Commodity Fetishism and Its Impact on Contemporary Society and Culture

Topics: Commodity fetishism, Karl Marx, Fetishism Pages: 5 (1697 words) Published: April 12, 2011
What is commodity fetishism as defined by cultural and media theorists? Identify and analyse three images that demonstrate the way commodity fetishism is impacting on contemporary society and culture.

“Commodities are defined as things that are bought and sold in a social system of exchange.” (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009, p. 279 )”The concept of commodity culture is intricately allied with the idea that we construct our identities through the consumer products that inhabit our lives” (Sturken & Cartwright 2009, p. 279) The idea of a commodity culture has been described by media theorist Stuart Ewen as a commodity self. He believes that we are constructed through our relationship with and use of commodities in our everyday lives. Karl Marx believes that a fetish is an ordinary object which has been given a type of mystical power that consequently makes it more valuable within a consumer society. This essay will explain the concept of commodity fetishism through looking at the theorist Karl Marx and also through looking at the three different images provided. It is clear that in contemporary society, as consumers we only ever consider the object we are purchasing and we do not consider or think about where it comes from or who made it. For Marx, commodity fetishism is the tendency of people to see the product of their labour in terms of relationships between things, rather than social relationships between people. In other words, people view the commodities only in terms of the characteristics of the final product while the process through which it was created remains obscured and unconsidered. According to Marx, people value objects that they can use. Commodity fetishism tends to replace the inter-human relationships with relationships between humans and objects. Frankfurt school theorists saw the escalating role of commodities as a kind of ending for meaningful social interaction. “For these theorists commodities were “hollowed out” objects that propagated a loss of identity and eroded our sense of history.” (Kaplan 2006, p. 79) For instance, they believed that to think that a specific consumer item might make one’s life meaningful was to engage in a corruption of the truly valuable aspects of existence Karl Marx observed the fact that people were treating everyday objects as fetishists. Once a product is marketed and advertised it no longer has the same value. The value of the product is changed through the process of advertising. Marx believes that marketed products are given personality and value and this makes the product seem like something much more than it is. Marx also identifies that “one of the key concepts of commodity fetishism is that as consumers we are unable to see the processes and people behind the commodity” (Wernick 1991, p. 15) and that we do not stop and think about all the aspects of a product before purchasing it. It is through advertising that products gain personalities and become commodity fetishisms. Advertisers do not show the reality of the production of goods. They just show a picture of the product looking perfect and sometimes to add more interest a celebrity will be wearing the product which attracts consumers and they want the product themselves. Therefore it is clear that in contemporary society, as consumers we only ever consider the object we are purchasing and we do not consider or think about where it comes from or who made it. Image one is from an advertisement for Calvin Klein jeans. The jeans worn by the model in the advertisement would have been mass produced and sent around the world. However, consumers do not buy the jeans because they were mass produced; instead they are brought by consumers due to the brand and advertising created around this product. The consumer is given no information about who made the product or where it was made. The product is just attached to a logo and advertising which fill the “product with cultural meaning quite different from those of its...
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