Friday, January 28, 2011

Interactivity and commodities

Mark Andrejevic’s discussion of the online message board Television Without Pity (TWoP) as a space for interaction with television or a space in which viewers may respond to encouragements to “climb out of their couch to embrace a more active approach to their viewing experience” (Andrejevic, 139) presents an interesting analysis of the relationships that emerge around these forums between viewers, producers and texts. What Andrejevic proposes is that as a result of this shift the viewer feels as though the distinction between themselves as consumers and the role of producers is diminished. That is, the viewer feels as though they are becoming more actively involved in the production of the text via their consumption of it and interaction around it.
            In terms of Henry Jenkins’s discussion of participatory culture this sense among consumers of becoming pseudo-producers is not isolated to the particular TWoP forum. Indeed Jenkins’s use of the term “Participatory Culture” rather than Interactive media proposes a similar understanding of the changing relationship between consumers and media. By directly engaging with media users are no longer strictly consumers and, if they do begin to function as producers or at least feel that they do this generates a distinct affective relationship to products (television, facebook, etc.). This would suggest that consumers of media are no longer passive in their emotional relationship to the products but rather are more directly involved and thus emotionally invested in that which they produce.
            This changing relationship between consumer and product is particularly intriguing if we begin to think of it as altering capitalistic relationships. That is, this system that Andrejevic and Jenkins both address wherein consumers also feel like producers challenges established concepts like the commodity fetish (Discussed in my last post). Perhaps interactivity as labor and consumption disrupts more linear concepts of consumption?

More later.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 1: Affect and Commodity

I feel like I should begin by acknowledging that this is my first time engaging affect theory. Excuse me while I struggle to make sense of this.

As a crash course in Affect I feel lucky to have begun with Sara Ahmed’s “Affective Economies” and Lauren Berlant’s “Cruel Optimism” as both explorations of affective relationships draw heavily from readings of Marx, particularly Marx’s concept of a commodity fetish, a theoretical framework with which I have a bit more experience. Ahmed employ’s the commodity fetish, simultaneous with psychoanalysis and semiotics as a means of exploring economies of emotion. Essentially, this concept of an affective economy suggests emotions are employed and marketed as a means mediating relationships between people and between people and ideas. In this sense, Ahmed suggests that emotions take on an ideological significance and through language and signs may be employed to organize and group subjects. This informs her larger project in which she suggests that fear, as an emotion, has become a political commodity, post-9/11. Her point is that through the use of particular language and signs, politicized emotions like fear (among others) can unify sentiment or organize subjects into a political body.
 In a slightly different project Berlant suggests that commodities exist in our minds as a “cluster of promises” and that the value that we attribute to these objects is informed by what we perceive these promises to be and the attachments that we form in relationship to these promises. So, without ever explicitly stating it (although she does reference Marx and political economy) Berlant is effectively attempting to articulate the psychology of the commodity fetish; the psychology which underlies Marx’s political economy. Berlant’s point is that what we form emotional or psychological relationships not with the object itself but with what we perceive to be its use value. Thus, for Berlant, an object is most significant psychologically when it exists as a promise rather than when it is actually exchanged- she uses the example of stored kinetic energy as an analogy for the use/exchange value of an object while it is possessed rather than when it is used or exchanged. In other words, a commodity has the most emotional significance while it exists as a potential item of use or exchange. In a subtle way this challenges Marx by suggesting that exchange and consumption does not drive capitalism but rather the thought or promise of exchange and consumption.
In both articles it is interesting to consider the relationship between Marxist political economy, psychoanalytic theory, and semiotics. Obviously both authors are concerned with the political and economic function of psychological relationships. However, where Berlant sees psychology mediate subject relationships to objects as commodities, Ahmed sees these psychologies as the commodified objects themselves. Furthermore, despite their divergent approaches to the commodity fetish it seems that both texts recognize the role of semiotics in shaping or propelling these affective relationships.