[iDC] 45 RPM (media history on heavy rotation)

Armin Medosch armin at easynet.co.uk
Sun Aug 23 08:43:31 UTC 2009

Hi all,

thanks for your comments on the 45 RPM text. As this is very much a work
in progress, I appreciate critical feedback. It seems that Michael takes
issue with the way commodity fetishism is used whereby I must say I
think this is a misunderstanding. I never meant to say that commodity
fetishism is merely about a fascination with things. What I hope is a
minor contribution from a distance to the planned conference, is the
attempt to use Wolf Fritz Haug's notion of the commodity aesthetics and
apply it to social networks. There is an English version of this
important early book: 

Haug, Wolfgang Fritz. 1986. Critique of commodity aesthetics:
appearance, sexuality, and advertising in capitalist society.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

And recently a German version has been newly released with a second part
as a kind of update. Haug derives his concept of the commodity
aesthetics closely from Marx' theory of commodity fetishism. The
contradicition between the use value and the exchange value is an
incentive for capital to invest into the 'aesthetic semblance' of use
value. This brings into existence a sphere of the aesthetics of the
commodity which cannot 'explain' commodity fetishism, because it is
preceded by it, but it contantly produces fetishised images of things
and thereby uses strategies of fascination to create emotional
attachments. This concept can very usefully be applied to a critique of
social networks where our own activity of being communicators is being
represented to us as an achievement of capital. Only in this context did
I bring up a concrete sum for the value of facebook to underline that
'real' accumulation takes place. The value of 6.5 Bio USD is indeed
relatively low, Facebook has already been valued 15 Bio and more, yet it
is a 'real' value insofar it has been extrapolated by what a Russian
internet investor paid for shares in the company (it is still a private
company, pre IPO). 

This value is attributed to a social network platform where the
'content' is the communications and social relations of users. Commodity
aesthetics helps to explain why people fall for such platforms rather
than using decentralised and transparent platforms of interchange of
their own making or free cooperation. There is maybe nothing new about
surplus profit being made from 'free' contributions of workers, yet what
makes social networks interesting is that they represent the latest
stage of this process. Those networks and platforms are not immaterial,
but to the contrary, a sort of embodiment of social relations in code.
They bring the spectacular to a new level. What was once the promise of
contributing to the democratisation of society, free, uncensored
many-to-many communications as built into the structure of the net in
the first place - which Michael was right to remark - has now become a
product. Social networks reproduce the topological relationships of the
tv age on a new level, that of 'platform-user'.  

If this has not come out clearly in article which I have posted here,
then I take this as an encouragement to explain it better in a new text.
Last not least I would also like to emphasise the second part of the
critique, the constructive proposal. In this respect I would like to
invite members of this list to join http://thenextlayer.org which is a
drupal based cms adminstrated by myself and populated by a small but
growing number of people interested in applying collaborative research
methodologies. Behind the front end it offers the possibility to form
working groups, read the about page of you want to know more or email me

On Fri, 2009-08-14 at 12:43 -0700, Michael H Goldhaber wrote:
> Hi  Armin,
> I read your piece fast, but with some interest. It's well written and  
> snappy.  You cover many of the main bases, including technological  
> determinism. But I am somewhat disappointed. To start, I don't think  
> you use the term "commodity fetishism" as Marx meant it. It does not  
> mean the love of commodities, or anything like that, but rather  
> imputing to commodities  a life of their own, so that they rise or  
> fall in prices, as if by their own doing, rather than the reality that  
> it is human beings who through their social relations set the prices  
> of commodities, which prices are themselves social relations between  
> people.  "Consumerism" is something else. I feel your treatment of it  
> could be much deeper.
> Also, I am more than a little surprised that apparently you say  
> nothing at all about the social origins of the Internet. I do cover  
> this somewhat in my piece http://www.well.com/user/mgoldh/Technosocialism.html 
>    "Values, Technology, the Internet, and a New Opening for Humane  
> Socialism." So do some others.
> I think you are, like many, caught up too much in an uncritical  
> acceptance of the power of corporations vis-a-vis the Internet. There  
> is nothing particularly "fantastic" for instance in Facebook having a  
> putative valuation of $6.5 billion (which is in fact small as major  
> corporations go). That is far from what is really interesting or  
> important about Facebook as a social phenomenon. Please don't be  
> seduced by capitalist analysts' one-dimensional  valuations to think  
> they are therefore either correct or essential. This is a problem some  
> others on the IDC list also have. To truly understand the Internet, in  
> my view is to see it as an arena of sharp contestation, taking many  
> forms, between capitalist and post-capitalist modes of production. I  
> think that is where the discussion should focus.
> Best,
> Michael
> On Aug 13, 2009, at 3:00 AM, Armin Medosch wrote:
> >
> > Hi IDCers
> >
> > I have followed the recent discussion here over the past three  
> > months or
> > so with great interest but unfortunately was too busy to jump in as I
> > had things to do which demanded my undivided attention. One of those
> > things was writing the text which I post below, the last sections of
> > which focus on the very same topic. In my humble opinion discourse on
> > new media has suffered from too much 'idealism' in the broadest  
> > meaning,
> > and also from too much preference on culture as a separate category to
> > the detriment of study of the political economy of which those new  
> > media
> > phenomena are a part. the recent discussion here has shown that such a
> > one-sidedness is already in the process of being remedied and I hope  
> > my
> > text will contribute further to that. If you take the time to read you
> > will also see that this is just an outline, a programmatics more than
> > the final article. As this is the draft for a contributuion to a print
> > publication I also had to stick to a word limit so that I had to leave
> > out a lot. Hope you enjoy
> >
> > 45 RPM (media history on heavy rotation)
> > http://www.thenextlayer.org/node/1192
> >
> > regards
> > armin
> >
> >
> > -- 
> > thenextlayer software, art, politics http://www.thenextlayer.org
> >
> >
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