Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

The Aesthetics of Commodities and the Simulacrum

One way that information and technology have made exchange values difficult to identify is the digitization of both labor and production. And there is no precedent on which we can rely. We're starting from scratch, essentially, and in terms of defining labor, its costs, and what that means for the value of commodities. Commercial media or advertisements transport commodity ideologies to consumers in these digital spaces. These ideologies are culturally bound and once commodified “appeal to consumers’ imagination and … connote positive images and feelings with the idea of consuming” it. For instance, the Pumpkin Spice Latte sold at Starbucks has become a commodity that connotes ideas of fall and sentiments associated with a particular season. This ideology is transported to consumers in digital spaces to persuade them that if they consume this product, they too will experience fall and all the positive emotions surrounding it.

           Thus is becomes a little more obvious why market prices are so difficult to gauge. The cost of advertising this ideology, unsure of how it will be received or the reaction consumers will have, plus the difference in cost of “transport” as it has changed from a physical activity to a digital one. The sales and advertising associated with “a commodity promises specific positive life enhancement functions that the commodity brings with it and thereby conceals the commodity’s exchange-value behind promises”. Again, we return to a redefining of values.

           The aesthetic of things becomes just as important as the thing itself in this economy. Use-value becomes less important and overshadowed by “promise specific qualities” or the commodity’s aesthetic. This approaches the idea of the simulacrum. Baudrillard claimed that in our time, it has become impossible to differentiate between the real and the simulacrum due to capitalism, urbanization, ideology, and media culture. Our identity has become defined by capital and as the “industrialization process becomes more and more sophisticated and complex, consumers have lost track of the real value of the products they consume”. Until very recently, the Pumpkin Spice Latte served in Starbucks cafes across the world did not even contain pumpkin as an ingredient. Most people cannot identify the season in which pumpkins are grown, but we know that it’s “pumpkin spice season” when Starbucks brings out the PSL.

    This presents one of the crises of capitalism. There is a dislocation of reality caused by these positive ideologies surrounding commodities. We consistently place value in the simulacrum, furthering ourselves from reality.

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