The Consumption And Cultural Studies Cultural Studies Essay

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My interpretation of the term 'culture' generally means a way of life experienced by a group of people. These ways of life or cultures have their own unique rules, values, practices, and traditions that are carried out by those who belong to it. Lewis (2002) describes that "culture is an assemblage of imaginings and meanings that may be consonant... continuous, or discontinuous. [They]... operate through a wide variety of human social groupings and social practices." These meanings and imaginings are created by humans, we construct culture, and culture is always changing. The social groupings described can refer to family culture, or religious culture, which involve certain social practices that create certain ways of life, which links to my own understanding of culture.

I think 'consumption' means the 'consuming' of goods and services for personal use. Consuming may involve spending money on products or using a particular service. Raymond Williams (1988) tells us that "with the onset of capitalism the word 'consumer' became used in the economic sense, commonly posited as the antithesis of 'producer'." Williams' description, with consumer the opposite of producer, backs up my understanding of consumption. Bermingham (1995 cited in Storey, 1999) looks at the claim that "consumer society is a product of late capitalism." She argues that there is evidence of "the birth of consumer society in the sixteenth, and certainly no later than the eighteenth century", so consumption is not new. Slater (1997) states how "consumption is always and everywhere a cultural process". Culture has a role, so consumption also changes through time.

Recently, after a lecture I went out with friends to a cafe and then went to the cinema to buy tickets for a film we were going to see in the evening, and then looked around the shops. Later on, we went to a McDonalds, then back to the cinema to see the movie, and after that I bought a takeaway. That all sounds mundane, but Mackay (1997, p2) describes "cultural consumption is seen as being the very material out of which we construct our identities". Our consumption patterns reveal things about us, (eg. going out to the cinema reveals something about me.) Fiske (1989, p7 cited in Mackay) takes up the approach that 'everyday life' is productive consumption. "Consumption is not the end of a process, but the beginning of another, and thus itself a form of production". When we're consuming, we're also producing. Cinemas or fast food outlets would not exist without consumers, so we're playing a part in their production process. McCracken (1988, p83) describes how goods have 'cultural meanings'. Things like going to a cafe or cinema have cultural meanings informing us that they play a part in Western society and culture. Turner (1969, p84 cited in McCracken) explores "symbolic action", when meaning moves from the goods to the consumer. Symbolic action or "ritual" is an opportunity to "affirm ... or revise the conventional symbols and meanings of the cultural order." Ritual can manipulate cultural meaning. Consumers have the power to change culture. Fast food outlets have changed because of demands from consumers (e.g. McDonalds adding healthy options).

The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, was written by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, and published in 1947. It was part of a wider text, called the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Adorno and Horkheimer both came from the Frankfurt School, which is influenced by neo-Marxist thinking. This is evident in Adorno and Horkheimer's work, which puts a lot of emphasis on Marx's concepts. Marxist thought, describes that "culture is partial, often promoting a 'false consciousness' of the world" (Baldwin, 1999, p98). Marx continues; "The bourgeoisie have power, through their power they have knowledge and through their power and knowledge they create the dominant culture." The term 'false consciousness' would describe Adorno and Horkheimer's theories accurately. They describe that as a society, we're conditioned to believe that we are independent and free, when really we're just servants of the culture industry, and because of this conditioning, human creativity and individuality is being stopped or discouraged.

Adorno and Horkheimer analyse the role played by the culture industry that resulted in the failure of a revolutionary social change which Marx predicted. They believe the role of the culture industry forced the working class into accepting capitalist society and values. This was done, by the use of the radio, television, magazines and movies. They describe that "Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce." The industry creates ideologies and messages for the population, a false consciousness, so they obey those at the top of the social hierarchy, which will also maintain capitalist income for them, as continued; "They call themselves industries; and when their directors incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the finished products is removed." Adorno and Horkheimer look at the role of magazines in social control. They point out how the price ranges and contents are different to classify and organise consumers, there is something for everyone so nobody can escape. This isn't restricted to just magazines. Products in shops have a hierarchal range, are mass produced and vary in quality to suit everyone. This means that everyone has their own pre-determined and indexed 'level' and must choose the product for their category and behave in accordance with it. They describe that "Consumers appear as statistics on research organisation charts,... divided by income groups into red, green and blue areas; the technique is that used for any type of propaganda." Adorno and Horkheimer wrote this when the second World War had come to an end, and compare the way consumers are grouped as being like propaganda, which would have been used a lot by the Nazi's at that time. With everyone buying the products in their pre-established group, they would all be obeying the social structure, conditioned to behave, with no room for individuality.

According to Adorno and Horkheimer the culture industry conditions us to obey those at the top of the social hierarchy and because of this there is no or little chance of any social change. They argue that the industry keeps reproducing the same thing, for example, on the radio; "it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same." On art and the entertainment industry; "Every detail is so firmly stamped with sameness that nothing can appear which is not marked at birth, or does not meet with approval at first sight." On the culture industry as a whole; "But in the culture industry every element of the subject matter has its origin in the same apparatus as that jargon whose stamp it bears." Despite their argument however, they both ignore that society as a whole can, and does create social change.