Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thoughts on celebrities, commodities, murder 

From the critic/historian/theologian Eugene McCarraher, interviewed by The Other Journal.


The Other Journal (TOJ): Let's start with Britney Spears, who was in the news all last week with 'experts' decrying her parenting gaffs and bemoaning the fact that she has fallen so far that a judge would shift parental control from her to her burnout ex-husband K-fed. Putting aside questions of why this is news and what is news, how do you account for our culture's nurturing of celebrity that seems to fluctuate between consuming (Britney as sex symbol) and discarding (Britney as burnout mom), between lust and contempt? Are we are seeing celebrities as commodities, and if so, what does this phenomena say about us and how we relate to one another as consumers?

Eugene McCarraher (EM): I don't think you can put aside the question of why Britney Spears is news because ignoring it means we're ignoring the production end of celebrity. Like the rest of the news, Ms. Spears is a product of the culture industry, one of whose chief purposes is to distract us from the tedium or injustice of our daily lives. Just as her pre-meltdown songs and videos were glittery commodified ephemera, created precisely for the purpose of being enjoyed and discarded, so her meltdown is a commodity, mediated for our entertainment pleasure.

But on top of that, Ms. Spears is a commodity fetish, to use Marx's still-relevant and illuminating language. Like any other commodity fetish, Ms. Spears is a screen onto whom consumers project their own repressed desires—in her case, to misbehave. And like many a repressed desire, its inexorable expression is malignant. Seeing its malignancy, consumers deride their fetish, often with a viciousness commensurate to the intensity of the identification with the commodity. So there's something insidious, not only about the consumption of her sexualized persona, but about the way that celebrities-in-distress like Ms. Spears are tossed aside. The celebrity cycle of consumption—disappointment—vicious rejection raises to a high degree of visibility and vividness the way in which all goods are handled in this culture. Unable or unwilling to confront their desires for what they are, or to discover how to transform those desires in accordance with their status as, oh, the imago Dei, consumers project them onto commodities, suffer their inevitable lack of fulfillment, and grow ever more cynical and full of rage. The telos of consumer autonomy turns out to be not so much freedom or license, as a sullen emptiness and boredom that eventually requires different forms of violence—verbal, visual, military—for its satisfaction...

See here for much more.


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