Monday, December 13, 2010

Bonus Post-Thomas Frank's "Commodify your Dissidence"

Within the eclectic essay “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent,” author Thomas Frank describes the appropriation of ideologies by capitalistic industry that once only ran in the vein of those who spoke out against consumerism. Throughout his text, there are details concerning the sides that either side encompassed in the past and the transformation of the business due to their incorporation of ideas that defined those who railed against capitalism. Specifics aside, within his essay one defining point of the entire argument was summed up in a quote stating, “any idea, deed, or image can become part of the sponsored world.” This assertion can be seen to be true in his examples such as the corporate industry’s use of ideas of individuality, once herald as slogans of dissidences and rebellion, to draw in consumers. The key argument of Frank’s seems to revolve around the apparent inertia of the one groups ideology while the other embraced it the others. The gap that was prevalent before between the two groups has closed due to the corporate industry adopting the ideologies of the anti-conformity movement to attract its members and establish a new standard of consumerism based on the notion that it can provide the individuality that a consumer wants, while on a grand scale, the industry is really giving out this individuality to many.
            This has usurped the countercultural in a way that Frank describes it as “harmless” now. How does this relate to the articles studied during this semester’s class? The base of movements rest in ideologies and whatever means are used; the end is the incorporation of a new ideology or the removal of an old one. The counterculture movement is a movement that decried the negativity found in the capitalistic industry, yet it has not evolved to face this changing industry, while the industry has implemented its accuser in a way that “subverts” the very people that were trying to subvert them. The lack of transformation in the counterculture has resulted in its newfound implementation as a cog in a corporate machine, a new point and method of sales. It is in essence dissidence commodified. At this point it should be clear that the next step for the counter movement would have to be to enact a new ideology or means of framing this corporate entity, rather than attacking just one aspect (for instance, conformity); attack its profit driven nature and the need for controlling corporate business models to prevent abuse. The newfound commodity of individuality is not negative in itself, but the apparent yet subtle overtones of the evil nature of the corporate industry is not lacking in Frank’s essay. Yet in the end, whatever product that an industry provides is limited to the demands of its consumers, therefore it caters to whatever it has the ability to sell and even more so to whatever it can sell well. It consumed the burgeoning ideas of the counterculture movement; it can do it to any movement unless that movement is against the very structures of the industry and its apparent apathy for anything but the profits. What is known within the business world as the bottom line would be a prime edifice of the corporate industry to attack. It is the foundation.
            Throughout this course in the politics and art of protest it seems clear that art is just a means to an end: the protest. The protest is founded in the ideas of change. Politics are intricately tied to nearly every instance of protest. In Thomas Frank’s essay, complacency is the enemy in a changing environment and poor aim nearly always results in mediocre gain of objectives.

1 comment:

  1. Good working through of a challenging text. I think Frank would agree with you that the counterculture helped allow this appropriation to happen by focusing on criticizing abstract notions like 'conformity' rather than really taking on core economic questions. It's interesting to think about whether this applies also to the Civil Rights and other social movements that are political as well as cultural in nature - certainly King's image, for example, has been very appropriated, though it's a complicated question to figure out why and how this happened.