Expression, Ecology, Identity

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Express Yourself -- with PARODY!

This is an ad parody for ad parodies.

It is meant to reveal and reproduce the strengths and weaknesses inherent in parody as a means of deconstructing culture (the kind of "culture jamming" Kalle Lasn embraces and made famous through Adbusters).

The video explores Marx's notion that cultural constructions, including the construction of self-identity, is determined by the way one participates in the economy. As much as they might disagree with Marx on other points, it's seems that major advertisers wish to promote this idea. In the ads included in the video, advertisers can be seen to engaged in what Marx calls commodity fetishism - associating abstract concepts with a product or object that goes beyond and even obscures the product as a commodity representing labor. In these cases, self-expression and individuality are said to be possible through participation in the economy in the form of consumption -- specifically, through buying the items advertised, be they computers, cell phones, clothes, hair-styling products, or sandwiches. This, they say, is how to be yourself.

Here, I also examine parody as a way of engaging in the kind of resistance to commodity fetishism described by Michel de Certeau -- using the products of the dominant culture in unintended ways. While parody is useful in deconstructing commodity fetishism, it has its own limitations. Because it constantly refers to the status quo, parody must always operate within the bounds of the existing cultural system. By adopting the form of the message being deconstructed, parody is forced to speak in its language, to reinforce the ways of communicating on which the original message relies. In short, parody can tell us why the system is broken but only by reinforcing the formal limitations of the very system it criticizes. Marshall McLuhan would argue that this formal language is by no means "neutral" but laden with meaning and specific as to what kind of messages it can enable and constrain.

As Louis Althusser points out, even as we deconstruct the messages of others, we ourselves are consolidating signifiers and the signified. I chose to frame the video in the form of an ad parody to reinforce the idea that, in parody, I too am reliant on the expressive forms of the messages I attempt to unpack.