/leak is another especially damaging blow that will shape the consumers’ confidence; the users paid for the privilege of complete erasure and were embarrassingly left exposed. All failed transactions create aftershocks in customers who need to be reassured that the project of their being wooed by products was not in fact a giant waste. When the product is trust itself, this takes on an almost allegorical dimension.


I wrote a short story about the above screenshot in the form of a press release for a non-existent podcast.

GSC GRADUATES START SELF-HELP PODCAST

Commercials got you down? Have you and TV lost that spark in the bedroom? Don’t worry, a new self-help podcast is here to the rescue and taking the net by storm.

Jenny Weaver and Tom Clapton met in college. “We were in the Korean Christian Fellowship together and we really bonded there because we were the only two people in the club who weren’t Korean.” Together they discussed a shared phobia that had made them hesitant to go to the supermarket.

“Well, we watch all these commercials for cleaning products and baked goods and snacks and microwave dinners and they look so amazing. But then you go to the store and buy them and they never live up to the commercials.”

Weaver in particular was disturbed. “There were trust issues. I just didn’t think I could handle being betrayed like that again.” Together they founded the Commercial Therapy Institute. The institute studies the strains and turbulences in peoples’ relationship with their televisions. The Institute also offers many treatment plans and workshops. “We do a lot of experimental talk therapies, like…we offer a workshop where everyone in the group watches TV together and we lead them in chanting ‘I can go out again. I am not afraid. It will be even better than the commercials.'”

The duo saw a lot of potential in this radical new field of therapy. They decided to start a podcast to promote their work. “On the show,” says Clapton, “We do some of the talk therapy techniques we use in our clinic, but we also give news in the beginning about what’s happening in the field. It’s a lot of fun.” Their podcast updates every Monday and can be downloaded on Itunes. -Terry Bull (Associate Editor, Generic State College Tribune)

The actual fully liberated consumer of course cannot exist. There can only be more and more sophisticated ways of digesting the data and increasingly more aggressive attempts to expand it. There is an economy of information; the larger the content market glut the less likely the possibility of humans corralling it all to their purposes. But it can be tried.

We live in the media environment now and desire control over it.

…if you give a mouse a cookie…

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