Creative Destruction

November 13, 2006

Because I Have A Gun And The Fish Was Right There In The Barrel

Filed under: Economics,Humor — Tuomas @ 3:06 pm

Amanda at pandagon offers some wise criticism of capitalism and sexism (sexism against women). She approvingly (“best eviscerations of a little bit of knee jerk rhetoric I see all the time on the left”) quotes Ellen Willis (R.I.P):

As expounded by many leftist thinkers, notably Marcuse, this theory maintains that consumers are psychically manipulated by the mass media to crave more and more consumer goods, and thus power an economy that depends on constantly expanding sales. The theory is said to be particularly applicable to women, for women do most of the actual buying, their consumption is often directly related to their oppression (e.g. makeup, soap flakes), and they are a special target of advertisers. According to this view, the society defines women as consumers, and the purpose of the prevailing media image of women as passive sexual objects is to sell products. It follows that the beneficiaries of this depreciation of women are not men but the corporate power structure.

(italics added, we’ll get back to them soon!)


Hmm.

As an example, Amanda picks this comment from her previous thread about “purity balls”:

 

Yes it’s bizarre but let’s not miss the real point of all this. Someone is making money running these stupid purity balls. It always comes down to shearing the sheep with these people even if it means turning little girls into mental cases.

 

And refutes that argument by writing:

Wha?!, my poor, beleagured brain said. I shouldn’t have been surprised. There’s a ton of people out there who literally think that marketing drives everything and everything in the world is the scheme of some brilliant marketer who created a desire in people through magic and then filled that desire with products and got rich.

I can understand her poor, beleaguered brain. After all, it isn’t “magic” that creates desire in people, but psychic manipulation by mass media, and it isn’t “some brilliant marketer” who filled that desire with products and got rich, but the corporate power structure.*

People should remember the distinction.

[edited for substantial changes improving clarity]

*Update:
[I misunderstood the Ellen Willis piece by not reading the whole thing. It appears that women are not psychically manipulated by media directly, but rather consumerism is a compensation for oppression and that sexist society forces women to behave in a manner that male supremacy approves, and advertisers exploit this. I think.

This means that it is not psychic manipulation that creates desire, but instead it is a survival tactic for women in sexist society, and it is not just corporate power structure, but male supremacy that benefits. Eh.]

16 Comments »

  1. It’s easy to say in argument something to the effect that “it all boils down to politics, sex, money, psychology, etc.” and be done. It has a ring of truth. But of course, it’s also reductive. There is incredible complexity in human interactions, so no one field can be said to dominate interpretation and bring all competing interpretations under control.

    So it’s no surprise that when one combines two “union theories,” sex and commerce, the mix is a bit bewildering. Funny thing, though: I noticed in the post at Pandagon you linked to that the author rails against stereotypes yet offers her own in response.

    Comment by Brutus — November 14, 2006 @ 11:39 am | Reply

  2. For all the ‘improved clarity’, I don’t know if I see the point here. You appear to agree with Amanda, and you also seem to think you’ve made a joke somewhere — apparently by repeating a feminist’s characterization of another argument she disagreed with, which I guess was mildy funny the first time.

    Brutus, why don’t you go ahead and quote this mysterious stereotype for the slow-minded.

    Comment by hf — November 15, 2006 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  3. The humor is that Amanda rails against people who reduce complex issues down to the profit motive, and then approvingly quotes someone reducing complex issues down to the profit motive. It’s a gotcha on an intellectual inconsistency.

    Comment by Robert — November 15, 2006 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  4. But, assuming you mean the “purity ball” quote that was included in Tuomas’ post, then it wasn’t quoted “approvingly”; it was quoted as an example of thing Amanda was criticizing.

    Comment by Ampersand — November 15, 2006 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  5. The approving quote was of Ellen Willis. The what-an-idiot quote was the purity ball quote.

    We need scorecards.

    Comment by Robert — November 15, 2006 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  6. Robert, the Willis quote wasn’t “reducing complex issues down to the profit motive.” By saying that, you’re just demonstrating that you (and Tuomas, if you’ve interpreted Tuomas’ meaning correctly) have no clue what you’re talking about.

    Comment by Ampersand — November 15, 2006 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

  7. Dude, we’re bloggers.

    We’re supposed to have no clue about what we’re talking about. Just like we’re supposed to type everything while still in our pajamas and mainlining Red Bull.

    Okay, so I’m still in my PJs and just polished off my last can of Red Bull. That’s beside the point.

    Comment by Off Colfax — November 15, 2006 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

  8. Maybe I’ve badly misread the quotes. Could you explain to me please?

    Comment by bobhayes — November 15, 2006 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  9. As expounded by many leftist thinkers, notably Marcuse, this theory maintains that consumers are psychically manipulated by the mass media to crave more and more consumer goods, and thus power an economy that depends on constantly expanding sales.

    Note that Willis wasn’t saying “my theory”; she was saying “this theory.” She goes on to dismiss this theory as wrong; she says people like stuff because stuff is fun, not because we’ve been psychically manipulated; and that sexism exists without having to be created by a Madison Avenue ad man.

    Willis was explicitly arguing that we can’t boil everything down to just the profit motive.

    Amanda then quoted the “purity ball” thing as an example of the kind of mistaken thinking Willis was criticizing.

    Comment by Ampersand — November 15, 2006 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  10. [Homer Simpson voice]
    Stupid logic.
    [/Homer Simpson]

    I see your point and withdraw, chastened.

    Comment by bobhayes — November 15, 2006 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  11. I’d do a victory dance or something, but I’m too amused by the Homer Simpson voice.

    Comment by Ampersand — November 15, 2006 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

  12. Note that Willis wasn’t saying “my theory”; she was saying “this theory.” She goes on to dismiss this theory as wrong; she says people like stuff because stuff is fun, not because we’ve been psychically manipulated; and that sexism exists without having to be created by a Madison Avenue ad man.

    Looking at her original article (Willis’), it appears that she was criticizing Marcuse, and I misread it.

    Her alternative is not just “fun”:

    The locus of oppression resides in the production function: people have no control over which commodities are produced (or services performed), in what amounts, under what conditions, or how these commodities are distributed. Corporations make these decisions and base them solely on their profit potential.

    The confusion between cause and effect is particularly apparent in the consumerist analysis of women’s oppression. Women are not manipulated by the media into being domestic servants and mindless sexual decorations, the better to sell soap and hair spray. Rather, the image reflects women as they are forced by men in a sexist society to behave. Male supremacy is the oldest and most basic form of class exploitation; it was not invented by a smart ad man. The real evil of the media image of women is that it supports the sexist status quo. In a sense, the fashion, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene ads are aimed more at men than at women.

    Ah, too quick about the gotcha.

    I blame Amanda for quoting only that part — she asked for it! /kidding

    Comment by Tuomas — November 15, 2006 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

  13. But, assuming you mean the “purity ball” quote that was included in Tuomas’ post, then it wasn’t quoted “approvingly”; it was quoted as an example of thing Amanda was criticizing.

    The second blockquote wasn’t quoted approvingly, obviously.

    It appeared to me, at first, that she was approving Marcuse’s view (the soundbite alone there, taken out of context, doesn’t tell us that Willis refutes this, except perhaps knowing that she is a feminist and thus opposes the idea that beneficiaries aren’t men).

    If she would then think that “magic” and “brilliant marketer” are just silly, then it would appear like a hilarious gotcha.

    It’s sometimes bit hard to tell whether someone is being feminist or socialist first.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 15, 2006 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  14. In other words, never mind.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 15, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  15. Let us never speak of this again.

    Comment by bobhayes — November 15, 2006 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  16. I’ve updated it.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 15, 2006 @ 11:33 pm | Reply


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