For my final paper, I want to explore the tabloid culture that we all exist in as Americans. Celebrity gossip has become a part of our everyday discourse, and Us Weekly and People are now staples in many households. Within this realm, I would like to focus specifically on the commodification of people. While the concept isn’t necessarily new, the ways in which people are commodified has shifted and grown with the changes in technology and means of communication. I am also going to investigate the celebrity status of our political leaders, namely Obama, and their presence in gossip magazines and on websites such as Perez Hilton. Since when did the leader of our nation become a celebrity? Obama is not only our president, but he is also a brand that consumers can buy into, just like we talked about with Che. I’m going to tie in the idea of the tabloid culture into Marx’s writings surrounding consumerism, capitalism, commodity fetishism, etc.
“Culture is ordinary: that is where we must start” (p. 5). In his chapter, “Culture is Ordinary”, Raymond Williams challenges many commonly held and accepted ideologies. By sharing with the reader the story of his upbringing in the country and subsequent education at Cambridge, Williams uses his first-hand experience to make the argument that culture is in fact ordinary, regardless of class or status. Williams explains that societies are formed through “common meanings and directions” and whether one is studying at a centuries old Cambridge library or a cathedral in the Welsh countryside, the bottom line remains that culture is ordinary.
By leveling the cultural playing field, Williams downplays the belief that class has anything to do with culture. The culture of a wealthy man who lives in the city is no different than the culture of a poor man who resides in the country. Williams refutes the Marxist idea of a “class-dominated culture, deliberately restricting a common inheritance to a small class, while leaving the masses ignorant” and especially the idea of a “deserving poor” (p.8-9). He feels that he is no better or no worse than any of the people from his rural town. Williams goes on to say that, “So when the Marxists say that we live in a dying culture, and that the masses are ignorant, I have to ask them, as I asked them then, where on earth they have lived. A dying culture, and ignorant masses, are not what I have known and see” (p. 9). Thus, Williams gives the masses more credit than your average Marxist does and truly believes that class does not dictate culture.
Williams also vehemently argues against being told to think and learn in “prescribed ways” and sees this as a fundamental flaw in Marxism because it does not accommodate for a future that is, by nature, unpredictable. This belief ties back to Casey’s argument that political philosophies such as Marxism and Capitalism will never succeed because of their lack of flexibility.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara is one of the most immortal figures in history, however, his eternity is “determined by human, not divine, intervention” (Casey, 7). The Marxist, physician, and key individual in the Cuban Revolution has lived on not only through the work of historians but also in large part thanks to a 1960 photograph taken by Alberto Korda that has become an iconic global image.
Despite Che’s powerful accounts of his real life, the consumer appeal and mass reproduction of the Korda image following his death ultimately led to his iconic power today. Appearing on t-shirts and coffee mugs and almost every consumer product in between, Che’s image is incredibly widespread and integrated into the consumer market worldwide. Aside from remaining a useful marketing tool in many cultures, the image also undoubtedly represents Che’s resistance to the capitalist system.
The symbolic meaning of the image has certainly not been lost over time but its meaning has been altered. Casey writes, “This industry, which now dictates Che’s afterlife, reflects a world that’s very different from the one Ernesto Guevara knew. Whereas Guevara placed himself firmly on one side of an ideological cold war and sought destruction of the capitalist system, Che’s image is now a participant in that system” (Casey, 10).
On one hand, the saturation of Che’s image in consumer culture detracts from his ideology and contradicts his Marxist and anti-capitalist thought, but on the other hand, Che would not be the iconic figure that he is today without capitalism. The fact that Che’s image has become a staple in pop culture has allowed his voice to be heard long after his death. In his afterlife, Che is much more than a man; he is a brand.