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Bowie Economics Part 1
How Bowie's Career Embodies an Era of Hip Consumerism
Reading David Bowie as a fallen angel also helps us understand a profound shift in economic practices in relationship to late twentieth century views of embodiment and lifestyle. It's been called by a number of different names--the switch from manufacturing to flexible accumulation (David Harvey), the transformation from a society focused on production to a society exchanging signs (Jean Baudrillard), the advent of a post-industrial society (Daniel Bell), the “hip consumerism” in the advertising sector (Thomas Frank), or even the implication of communications in a new form of Empire (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri)--but, for our purposes, is best viewed as a linked set of practices introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. Let's call this phenomenon "Bowie Economics" in honor of a pop star who self consciously modeled himself after emerging trends and intentionally blurred the division between advertising and entertainment.
A major tenet of Bowie Economics is that one doesn't just buy something, one needs to constantly purchase something. It's a bit like an earlier form of economic practices known as planned obsolescence, where the introduction of new models make old models obsolete, except that it is applied to one's identity. And this is a big difference. Up until David Bowie, most pop singers pioneered one, maybe two, different types of looks during their career. Claiming that he quickly got bored with his performing personas, Bowie frequently changed his persona. For instance, an illustrative but incomplete list of personas during the period of Bowie’s career covered by this fallen angel analysis (roughly spanning from 1970 to 1980) would begin with the folksy androgyny of the Hunky Dory period and then move to the glam rock of the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane era. This would be followed by the circus freak chic of Halloween Jack in Diamond Dogs, the 1940s inspired Thin White Duke period of Station to Station (the look he sports during the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth), the German art-techno Berlin Period that would follow shortly after, with the album Low. This culminates in our analysis with the new-wave New Romantic persona of Bowie in the “Ashes to Ashes” music video. As Bowie's biographer, Paul Trynka observed, Bowie concerts placed a pressure on the attendees to be up-to-date with the singer's latest appearance. Bowie's constant and restless identity changes ensured that his only major look was constant change. The challenge here is to think of a sense of self so supple, that it is seen as having the potential to generate multiple new looks rather than possess a single look itself.