Tuesday, April 8, 2008

i/we am/are consumer

With the readings this week, I have been thinking about this “postmodern condition” in terms of personal and communal identity. Obviously the world of “disjuncture and difference” which Appadurai describes makes it complicated to construct stable individual or community identities, a problem behind Srinivasan’s projects that represent and link together fragmented local communities on a global level. This is also what Ang is talking about when he writes that “the culture of capitalist postmodernity… exploits the fundamental excessiveness of the social in the creation of an escalating , and ultimately uncontrollable, proliferation of difference and identity, or identities-in-difference” (177).

In “In the Realm of Uncertainty,” Ang explains many things about the world we live in today that I have always believed never quite been able to articulate, because he connects this idea of fragmented “identities-in-difference” to (the illusion of) choice and consumerism. “Consumerism is focused on the idea that the constant transformation of identities is pleasurable and meaningful” (177). We attempt to constitute our identities based on the array of consumer choices we make, turning identity itself into an exchangeable, transformable commodity. This is arguably because static place-based or community-based identities are complicated by globalization [Appadurai], or perhaps because we are now indifferent to unifying “grand narratives” [Lyotard], or maybe because we are now disconnected from larger “totalities” of our world [Jameson].

Well whatever the cause, I have thought for a long time that today we construct our identities based on the choices we make as consumers. By “consumers,” I don’t only mean the things we buy in stores. Many people today now have the ability to select all aspects of their lives (where they live, their boyfriends/ girlfriends, their friends, their career, lifestyle choices, etc.) and do so in a conscious, consumer-ly manner. We choose select during a “shopping period.” We choose partners by filling out surveys on dating sites. We separately select all aspects of our lives from a seemingly endless array of “lifestyle” options, and then constitute our individual identities based on this agglomeration, whether it be coherent or not. Basically, we assemble ourselves in the same manner in which we would decorate a house.

So the logical question is what is the effect of this postmodern identity-construction on communities and groups? Again, Ang articulates things I’ve always wanted to be able to say. “Heterogeneity is not based on foundational essences, but is a contingent articulation of the fluid and moving play of differences in which cultures and societies…constantly construct, reconstruct, and deconstruct themselves. Any identity of a culture a society…is a precarious positivity formed out of a temporary fixation of meaning within the capitalist world system.” (176)

My take on this is that collective identity is now constructed into more and more specific sub-cultures based on the affinity of their “consumeristic” choices. I also think that this fractioning of communities is aided by new media. For example, this week my group and I were researching dating sites as a potential new media object. On the goth dating website, there are about 13 different classifications of Goth—corporate goth, industrial goth, romantic goth, and my favorite, glitter goth. Because of this, I have trouble believing that new media brings communities together, and is a unifying tool that fosters community and overcomes fragmentation of people from different locations and backgrounds. (From what I gathered, this is Srinivasan’s perspective, that the internet can be used to connect localities through global representations—while still remaining true to their specificities and differences.) Rather, I think that new media allows for increasingly specific groups and communities to form and transform, further perpetuating Ang’s concept of “identities-in difference.”

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