What does the commodified self look like? I am interested in examining what William Robinson calls total commodification of social life in a globalized world, how it connects to the Kardashian-cultural juggernaut and finally, how these 2 concepts reflect McKenzie Wark’s theory of the new ruling class.
I am continually struck by the way that the Kardashian Empire intuits new ways to commodify their existences: an incredible 12-season run of a reality show with many spin-off shows, clothing boutiques, various low-brow fashion/accessories lines that various family members sponsor and even more various high-brow fashion houses that sponsor them, make-up lines, cat-walk appearances, print books, mobile games, mobile apps, and of course, a continual stream of content accessible via various social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, personal apps, and personal blogs. The list, shockingly, goes on.
In chapter 3 of Lechner & Boli’s Globalization Reader, William Robinson writes: “every corner of the globe, every nook and cranny of social life, is becoming commodified. This involves breaking up and commodifying non-market spheres linked to community and family units, local and household economies. This complete commodification of social life is undermining what remains of democratic control by people over the conditions of their daily existences, above and beyond that involved with private ownership of the principal means of production.” (23).
Indeed, a major facet of globalization discussed throughout the reading was triumph of the free market across the globe. We saw this being questioned within Barber’s “McWorld” paradigm, wherein market efficiency is prioritized over individual human freedom of experience. (33). Coupled with Robinson’s commodified social life, a dystopian view of a global free market would possibly look like the Kardashian’s engagement with media refracted through our everyday lives, wherein every lived moment can be capitalized upon.
However, the Kardashian clan is still at an advantage: they own, or at least retain partial ownership, of all of their business ventures. They directly benefit from capitalizing upon themselves. The typical pro-sumer creating and exchanging ideas and data in the new information systems of the world is not so lucky — while we create, we do not own our data, nor do we economically benefit from it. When Robinson warns that the commodification of daily existence erodes personal freedoms and control — “above and beyond” being excluded from the means of production — he reminded me of theorist McKenzie Wark’s work, The Hacker Manifesto.
Wark argues that there is a new system of exploitation and division of labor, distinct from previous understandings of capitalist (ownership of means of production)/worker proletariat and pastoralist (land-ownder)/peasant. Wark defines the emergent ruling class as vectoralists, who wrest value out of novel creations via patent, copyright, and also create wealth by controlling the flow of information. Wark is substantiated by Robinson’s vision of personal life commodified to the n’th degree — as vectoralists find new ways to capitalize on our lived experiences and production of data, we’ll all be on display like the Kardashians but certainly not eating like them.
Robinson, William I. “Globalization: Nine Theses on Our Epoch.” The Globalization Reader. By Frank J. Lechner and John Boli. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2012. 22-28. Print.
Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004. Print.