Laissez Fairyland — Making the Intangible Less Tangential
Here we present a simple solution to see that a fad is the result of the same type of behavior that causes any other good to be purchased. It is the characteristic of the good, and the interaction of the various agents with their neighbors that causes the peculiar pattern of behavior that is called fad.
Is Reaganism such a good and as a commodity is its commodity fetishism available for analysis beyond its intangible assets. Yet Reaganism is tangible and attempts to memorialize the commodity extend materially far beyond the cinematic and the televisual nature of the Great Communicator. The fad of VooDoo(sic) Economics is a useful example of how to discuss intangible assets as forms of virtual capital. The production and reproduction of the Reaganist myth is its own market. Its production of character/reputation and trust/reciprocity is of course legendary and its diffusion to the North American form of teabaggery continues with the institutional support of right-wing venture capital like the Kochs.
In the United States, commentators frequently equate supply-side economics with Reaganomics. The fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan were largely based on supply-side economics. During Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, the key economic concern was double digit inflation, which Reagan described as “Too many dollars chasing too few goods,” but rather than the usual dose of tight money, recession and layoffs, with their consequent loss of production and wealth, he promised a gradual and painless way to fight inflation by “producing our way out of it”.
An example of fad economics occurred in 1980, when a small group of economists advised Presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue. They argued that if people could keep a higher fraction of their income, people would work harder to earn more income. Even though tax rates would be lower, income would rise by so much, they claimed, that tax revenues would rise. Almost all professional economists, including most of those who supported Reagan’s proposal to cut taxes, viewed this outcome as far too optimistic. Lower tax rates might encourage people to work harder and this extra effort would offset the direct effects of lower tax rates to some extent, but there was no credible evidence that work effort would rise by enough to cause tax revenues to rise in the face of lower tax rates. … People on fad diets put their health at risk but rarely achieve the permanent weight loss they desire. Similarly, when politicians rely on the advice of charlatans and cranks, they rarely get the desirable results they anticipate. After Reagan’s election, Congress passed the cut in tax rates that Reagan advocated, but the tax cut did not cause tax revenues to rise.
As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. — Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I
As one can perhaps see, the transgressive role of the State in the struggle among classes will become the key problem for making this critique work as will the impending institutional arrangements making that State ubiquitous and global.
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. — Ronald Reagan
Reaganism was a political perspective in the United States based on a friendly-seeming, grandfatherly-type ex-actor telling us that government could do no good, and then proceeding to become the head of the executive branch of the United States government, drastically expanding the public debt as he saw fit. Why anyone believed it is beyond us.
Prominent lies promoted by Mr. Reagan include:
- The “free market” is always more efficient than the government at providing solutions to problems. (See universal health care)
- The “government” is incapable of solving a country’s problems (See Hurricane Katrina)
- Some woman somewhere on welfare had a Cadillac and a color TV. (He made this up).
- Hardworking blue collar Americans should hate suffering poor Americans for eating their tax dollars instead of working their asses off for giant corporations themselves. (See trade union)
- The “rich” are a beleaguered and overtaxed suffering demographic. (Who pay well for political campaigns!)
In Britain, there was a very similar political movement referred to as “Thatcherism,” named for the Iron Lady who advocated the same principles. The impact of this was slightly less than that of the States.
In Marxist philosophy, however, the term Cultural Hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of the society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class
We live in a Tea (Party) service economy
The embodiment of those social constructs in the past decade are our pseudo-revolutionary objects of derision and humor, the teabaggers (aka Tea Party patriots and its libertarian factions). Cultural work has been often times difficult for many since its socially embodied labor derives from a multitude of divisions as well as a variety of controversies often dialectically dichotomous and intellectually challenging: for example cultural studies versus political economy approaches to critical theory. This is too small a space to solve the problem (it can be solved) but to point to some rudimentary examples like the personality Cult of Reagan to show the need for ecumenical approaches to critical analysis.
Come below the fold to see if we can’t disentangle the whole mess:
OCTOBER 27, 1980: More than two dozen papers drop Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury “The Mysterious World of Reagan’s Brain,” a week-long sequence that runs on the eve of the 1980 election. One of those papers, The Indianapolis Star, receives 850 calls of protest before it agrees to reinstate the strip.
‘Is he of that stature? The answer is yes,’ said Grover Norquist, chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project. ‘Reagan was the most successful president of the twentieth century. He took a country that was in economic collapse and militarily in retreat around the globe and turned it completely around.’ Norquist, who led the effort to rename Washington’s National Airport after Reagan, has been using the president’s centennial anniversary to make a renewed push to bring the Reagan name and likeness to every county in all 50 states.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said he thought DeFazio’s amendment was ‘terrific’ but wanted to take it a step further and name the planet after Reagan. ‘We may want to consider going big with this Reagan-naming enthusiasm,’ Huffman said. ‘I’m beginning to see some possibilities in this.’ Huffman said his reasoning was that if the planet were named after Reagan, then Republicans might be more concerned with taking up legislation dealing with global warming.
Some simple examples of the Reagan mythology from the history of design:
Exquisite Lenox fine china plate commemorates the 1981 Inauguration of President Reagan. White House design with Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagans signatures in 24K gold. “Inauguration January 20, 1981″ imprinted on reverse side of 10 3/4” plate. Gift boxed
Lenox dreamed of producing china as good as or better than any other ceramics company in the world. During the 19th century, the nascent American ceramics and pottery industry produced unrefined wares due to their unsophisticated manufacturing techniques; as a result, wealthy Americans turned to famous, centuries-old European manufacturers for dinner service and tableware. Lenox’s goal was thus formidable: he had to master the difficult techniques involved in making fine china, overcome American prejudices against domestic china, and, in addition, secure sufficient backing to finance his operations….
During the 1950s, Lenox broke away from the European system of selling china, which involved the purchase of an entire service set at significant cost. The result was that china represented an investment that was out of reach of the average family. Instead, Lenox began to offer five-piece complete place settings, three-piece-buffet/place settings, and individual pieces for sale. In addition, Lenox was the first company to develop a bridal registry, whereby women engaged to be married could register their choice of china at selected retail stores, and family and friends could purchase pieces from the registry as wedding gifts.
State dinners had become so large by the Reagan presidency that none of the china could accommodate the number of guests. First Lady Nancy Reagan ordered 4,370 pieces of Lenox china, enough place settings of 19 pieces for 220 people. This was nearly twice as many placesettings as other recent services.
This is of course an industry whose history in the UK context is one of pattern differentiation, formation of middle-class consumer markets based on status marketing and regulated (royal license) production. While still artisanal, its expansion as capitalist industry requires an entire ensemble of cultural practices that are socially embodied labor. We are more interested in disposable Chinet picnicware than fine dining china these days but the consuming of personality cults as markets of/for character are increasingly important as celebrity and politics overlap. Modern petit-bourgeois fantasies in the US context would not be fulfilled if Monica Lewinsky did not attend Bill Clinton’s state funeral. And in the case of President Reagan his role as a PR representative of the MIC began in the convergence of new public media as well as intra-corporate communication. With the production of light bulbs and refrigerators was also the production of nuclear reactors. The structure and agency here is not the history of designed objects but of an entire institutional economy and its relation to the “the characteristic of the good, and the interaction of the various agents with their neighbors” that makes an analysis more complex cultural analysis rather than connoisseurship and provenance.
In 1954, after several years of sporadic acting in minor westerns, Reagan signed a lucrative contract to become the host of the General Electric Theater , a new television drama series. Reagan introduced each show and acted in some of them. He also became active in GE corporate relations, touring the company’s plants and serving as its ‘goodwill ambassador’ to the public. He spent much time in the company of Earl Dunckel, who handled public relations for the GE Theater and who bombarded Reagan constantly with his deeply conservative political views.
Similar views began to appear more and more often in the increasingly frequent and increasingly political speeches Reagan gave for General Electric in the mid- and late 1950s, when he became not just the host of the company’s television series but, in effect, its most prominent corporate spokesman. His subject was almost invariably the wastefulness and intrusiveness of government (which should, he insisted, ‘be reduced to the barest minimum’) and the bankruptcy of the ‘welfare state.’ In public, at least, nothing remained of his earlier liberal enthusiasms and his fervent support of the New Deal.
As much as it’s ground trod by a great many other authors the point to be made is that what Harvey calls fictitious capital while ephemeral as labor, it is still socially embodied and it is the formation of mental capital or knowledge production that becomes a key feature of a more general theory of virtual capital. What is important in such theory-building is that like Reaganism it is not so faddish as it requires even greater theoretical tools, some of which must be contingently constructed in order to execute a critical practice. Fads are commodities whose fetishism includes more complex forms of socially embodied labor with complex class constructs and whose struggle in a digital economy makes the stakes even greater as recent shock doctrines have revealed.
consider this logical path above, read right to left top to bottom by row
look then at this version updated for the 21st Century
Then compare the above two with this ‘bagger paranoid fantasy. Which is more logical and coherent?
And yet our arguments here and elsewhere can be seen as quite easily bifurcated and it does make it easier: the rich and the poor, the 1% and the 99%, the ruling class and the other classes, but it truly has become more complex as recent elections and the current global and ecological crises have revealed. And its teleology is best left for another day.
In Mark Tansey’s Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight, Alain Robbe-Grillet, French writer and filmmaker, is scrubbing stones in the desert. As the viewer looks closer they realize the stones that Alain Robbe-Grillet is scrubbing are the Sphinx and Stonehenge.
Picture from Neeta Lind licensed under Creative Commons