How Does One Resist the Joys of Marketing? And Why?
The Mantle is pleased to present the fourth in a series of important blog posts by Cæmeron Crain addressing critical concepts in contemporary political philosophy. Cæmeron's previous post explored the contours of life in what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze called a "Society of Control." In what follows, Cæmeron begins the difficult process of articulating a practice of resistance to the "diffuse matrix" of late-capitalist power.
In his “Postscript on the Societies of Control” Deleuze suggests that it will be up to the next generation—us—to figure out how to resist the “joys of marketing.” Several questions present themselves immediately: What does marketing have to do with control? What with joy? Why is this a joy to be resisted? And, of course, how might we do that? I will try to approach these questions in more or less that order.
To understand what marketing has to do with control, it might be helpful to start with Deleuze’s claim that marketing attempts to take over the role of philosophy: to create concepts. Of course, marketing does not truly create concepts, at least not philosophical ones; it creates the brand. We all know by now that the brand has little to nothing to do with the functionality of the product; it isn’t even linked to a particular kind of product. The brand is an “idea” or structure of affects. It organizes desire within a certain frame, linking the brand name to an image of the self and its relation to the world. Fantasy, in all of its psychoanalytic connotations, is fully deployed. But these are fundamentally false fantasies. They tie desire to premade products, or sterile ideas.
This can be described in terms of the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of desire. Marketing works by detaching desire from what it strives to create (deterritorialization) and then re-attaching it to a premade product. This reterritorialization occurs through the intermediary of the brand. To take an example that is perhaps overly simple, one desires to create a satisfying life, have meaningful relationships, be innovative, etc. The brand offers itself as a structure for such desire, as though one could have a satisfying life simply by shopping at the right store, or using the right kind of phone.
The brand reigns not just in the domain of consumer goods, but in that of politics. The political party, the candidate, is a brand. We should feel the similarity between Barack Obama’s campaign of Change in 2008 and something like Pepsi’s old ad campaign about being the “choice of a new generation.”
In both cases, what was invoked was a sort of blank idea of the “new.” But nothing new happened. Everywhere marketing creates false movements, false oppositions: Pepsi v. Coke, Democrats v. Republicans. The real movement is always elsewhere. Marketing controls us by convincing us that our desires can only be directed toward the products that are available. Then, we can only buy what they’re selling. True desire, Deleuze and Guattari insist, is productive – it creates its object and its frame.
The link between marketing and desire also allows us to see how it involves a joy. There is real joy – or, at least, enjoyment – in identifying with the brand. The brand’s success feels like it is in part one’s own. Apple provides what may be a paradigmatic example of this structure, starting with the campaign that encouraged us to “Think Different.”
It is important to note here how ‘different’ functions as a noun: one is not encouraged to “think differently” but to identify with the brand of the different. This effort has been wildly successful, making Apple the brand of choice not only for creative types (for whom it may offer better software options), but also for all of us who want to identify as creative, bohemian, what have you. Nevermind the proprietary software, or the fact that you cannot replace the battery on your device yourself; or, rather, do mind these things, because they speak to a deepening of brand identification. One takes an enjoyment in having something that feels special precisely because it does not work with other things. And the outpouring of emotion when Steve Jobs died! The credit given him as an innovator! He was, to be sure, but primarily in the domain of brand creation.
It is by enjoying that we submit most thoroughly to control. There is nothing to subvert, no grand authority to overthrow, no sovereign, not even an explicit disciplinary program. We are slaves of our own desire, or rather it is our desire that is enslaved. Resistance then involves refusing to desire the goods being sold to us. Desire must become creative. Unions wither because we are supposed to enjoy merely having a job. Jobs are terrible; everyone knows that. Work is not, if it is creative, and perhaps this is what we should demand: meaningful work or no work at all!
Let the different be different (be differently) and refuse to allow it to be tamed under the same – everywhere we need more distinctions, a rejection of binaries, a refusal to separate the polis into the people and the Other (criminals, immigrants, layabouts on the government dole, etc.). Whatever its success in actually governing, The Best Party captured the political potential of simply refusing to buy what They are selling, and that of humor:
We should distinguish between such humor and irony.1 The movement of irony involves taking a distance from its object: it criticizes from the heights, as though the ironist understands the truth far better than his opponent, who is trapped in a circle of confusion. Think of Socrates, or Jon Stewart. Irony can be useful, but it risks a detachment that can become reactionary, or quietistic. One feels satisfied in knowing the Truth, and thus stands above the existing conflicts. The humor the Best Party actuated lies rather in an honest insistence upon one’s desire: “we will not accept the mediocre, because we want the Best!” It is the absurdity of the demand, in the face of “political reality” that creates the humor. We move along the surface, refusing to accept the reality that seeks to control our desire by relating it to pre-established norms.
It is only in insisting upon a desire that is truly creative that we can resist the joys of marketing. Rather than choosing a brand, one must create new concepts. Think differently. If this is a call to philosophy, it is not an aristocratic claim about the ivory tower. It is to insist on philosophy’s force as directly practical, directly political – the question is one of how we conceptualize the world we inhabit, and how those concepts structure desire. Resistance comes through the creation of the New, and this can be just as much a practice undertaken by artists, or by people in general, as by those within the confines of the academy.
Imagine an Occupy movement that made us laugh, or the humor involved in naively insisting that one will vote for whatever candidate (probably from a third party) most nearly represents one’s own views, because isn’t that how a republic is supposed to function? In all cases, we must reject the notion that we have to have a worked out plan for the new order. The new is created through its own process. The new, better, best, way of structuring society is a problematic idea. It is not a question of knowing the solution beforehand, but of being committed to the process of working toward it. Humor is a tactic, not an end in itself. It is a matter of pushing through on a desire that the currently existing reality takes to be absurd. It is only a first step toward the creation of the new, or the different. And there are perhaps other ways of resisting the joys of marketing.
We must be very careful, however, because this all risks being too easily co-opted by existing forces, and wrapped into a brand. I was recently offered an Occupy credit card. Apple tells me to “think different.” If resistance involves, on the contrary, thinking differently, this slippage may be the most dangerous of all.
- 1. I am pulling here on the distinction Deleuze makes between humor and irony in Coldness and Cruelty, as well as in The Logic of Sense.