Archive for the ‘capitalism’ Category

The Zombiepocalypse and Religion: Be Careful What You Wish For.

November 1, 2012

George Romero's Night of the Living DeadThe Walking Dead

Zombies have been a mainstay in popular culture since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Today’s most popular incarnation is The Walking Dead tv-series. While I read the Walking Dead graphic novel, I have only recently caught up on the television show. Watching the series puts me in mind of a few insights about Zombies that a religious studies perspective can bring to the phenomena as a whole. In this post, I only want to touch briefly on a few things: the apocalyptical or dystopian aspect of the zombie myth, the underlying ideology of the myth, and, of course, some observations about us that our zombie stories tell us.

First, I’d like to talk about Zombies AS myth.

Orientalism in the Orient – I

May 3, 2011

Looking through some old photos of mine, I came across one that I was hoping to use in a class but hadn’t gotten around to yet. It is an ad for power switches/light switches. And its marketing angle is the term ‘xen’ which is obviously playing off of the term ‘zen’.

Zen is a term used widely in North American popular culture to evoke the mystical East, or a sense of calm, or whatever its latest referent is. What is interesting is that this picture was taken in Bangalore, India (2006). If this image was used in North America, we might decry it as the appropriation of the “Other” for the capitalist gain of the “Self”. Instead, we have the appropriation of the “Other Asia” by “Our Asia”. The key elements of orientalism that are reproduced here are stereotypes of the Other as exotic (zen is a major signifier of such), as a symbolic commodity to be capitalized on for is semiotic value, and as a moving signifier to meet the needs of the ‘Self’. What does ‘Xen’ mean here? What does it evoke? The clean, calm lines of modernity? Of minimalism and simplicity? Of mystery and exoticism? How does the ‘X’ change the meaning as opposed to the ‘Z’? Does it signify a cool, hip variant?

Another thing to note is that the second sentence under the word ‘Xen’ is as follows: “More Affordable in economy LATINA series”. Here we see the politics of orientalism/race/gender playing out that contributes to the stereotyping of female hispanics as poor or lesser than. It might contradictorily affirm the attractiveness of the hispanic female–that is, why is it LATINA and not LATINO? Again, we can come back to the analysis that sex is the prime signifier of desire in late capitalism, and sex within patriarchy is inhabited by the male gaze.

This seemingly innocuous image of power switches is embedded in a whole intersection of symbolic meaning and utilizes many stereotypes within discourse to market the product as attractive for consumers who are also consuming this symbolic product.

Our Sexuality

October 11, 2010

I’m teaching a class on sexuality and I thought I should collect all of my preliminary thoughts about it into one place and, hey, that’s what this blog is for!

So, to begin, I’d like to say that my perspective on sexuality is quite Foucaultian. I think taking into account the insights (whether one agrees or not) of Foucault’s History of Sexuality is necessary for an understanding of our contemporary sexuality. Not only does he provide a very interesting account of where our sexual mores and proclivities belong in a historical continuum, he provides a very interesting methodological perspective about how to think about sexuality. It is not whether we possess in some essential way a certain sexuality, rather it is that we should question where sexuality comes from and what effect certain discourses on sexuality have on producing that sexuality. It is less important, for example, to determine whether or not we possess a repressed sexuality: it is rather to ask what does the very idea that we have a repressed sexuality do? How does thinking we are repressed effect the way we think and act about sexuality.

So, the first insight of The History of Sexuality and probably the most famous is that:

1) Whether or not we are actually repressed, the very idea that we are repressed (which we buy into a lot) impacts us. It makes us want to be liberated from this repression. It allows for a whole swath of discourse and activities open up that make us more and more concerned about sexuality. Because we think we are repressed we intensify our concern with sexuality. The idea of Repression actually produces more and more discourse about sexuality. (more…)

Diagnosing American Politics

October 2, 2010

Jean Baudrillard was somewhat prescient in his analysis of the semiology of America. In his 1983 volume Simulations (which contains excerpts from Simulations and Sumulacra, made famous by its cameo in the Matrix) Baudrillard has this to say about the WTC:

Why are there two towers at New York’s World Trade Center? … The fact that there are two of them signifies the end of all competition, the end of all original reference. … For the sign to be pure, it has to duplicate itself: it is the duplication of the sign which destroys its meaning. This is what Andy Warhol demonstrates also: the multiple replicas of Marilyn’s face are there to show at the same time the death of the original and the end of representation. (135-6)

Here we see the major philosophical point that Baudrillard is making. Signs are representations that infinitely reduplicate an original. In Late Capitalism, or the stage of simulation, signs no longer refer to any original, but rather only to each other. For Baudrillard, this means that we no longer operate, at the level of meaning (and as we saw with the stock market crash, economic meaning is included), with the real. Rather, we are operating within a correlated system of simulations of meaning. Signs no longer refer to or represent anything real. Thus, he could title one of his works: The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. He continues:

[The two towers] and their twin altitude presents no longer any value of transcendence. (137) … power is absolute only if it is capable of diffraction into various equivalents, if it knows how to take off so as to put more on. (134) … You need two superpowers to keep the universe under control… and the equilibrium of terror alone can allow a regulated opposition to be established, for the strategy is structural, never atomic.(134)

His broader point about the Twin Towers is that they stand in for America. (more…)

Religious Studies should be Ideology Studies

July 16, 2010

Caveat: I know the term ideology is quite loaded, and also has many expressions and meanings etc. etc. However, the most broad and non-judgemental meaning includes all the above. So that’s how I mean it here.

Caveat 2: this post is bitchy. and ranty. and nearly incoherent. But I gotta get it out! Maybe someone can translate for me in the comments.

So, I came across the video above at Sociological Images about David Harvey’s take on the economic crisis and blah blah. Interesting video and all that. At the end of the video, however, Harvey says we should be debate and discussing the issue and thinking differently and all that warm fuzzy stuff that makes critical thinkers think of rainbows.

My immediate reaction, however, was that nowhere is it more clear that ideology is afoot is when we think about economics and capitalism. While Marxists by no means have a monopoly on the term Ideology, they were a powerful voice in shaping what we mean by ideology. To be a jerk about it, this is how I think we tend to think about ideology today: everything you believe is ideology and what I believe is truth. (more…)

Philosophy as Discipline (suppliment to Philosophy as Sadism)

May 13, 2010

Philosophy as a discipline (that the irony of this word in this context has not been noticed shows how much I may be correct here) is the petty, violent sadism of last men who want to lord over the belief that they have already perfected knowledge, meanwhile convincing themselves that they are searching for it.

Just to expand a point I made in an earlier post. When I say that the discipline of philosophy is the belief that the last men have already perfected knowledge, one might think that this means that there is nothing left to know for these last men. Obviously, those doing philosophy understand themselves to be furthering knowledge. So, how can it be said that they have the belief that they have already ‘perfected knowledge’? When the procedures and technology of rationality are taken as a given, then there is nothing to add, philosophically, to how we go about knowing, to the underlying structure of thought, then yes, knowledge is perfected. All that is left is the clean up, the heavy lifting. Consequently, this conceit that we no longer need to challenge our basic assumptions (or more accurately, to determine where those assumptions lie) is covered over with the illusion that philosophers are still searching for new answers. But they are not. The answers are already there, at the end of the path laid out by the question. The task that remains is making that path more efficient: laying down the asphalt. The discipline of philosophy as a discipline tends towards this ossification when it polices itself with yeah-saying last men. The glee of the sadist petty tyrants is ambivalent though. Their ability to fully realize their sadistic rationality is curtailed by each other. In a warehouse bulging with sadists, no one sadist can dominate.  The ambivalence is tension between the will to express their rationality fully and their disappointment at being curtailed by other sadists.

Why express this view of the discipline as such? Professional philosophy, constrained by its institutional limitations, must be professional. That professionalism hardens it into a crystallized network. These institutional constraints on thought channel the discourse of philosophy in ways that constrain the limits of where one can push intellectually and still be funded, hired, accepted and not subject to exclusion, ridicule or just plain being ignored. In a discipline that prides itself on a history of challenging its predecessors, it is interesting that the complacency of professionalism for practical purposes curtails one’s ability to be challenging. Having spanned the divide between Anglo-American and Continental Philosophy, if we want to use those distinctions, it works in different ways for both sides. In a highly ironic turn, the most creative philosophers are those not even working in philosophy.

This is what I think was meant by the phrase “death of philosophy”. When philosophy becomes a discipline, and philosophizing becomes some language-game or history of philosophy within constrained methodological limits, where do we turn to for thought? If philosophy is the attempt to find the a priori conditions for knowing, or to understand the reasons why we think/do the things we do, then what does it mean when we cannot even glance at our shadows for fear of not being published or not getting the tenure track position?

A History of Fair-skin Preference in South Asia

April 14, 2010

Recently, the Vogue India magazine’s cover took head on the well-known preference for lighter or fairer skin as a sign of beauty in the subcontinent. This preference has been commented on before, with many interpretations of the phenomenon. In this case, for example, one interesting insight by the piece linked above talks about the capitalization of this preference by beauty product companies.

Fuelled by the appearance of light-skinned Bollywood stars and models, the demand for skin-whitening creams – from brands including L’Oreal and Unilever – grew 18 per cent last year and is set to increase by a predicted 25 per cent this year, the Times reports.

This is a significant aspect of the phenomenon. There are billboards, magazine ads, and TV commercials throughout South Asia that play on the standard of ‘fairer’ skin being more attractive. This fits a standard post-WWII late-capitalist model of subjectivity construction. A standard of the body is set as either preferred or as undesirable, marketing sets out to construct a narrative with the aim of inducing anxiety about reaching the standard (cover up undesirables, concern to reach desirables), and products are disseminated to temporarily relieve this anxiety. But, of course, there are so many things to be anxious about, late-capitalism aims to make us perpetually anxious consuming subjects. This narrative is pretty standard and is playing out in the particular case of fairer skin in the subcontinent. However, we do have to be attentive to the local conditions that make this particular manifestation play out in the way it does. So, to my mind, any analysis of this phenomenon should take into account a number of historical trajectories that impact light-skin beauty standards in India. (more…)


May 18, 2009

The discourse of freedom veils a hidden presupposition of capitalist class warfare.