Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A short rant on the evils of Capitalism

This is a post I've been wanting to write for a while now. Try as I might to leave academics out of my blog, it's seeped in. One of my interests is in critical theory. I'm fascinated by the evolution from Marx's false consciousness to Walter Benjamin's dream world of materialism and to the contemporary moment where we living a state of lack of awareness. My interpretation of this is that it's been a multi-century long project of capitalism and it's efforts to submerge the human into a form of slavery. Let me quickly frame these theories before I go off on a tangent.

1. Marx's theories introduced the concept of the enslavement of the worker. With the rise of Industrialization, man power became a necessity. Someone has to operate the machines. The workers entered a state where they believed that they are in control, when in fact they are enslaved to the machines. Hence false consciousness.

2. Now that there is production and revenue, there is money to be spent. The Parisian Arcades are built during the 19th C as a mecca of commerce. Visual appeal, seduction by sales associates, and spending, spending, spending. Benjamin believed that places of commerce, like the Arcades, created a dream world. People could escape through materialism. Everything
can be perfect.

3. In the present time there are a lot ideas about where this path of trajectory has landed. The one I'm inclined to believe is Foucault's. Government has evolved to a system of management. Documentation of every kind is used to track us, understand spending patterns and manipulate our wants and needs. Costco cards, credit cards, passports, and all the records about us. The gist of his theory is that we might think we have more freedom nowadays, but in fact we are more enslaved than ever.

I know, long ramble. So how is this relevant to you? I happened to read an article in a Canadian magazine called Common Ground entitled "Shaping the body: The crisis in our closest relationship" and at first it seemed to be just another article about how we need to learn to love ourselves more and over come the stereotypes of the visual world. But I surprised to find out that it played into ideas about controlling the body.
"We have become so implicated in variants of body preoccupation ourselves, and girls and women in particular so colonised by it, that the preoccupation has become second nature - almost "natural" and invisible" (7).
The word 'invisible' struck me. We are so unaware of all the manipulation we are subject to in a daily basis. From advertising, television, social networking and pop culture in general. The author, Susie Orbach, goes on to say that the value we place out our bodies has been fundamentally altered by the changes in the economy and job market.
"Where once the body of the manual worker could be easily identified through brawn and muscle, now it is the middle-class body that must show evidence of being worked on at the gym, through yoga or any number of body practices, which aim to display what the individual has achieved through diligent exercise" (7).

Office jobs are highly valued, have high salaries and are the ones that require the least amount of physical exercise. What an interesting concept. But I think this runs deeper than just jobs. We are now obligated to prove ourselves in the social arena through our bodies. As if we weren't under enough pressure before?! The point of all this, is that it is a product of capitalism. We want to be thin in order to look good in the clothes we buy from the sleezy ads we see on TV, and in order to do that we have to go to the gym or hire a trainer. And there needs to be workers to create the machines we work out on. On every level, business profits. Of course the challenge of all this is to transcend the system even though we are so deep implicated in it.

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