Searching for Value in the Discourses of Commodity Fetishism

Robert Goldman, Andrew Miller
2013 Fast Capitalism  
Even as the dust of the 2008 global financial crisis settled into a grim recession, a majority of advertising discourses continued to herald landscapes of well-being produced by corporate technologies of speed and rationality set against a backdrop of an invisible no-hands market. We have long since become culturally accustomed to advertising narratives that depict technologies and commodities, and not necessarily people, as the key sources of productivity and value. During recent decades, the
more » ... ecent decades, the hegemonic tilt of both corporate and commodity advertising has exalted computerized technologies and financial capital as the essential sources of value and well-being. And of course, the whole of the advertising system is organized to lend value to brands-one cannot successfully market consumer commodities in global markets without a brand identity. In a postmodern ad world, a strong case can be made that the source of value has been relocated to the semiotic organization of visual symbols. With globalization, the separation of production from consumption has widened, at the same time that the pressure on commodity advertising has escalated to infuse brand, or sign, value into its products. The sum of this is that advertising routinely divorces commodities from their producers-as a discourse, commodity advertising is prone to reproducing ideologies of commodity reification. But hegemonic discourses, by their very nature, exist in a force field of contestation and contradiction. In order to affirm the value of brands in commodity relations, the vast majority of advertising represses most of the social and cultural "effects" produced by a commodity system, as well as, of course, repressing key contradictions of structural inequality in the global capitalist system. But in an oversaturated advertising world where so many advertisers mimic one another, this leaves open a space for a few advertisers who seek to gain advantage by differentiating their brands-making them stand out-by raising otherwise repressed questions about the relationship between "value" and human "labor." What constitutes value, and where does it come from? What happens when soft questions about the meaningfulness of labor reappear on the screen of the spectacle? We begin by looking at how the subject of value, and what constitutes it, flows throughout advertising as a form of tacit knowledge. Advertising presides over the production of semiotic exchange values-sign values-within the globalizing commodity system. This system of commodified semiotics has evolved into a primary axis for differentiating branded consumer goods under the regime of global capital. When we look at advertisements we see discursive instruments aimed at socially constructing value. Concepts of value are almost always embedded in the structure, as well as in the interpretation, of ads. The semiotics of value is so intrinsic to contemporary advertising practice that we rarely take notice that the premise of valuation-which the ad hopes to lead us to validate-is the subtext of most ads. The average consumer ad has been devised according to a formula for creating structural equations aimed at bolstering a value proposition. As such, advertising constitutes
doi:10.32855/fcapital.201301.002 fatcat:ep46yramsvh5jmyr6emgm7m3aq