Two Events in Consumption

In one of the units I am tutoring in this week the topic is shopping and subjectivity’. Bascially, the class is used as an opportunity to introduce students to conceptions of consumption and therelation between consumption and subjectivity in capitalist societies.

I am always on the hunt for understanding the ‘event milieu’ (as Negri and Hardt put it in Empire) of various practices and social situations. Normally I get annoyed by the identity-through-consumption rhetoric of de Certeau-influenced early 1990s cultural studies, and, well, I still get annoyed by it, but through discussion with students in the classes I have so far tutored, we have come up with a couple of provisional ‘events’ of consumption.

Beyond the alleged ‘freedom’ of consumer choice and the capacity of consumers to ‘tactically’ engage with commodities is the way in which consumers can be affectively mobilised into consuming. I realised this when one of my students described how she often entered the massive shopping malls with a ‘mission’. It came up in discussion of the perculiar subjectively of the ‘bored’ shopping mall dweller who could be interpellated on any number of levels. The student was countering the argument I was making regarding these ‘bored’ consumers as having a subjectivity akin to Agamben’s notion of a ‘whatever’ singularity.

A ‘mission’ involves a basic process of appetition: a conceptual prehension of a forthcoming event is integrated with a multiplcity of affective prehensions that define the experienceof trawling through clothes racks (for a special outfit for a special occasion) or finding a particular commodity (for a special gift for that special person). I began thinking about the role of shopping malls to work in a distributive fashion to reproduce the conditions of consumer discourse so as to produce a series of cultural events throughout the year that ‘inspire’ consumers to go on ‘missions’. I am thinking of birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and of course Valentine’s Day. This rhythm of special days requires consumers to go on various ‘missions’ to fulfill the social requirements effected through the discourse of these cultural events in consumer culture. The shopping ‘mission’ here is an event of consumer culture.

Another type of event involves the ritual of ‘sales’ and what some consumers call ‘bargain hunting’. Hunting for a bargain is one thing, but shopping malls and big grocery stores manipulate the affective comportment of the bargain hunter by presenting them with ‘red dot sales’ and ‘dollar dazzlers’ throughout the store. This reproduces the actual space of the store as an intensive space through the territorialisation of commodities with the refrain of the ‘bargain’. Consumers hunt for a ‘saving’ off the regular price; a commodity found as a ‘bargain’ expresses a savvy consumer ethic. The intensive space of the grocery store or shopping mall territorialised by the ‘sale’ or ‘bargain’ modulates the affective disposition of consumers by intervening in the activation contours as affect circulates across the population of consumers either in store of virtually through the distribution of catalogues. In other words, the ‘sale’ or ‘bargain’ is more than a questionable exchange-based valorisation of a commodity, it is also a tool of affective modulation to inciteor mobilise consumersinto consuming. Economists call this ‘consumer confidence’.

Technique to help stutterers when public speaking

I accidently figured out that if I write a word when speaking then I don’t stutter when saying it.

I realised this a few weeks ago when giving a lecture for the summer school course I was teaching and I wrote down a phrase I wanted to find again and research when I got home. Almost magically I could feel the tension of speaking relax out of me when I started writing the word out. I have been experimenting with it ever since, andnow include underlining which also seems to help, especially with been able to speak with more emphasis and modify the rhythm of my speaking so I don’t speak at a million miles an hour. Now I am at the stage where (somewhat ironically) my lecture notes look like I have been taking notes on my own lecture.

Having to speak precise words in a precise way is a nightmare for stutterers. I often explained the frustration of stuttering in terms of having the capacity to spell a word in one’s head but simply not being about to speak it. Now I literally do spell the word out but on paper. The writing out technique really does help. (The title of this post is to help stuttering googlers looking for tips, which according to my blog site stats is very frequent.) I think it freaks the students out as they often look like they are wondering what the hell I am writing when giving a lecture. Yes, I work on my other papers in the middle of delivering a lecture…

I think it must have something to do with the affective dimension of expression and there being some sort of short circuit in the way I perceive myself speaking. I hear myself speak and kind of lock up. By writing down words and phrases I release the tension and open up the short circuit. Or, at least, that is what it feels like I am doing.

I’ll see how I go on Thursday when I deliver a quasi-academic paper to a group of design and architecture focused students and practioners.

Magazines and Online Journalism

Paul Bradshaw has posted about the impact of the web on the magazine industry. He makes an important point about the way different magazines have responded in different ways. Some have moved more into the social networking side of things, or have provided the online infrastructure to access samples for particular micro-taste cultures:

It’s worth noting that some magazine sectors in particular – teen and music magazines, for instance – have really suffered, not because the journalism was bad, but because readers were able to get what they wanted from online sources, or because their media consumption patterns changed. People used to buy a music magazine to read the reviewers whose taste they trusted – but with mp3s, MySpace and peer recommendation it’s now easy to listen to any track you want, or to get recommendations from people who share your tastes.

What do you do? Well, NME has reinvented itself as an online community, mp3 and ticket shop and radio station, while teen mags are reinventing themselves as social networks with mobile features. So a major part of the way forward for magazines is about that culture and community that surrounds it, changing ways of communicating (e.g. mobile) and how you service that online.

SometinMagazines within the same genre, such as car enthusiast magzines, have responded in different ways and with various levels of urgency. For example, some magazines such as Fast Fours and Hot 4s have had proper online forums for about 6 years, while Street Machine magazine only introduced forums last year.

1KTF model of fan economies

Kevin Kelly outlines an interesting model for the survival of creatives through the capacity to harness the support of ‘1000 true fans’ from the flatline of the long tail. Kelly is editor-at-large at Wired magazine. The basic 1KTF model isa cultivation model of fandom. That is, the prmary goal is to work on the enthusiasm of 1000 true fans so they become active in the economic outcome of an artist’s work. The blockbuster/celebrity model is based on a passive saturation model.Two qualities of the 1KTF model:

1) A ‘true fan’ is a fan that will buy anything that an artist releases or publishes. Kelly argues that a true fan will spend one day’s income per year on buying whatever the artist produces. Say $100 per fan. That is $100,000.
2) The artist is required to maintain a ‘direct fan’ relationship with fans, which means having a direct if not personal relationship to fans. This requires using contemporary online and digital tools, such as RSS feeds and blogs to keep fans updated.

There is more to it, and Kelly has a number of examples on his blog, so go and check it out.

I guess I am a true fan of Max Barry. I read Syrup in about 4.5 hours after I had got it ordered in through Gleebooks. Jennifr Government and COmpany followed. Syrup is still my favourite though. I decided I liked Barry’s work after I worked the launch of Company at Gleebooks where he was in conversation with comic Will Anderson. I actually thought Barry was funnier than Anderson, mainly because Anderson seemed to have heaps of comedic set pieces and was always trying to esculate the humour into the faux rolling-in-the-ailes of commercial radio. Barry was much more understated, and yet savagely funny in his observations.

Sure I have bought all of Barry’s books and I subscribed to his (equally funny, and sometimes poignant) blog, but this doesn’t make me a true fan. I am a true fan because I buy Barry’s books as birthday and christmas presents and whenever someone starts talking about books I always talk Barry’s work up in conversation. I would’ve bought at least 5 other people copies of his books since ‘discovering’ his work last year. Of course, I don’t have a personal or direct relationship with Barry (or, at least, I bloody hope not!!) beyond his blog, and I think this is only required to pander to the collective ego of the more fanatic of fans. If Barry keeps on writing decent books, then that will be enough for me.