The Globalisation Of Contemporary Capitalism Cultural Studies Essay

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The idea that we live in a consumer society is widely accepted; it is viewed as a problem when issues of environmental concern and shortages of natural resources are identified. The notion that contemporary capitalism has become global and has turned the whole world more homogenous is also acknowledged. However, as citizens of one of the wealthiest states, there is also a widespread idea that there are no alternatives and that this situation has benefits which outweigh the disadvantages.

Jean Baudrillard's early work questioned the ideas of both Marxism and structuralism. Baudrillard has argued for the dominance in contemporary capitalist societies of consumption over production and of the signifier over the signified and has rejected all models that distinguish between surface and depth. He sees the postmodern in terms of the disappearance of meaning, of inertia, exhaustion and endings. In the era of 'simulation' reality is gone for good and we are only left with appearance. This forms the basis of the message that culture is now hyperreality. The simulation is a blending of 'reality' and representation, where there is no clear indication of where the former stops and the latter begins. The simulacrum is often defined as a copy with no original, Jean Baudrillard (1994) maps the change from representation to simulacrum in four 'successive phases of the image' in which the last is that "it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum" (Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

p.6). Baudrillard concludes on reality that it is nothing more than a fairy tale, it is "now impossible to isolate the process of the real, or to prove the real" (1994: p. 21).

Baudrillard sees the mass media as inherently non-communicative, and it is this quality that allows them to exert social control over mass populations. In his earlier work Baudrillard's proposal for resistance is radical but clear: destroy the world of media technologies through revolutionary action and resume normal face-to-face conversation (Baudrillard, 1981: p. 170). His later work is more pessimistic, and finds no possibility for resistance and change because alienation becomes total and results in "the end of transcendence" where individuals are unable to see their real needs or imagine another way of life. Baudrillard says that the 'real' becomes lost and banal, meaningless. Individual identities are fragmented and lost and the postmodern individual has characteristics of the schizophrenic. (Baudrillard 1998 [1970], The Consumer Society, Paris: Gallimard :p. 27) The individual has no means to screen out the images that bombard him, and meaning is replaced by spectacle.

Many of the features of postmodern society that Baudrillard identifies are also highlighted in the work of Frederic Jameson. Jameson accepts the analysis of present society as a society of simulcria and the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard, who's most famous book, The Postmodern Condition, is a critique of the idea of universal knowledge and foundationalism, calling these aspects of 'metanarratives'. Lyotard believes we can no longer talk about a totalizing idea of reason for there is no 'Reason', only reasons. Lyotard includes Marxism as well as Capitalism (and all other ideologies) an examples of metanarritives, which, he finds, all make claims for understanding and knowledge that are really no more than disguised mastery and domination. Lyotard believes that societies movement into the postmodern age changes the nature of knowledge and its status. Knowledge is ceasing to be an end in itself. It is and will be produced in order to be sold.

Despite this, Jameson remains a Marxist and works to find a possibility of social and cultural change within a modified socialism. The essay by Ira Chernus, which is online at is an easily accessible and more detailed discussion of the postmodernism of Fredric Jameson.

Baudrillard, Jameson and Lyotard all highlight that central features associated with postmodernism in the arts are: the deletion of the boundary between art and everyday life; the collapse of the hierarchical distinction between elite and popular culture and the mixing of codes. There is parody, pastiche, irony and playfulness. There are continual references to reflexivity, self-referentiality, quotation, artifice, randomness, anarchy, fragmentation, pastiche and allegory. Jameson and Baudrillard both identify pastiche as the dominant mode of expression, with constant reference to past style and events without allowing real understanding of how they have shaped the present. The past is reproduced as nostalgia, for example, Ira Chernus says, "For us, Platoon is the Vietnam War, Anthony Hopkins is Nixon, and Val Kilmer is Jim Morrison-just as Jurassic Park is now the prehistoric age. And now the Summer of Sam is New York in 1977."

Christopher Norris critiques the work of Baudrillard, for example in the opening chapter of Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (1992). He asserts an alternative to the scepticism and nihilism and disputes the case for an exclusive world of signs claiming that inequality, oppression, unemployment, urban decay, destruction and death are obviously real forms of social experience. Norris says that ideas of truth and right are present in all human discourse and conduct at all levels and that these provide a basis for morality and political decisions. Linda Hutcheon, in "The Politics of Postmodernism" (1989) also disputes the attitude that postmodern art cannot be an agent for change. She argues that intertextuality and parody can be the techniques by which new critical understandings of history and politics are reached. She does this by trying to show that the cultural work produced by a postmodern society could have enough critical distance from the society that produced it to offer an effective political critique of it: "Critique is as important as complicity in the response of cultural postmodernism to the philosophical and socio-economic realities of postmodernity: postmodernism here is not so much what Jameson sees as a systemic form of capitalism as the name given to cultural practices which acknowledge their inevitable implication in capitalism, without relinquishing the power or will to intervene critically in it" (1989, p27)