I would like to preface this with the following disclaimer: I have done little to no research on this and have read little to no political theory. This is just part of a collection of the inner workings of my mind, subsidized with, again, limited research. Also, please do not go into this expecting a clear-cut article with much of a point. This is really messy and more of a stream of consciousness.
Ah, yes, where shall we begin? Class consciousness has long been a central part of any political theory, specifically Marxist theory. To Marx, the notion of class consciousness was integral in the uprising of the proletariat. Class consciousness can be defined as “the awareness of itself as a class which the dominated class within capitalism, the proletariat, is predicted to arrive at, historically.”
However, the notion of consciousness and the rhetoric surrounding it can be quite precarious. It is not difficult to incite a sentiment of false consciousness within individuals and populations. False consciousness can be defined as “workers’ acceptance of the ruling ideology that justifies their exploitation.” This can be seen in situations such as the American proletariat voting Republican, and thus advocating for tax cuts for the bourgeoisie, even though that seemingly is antithetical to their desires. Tom Frank, an American political analyst, historian, and journalist who published many workings in book and magazine form, brings to life the theory of false consciousness by demonstrating how the Republican party uses media voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to appeal to ordinary folk and concentrate a sense of anger towards the abstract “elite”. In this case, the “elite” are liberals: people framed to be discarding “American values” left and right, to want to raise taxes for everyone, and to want to do away with capitalism and the “American way”.
Not only can this be problematic because it creates a false consciousness, but it also inspires a certain spirit of nationalism, which, in some of America’s less-educated especially, can turn dangerous (ie; attack at the capitol). The reason I used the term “less-educated” is that I feel as though those are the people who are unwilling to compromise, read, learn and think critically. (I’m not going to make any generalizations about which people are uneducated, so I’ll let you decide that for yourself. Also, I’m using “uneducated” as a kind of Overton window for people who are either a) uneducated, b) unwilling, or c) just plain stupid. Sorry for the crass language.) This discussion could expand, but I do not feel very passionately about it so I’ll leave it at that for now and connect this back to what I was saying previously. Because of this nationalistic air and loyalty to their party, people are unwilling to compromise, or even hear out other sides. In a lot of cases, the false consciousness has penetrated their psyches and they can no longer (although maybe they never could) see the difference between what the media wants them to see/feel, and what they actually see/feel (case in point, slightly-senile older adults who fall down the alt-right pipeline).
— — I kind of would like to pause here and clarify my own thinking. I don't want my lovely readers (even though this will never see the light of day lmao) to make assumptions about me and my ideology(-ies?) from this article. I can get rather sucked into whatever I’m thinking about at the moment, and I use this space to explore ideas, not write concrete articles. I understand that I am currently coming off as a liberal, maybe even a leftist, but I would like to say that I am an independent, and do not identify with an ideology at the moment. I currently lean neither left nor right, and I am still figuring things out.
THE GOOD STUFF… finally addressing my title
Capitalistic irony. Wow. Bold (?) move, Leah. I’m clearly building up expectations here so I better make this good.
Something that stuck with me when I first was getting into theory was something I had read in an essay by Finn Mungovan (yeah I had a little crush on them.. who didn’t? Finn, if you ever read then when I get successful and well-known in my field, I’m sorry). In their work, they touch upon the capitalistic fetishization and commodification of not only the proletariat but also proletariat sentiment as a whole. To shortly summarize many of his central ideas, (and I’m sorry if this is wrong, feel free to correct me), the hopes, dreams, and general livelihoods of the proletariat are constantly being fetishized and commodified by the bourgeoisie. It happens beneath our very eyes, in things such as clothing trends and commercials.
Now may be a good time to quote Finn, as I fear letting my readers down with my limited knowledge.
“As consumer society ramped up drastically, so did the sexualized state the ruling class observed the working class from. It is separating the working class from the work, as all forms of representation of the work becomes nullified by trends in fashion…This repetitive need to sexualize the aesthetic of work, and the subordinate class, represents the sadomasochistic tendencies of consumerism.”
While Finn is referring specifically to sexual fetishization here, I believe that the general message applies to my point as well (again, if what I’m about to say is incorrect, please correct me). The bourgeoisie takes advantage of the proletariat (I’m using “proletariat” here as an umbrella term for not only the working-class but also common people's wishes, dreams, and hopes — such as escaping their nine to five and traveling the world without worrying about money). They create commodities out of the common sentiments of average people and slap a price tag on them, thus perpetuating the cycle of capitalism and self-loathing (I know I should elaborate here, but we will discuss this another time). Now, I know I seem pessimistic, if not nihilistic here. I’m sure you’re thinking But, Leah! That’s the beauty of capitalism! Commodification is what makes the world go ‘round, what makes people strive for more, what inspires people! To that I respond, yes. But could there be a better way? Enter, communism. Kidding. I am nowhere near knowledgeable enough to discuss that, so I’ll just leave this here as a thought provoker for y’all. Maybe I’ll be able to address it another day. Read Finn’s work though, because he is a communist and addresses the elephant in the room pretty well (although beware that Finn is an incredibly biased source).
But I digress…
That was but another train of thought to which I would like to bear no attachment. I would like to continue on with the point I was making, where I stated that this could be looked at as simply the beauty of capitalism. While I do agree with that point and can appreciate it in its own rite, it does not matter. This article is supposed to be me simply stating something that capitalism achieves, whether it be by accident or on purpose, without necessarily taking a side.
To make what I was saying more clear (and in case you already forgot because I went on so many tangents), I will focus on the example of a car commercial (disclaimer: this is not a real ad, I’m just exemplifying to make my point). Imagine the classic car commercial: sleek car streaming down the open road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lush green trees, grass, and flowers. The sky is blue and the couple in the car is happy. The woman has on a huge diamond engagement ring and the man is fixing his tie, flashing his Rolex while smirking into the camera. (We could talk about societal heteronormativity here because believe me, it connects, but that is a topic for another day…) Lamborghini — elegant, graceful, chic (what they’re really getting at here is wealthy). There are a couple of things happening here — maybe even pause your reading and try to recognize them for yourself.
Welcome back! Did you get it? What this ad is doing is quite clever, really. The main focus of the ad is the escape from consumer society, which is supposedly granted to you via the Lamborghini. Hence the title, irony. Aha moment. The ad is supposed to validate the wish to escape not only from consumer society itself, but from everything that comes with it. They try to tell you that buying a Lamborghini will solve all of your problems, all of your aching hopes and dreams and wishes to go and live peacefully and not worry about money. Thus, you become attached to the commodified version of your desires, feeling validated, and go to buy the Lamborghini (meta irony — that takes a shit ton of money, excuse my French). This premise works for any commodification, really.
Finn summed it up pretty well:
“…we have reached a point in society where the very escape from it has become a branded and, in a way, packaged commodified idea. by purchasing [the commodity], one feels as if they are no longer supposed to be in the usual 9–5, but rather off the beaten path... but in actuality they are just partaking in the symbolism of being [it], and thus capitalism and commodity fetishism has built and constructed a reality around them…”
Another thing happening in ads such as these is the use of bourgeosie ideals to appeal to the proleteriet (I recognize that a Lamborghini is not a working-class car but I was just using it as an example). Through showing us a happy, wealthy couple without a care in the world, they make consumers believe that they, too, must be wealthy to be happy, to have the time and means to drive around carelessly. In turn, the bourgeosie agenda is furthered and consumers are trapped in the mindset that money will be the answer to all their problems. They will thus continue to work and to, well, consume.
Before you guys come at me for this, I recognize that there is also a flip side. A lot of these ads are marketed towards the working class in order to seem relatable and validate their desires, rather than showing extraordinarily wealthy people, as I had mentioned before. These are key components, because, although the ads are taking a different route to get there, the ads end up encouraging consumerism just the same. The feelings that are brought up for us regular folk seem manageable and achievable. People think to themselves Wow, this car could really make me stand out in comparison to the other soccer moms! Or, Gee, the guy in that ad is perceived as being cool. Maybe if I buy that hoodie, I, too, can be perceived as being cool! Consumer culture thus barrels forward, without people even realizing that their desires are being preyed on.
TO WRAP UP
Ok, Leah. Thanks for the long-winded explanation of… of what exactly? Lol. But how does this connect to the earlier part of your writing? Well, I’ll answer that, my dears.
In lieu of sounding like a totalitarian communist, (please, don’t sic McCarthy on me!), I will leave you with this: hopefully, reading this article was able to at least somewhat exemplify a class conscious understanding. I know that it’s a pretty simple concept, but the specific example I honed in on was something that really helped me to understand the deep and utter penetration of our every livelihood that capitalism forces upon us. I hope that this made you think, and if you decide to take away from this that we must be revolutionized, then so be it (before you tell me that this shitty article did nothing, understand the hyperbole).
There is almost infinitely more to say on this topic, and I would love to get into the more psychological aspects of this all. However, I do not want to drive you guys insane (if I haven’t already) and I am quite honestly ashamed of this writing, as I fear that it is not even remotely cohesive.
Expect more of my whims once I do more research and get in the mood, though.
See y’all next time and thanks for bearing with me.