Monday, October 31, 2016


I keep running into this word. Not like an old friend but a nearly invisible, insidious process so pervasive it has become the new normal.

Commodification is the act of monetizing a product or symbol or person, cashing in on their implied message. It could also define turning something of no value into a marketable product. Think, pet rocks or cute pandas whose image speaks louder than the side effects of the latest miracle drug.
Take a look at the people in the stands of a ballgame. There will be a sea of blue or red or green jerseys bearing names of the players. Now look at a car commercial showing a farmer… in overalls, of course. Or a series of images with voice-over of a familiar folk song used to sell smart phones or was it insurance? One picture is worth a thousand pick-up trucks or a billion burgers.

The athletes are being exploited, however outrageous their salaries may seem. They no longer own the rights to their name. It is even more contemptible in collegiate sports where they earn billions for universities without any compensation.  The image of an independent farmer (fast disappearing) suggests a tableau of heart-warming, old-time American values attaching themselves to consuming a brand of cereal, or soup, or car or candidate. We are nothing if not consumers.
Welcome to the era of symbols. Bumper stickers have yielded to tattoos. It’s as if we are nobody if we don’t advertise ourselves, the last gasp of a lost identity. Now we are flooded with comic books (graphic novels) and emojis. Why articulate when we can just point to a ready-made image? The universality is not lost on me but I mourn the death of language, victim of a society hurriedly on its way to nowhere.

Fashion magazines reinforced by T.V. have objectified and commodified women’s bodies. They are presented with Extreme Makeovers, creams, lotions even surgery to be tucked, sucked and plucked. Trims are a growth industry. Our illustrious candidate has been known to assign a number to woman’s bodies. Arguably Donald Trump has commodified himself transforming a real estate mogul into a celebrity and then trading on his name into a candidacy for President. Whether his name confers anything more than ignorance, narcissism and megalomania remains to be seen. Would that he be reduced to an emoji !!
Artists and writers have long been held hostage to the marketplace. A blank page or canvass is suddenly worth thousands of bucks or, more often, deemed unmarketable…as if that were the true measure of the work. In a reversal of this I have recently learned of the Salvaged Art Institute in NYC where damaged or defaced art is held. It has been de-commodified.  

In a world of inequality money talks loud. It tilts the scales of justice and compromises morality. Tired of long lines at the airport? You can buy yourself a bypass. Want to see Hamilton on Broadway? Pay someone to wait 18 hours in front of the ticket line. Is it special privilege you want from your doctor? Get concierge service. Politicians are bought and sold; Republicans by the N.R.A. and Big Pharma. Democrats by Wall St., Walmart and the war machine....and these are all Interchangeable.
Newspapers which were once regarded as a public trust are now deemed as nothing more than a commodity answerable only to stockholders. Are libraries next? We have already privatized our prisons. Even our military has become something close to a mercenary force. There were more contractors in Iraq than servicemen.
Commodification even follows us beyond death. For $20,000 your survivors can wear a one carat diamond version of yourself as a necklace made from your very own ashes. Is that an I.D. or a price tag on my big toe?
Perhaps it was always thus and in my dotage I have just taken notice. The grouch in me is finding its voice. What to do about it, I ask myself? Think globally and act locally….and morally ….and simply. I shall take my cues from Peggy who is a world-class Finder. She doesn’t curse the darkness but finds a candle. She cuts a path through the wreckage. Those pebbles under foot she makes jewels of.

No comments:

Post a Comment