THE CELEBRITY OF COMMODITY: Instant Karma of Possession

” Similarly, when Nike introduced a new shoe line “Air Huarache” and wanted to distinguish its sign from those of other shoe lines, Nike adopted John Lennon’s song “Instant Karma” as a starting point for the shoe’s sign value. Nike justified drawing on Lennon’s classic song by insisting that it was chosen because it dovetailed with Nike’s own message of Self Improvement: making yourself better”

…Celebrity culture provides an important integrating function in secular, democratic, capitalist society. At the same time, the desire mobilized by celebrity culture is abstract. The logic, or its programmed algorithm of capitalist accumulation requires consumers to constantly exchange their wants. The restlessness and friction in industrial culture partly derives from the capitalist requirement to initiate perpetual commodity and brand innovation.

"At this point, a word should be said of the consequences of the integration by capitalist economies of cultural products. If cultural production was to become a profit making niche, it required the implementation of a mass market. Now, cultural artefacts have no intrinsic worth, their use value is purely hypothetical. Their consumption depends on their symbolic value based, in rock music as in the motion pictures industry, on the star system which rationalized consumer demand. This is why, as David Buxton put it, "the consumer must be created alongside the product."

John Lennons songs worked as political tools of resistance during his life, but increasingly, his image, the refashioning of his iconography and his emergence as a new form of cultural archetype has been his destiny in the twenty-first century:  His art and himself contradictorily used as modern day tools for profit and commercial means, via incorporation and a re-contexting of the message.

Incorporation explains how political things become commidified. Lennon’s songs are incorporated into mainstream popular culture and stripped of their original meaning in order to ‘bring in the bucks.’ In keeping with the theme of dominant consumerism, Stuart Hall states that hegemony is related to the incorporation “of the great majority of people into broadly based relations of cultural consumption. This requires the incorporation of culture into the sphere of market relations.” Similarly, Thomas Frank explores the notion of counter-culture rebellion, wherein Lennon’s songs have been repackaged and used to sell things and promote the consumer culture and capitalist ideology of the 21st century.

"The situation is particularly interesting as rock music has always defined itself as a reaction to mass culture. The grounds on which rock has confronted mass culture have obviously varied in time, as this culture itself was altered by the impact of previous rock genres. But rock dynamics stems from the tension between the centrifugal movement required by the entertainment industry and the centripetal dimension of each new musical wave. It may sound paradoxical to credit rock music with a centripetal force, as most artists seem rather motivated by a craving...."

In such circumstances desire is alienable, transferable, since wants must be perpetually switched and repackaged in response to market developments. This market must inevitably turn the public face of the celebrity into a commodity. We will not understand the peculiar hold that celebrities exert on us today unless it is recognized that celebrity culture is irrevocably bound up with commodity culture.

But consumers are not merely part of a market of commodities; more importantly, they are part of a market of sentiments. Our economic system requires individuals to be both desiring objects and objects of desire. For economic “progress” depends on the consumption of commodities, and cultural integration depends on the renewal of the bonds of social interaction.

Celebrities grease the wheel by humanizing the process of commodity consumption. Celebrity culture has emerged as a central mechanism in structuring the market of human sentiments. Celebrities are commodities in the sense that consumers desire to possess them- even notrious celebrity figures like Mark David Chapman receive fan mail in prison and marriage proposals. Far from being reviled as outcast, notorious celebrities are cherished as necessary folk devils by significant layers of the public.

"This organization of the record industry brings to light an essential ambiguity of rock music. If most new musical trends result from the criticism of mass consumption (including of music), they seldom resist very long the relentless attacks of the industry and its assimilating powers.8 The most unorthodox practices are rapidly popularized and made palatable, losing in the process their radical character9. The latest example being that of the Seattle band Nirvana, jumping in a few weeks from the status of garage-band to the #1 position in the charts. Each musical trend, after a few months..."

The fact that media representation is the

s of celebrity is at the heart of both the question of the mysterious tenacity of celebrity power and the peculiar fragility of celebrity presence. From the perspective of the audience , it makes celebrity seem , simultaneously, both larger than life and intimate confreres. Staging presence through the media inevitably raises the question of authenticity. This is a perpetual dilemma for both the celebrity and the audience, to which there is no clear response:

Sean initially defended the move on his Twitter stream, according to the Liverpool Echo:

She did not do it for money. Has to do w hoping to keep dad in public consciousness. No new LPs, so TV ad is exposure to young.

Look, TV ad was not for money. It’s just hard to find new ways to keep dad in the new world. Not many things as effective as TV.

Having just seen ad I realize why people are mad. But intention was not financial, was simply wanting to keep him out there in the world.”

He also called one critic a “peasant” and an “asshole.” More recently Sean has begun to deny that he had anything to do with the ads. In a series of Tweets over the last 24 hours he said:

I’m not defending the ad. I’m explaining it. I only saw the ad for the first time few days ago.

Now they say I’m abusing Lennon fans? Because I’m defending my mother from insults over an advert I had NOTHING to do with!?

What way did I exploit dad’s image, do you think I made that ad? I’m a musician not an executive. Stop spreading rumors.

"Rock music is never counter cultural for long. As a rule, after a short period on the fringes, each new style becomes a mass countercultural movement, before eventually joining the mass culture merrygo- round. Mass industry cares little about the subtle differences between culture and the counter culture. In fact, its essential feature is precisely its ability to digest any form of deviancy or marginality."

Rock music has always been at odds with mass culture. It is at the same time one of its essential components and among its most vocal critics. Rock benefits from mass culture’s economic framework and in return feeds it with its remarkable energy. But musicians and fans alike have repeatedly expressed feelings of uneasiness or even downright rejection at this close interdependence. It is precisely such tensions that give rock music its momentum.The ambivalent nature of rock music as regards mass culture stems in
fact from a well known dichotomy that permeates most 20th- centuryanalyses of cultural productions. For Marxian or Veblenian criticism, the ideological contents of rock music derive from its economic status; however that is a broad brush and it is generally recognized that rock music defied reductionistic analyses and was a more delicate subject to tackle than other aspects of mass culture.

Patrick Mignon synthesized perfectly these contrasting viewpoints when he noted that “rock music is the universalization of both market logic and individualism, the standardized product of cultural industries and the true expression of the people.”

Sean O'Hagen: despite the happy-clappy inanity of Lennon the musical, there is something about the least-loveable Beatle that resists our attempts to posthumously canonise him, something to do with what that never-quite-abandoned abrasiveness and unpredictability. Of all the new breed of British pop stars who emerged in the Sixties, Lennon was the one who harked back most to the Angry Young Man archetype of Fifties writers like John Osborne and Keith Waterhouse. His anger was undoubtedly class-based, a working class Northerner's response to the stultifying conservatism that held sway in the Fifties and early Sixties. It ran deeper than that, though. ...

What our central issue, i.e., the conflicting relationship between rock music and mass culture, eventually boils down to is in fact a
matter of assessing the value of this culture, and more particularly the concept of “mass.” Some consider it as synonymous with
standardized consumption, bad taste and fleeting fads; others, less contemptuous, give it a positive value and stress that “popular” does not necessarily rule out “quality.” However, the very relationship between rock and mass culture is seldom questioned; almost everyone agrees on equating rock music with one of the commonest definitions of mass culture : produced for the greatest number, consumed by the greatest number. It must be that the intimate links of rock music with mass consumption blur all tensions and contradictions between the two.
A friend pointed me to a 1980 interview in which John Lennon expresses some vaguely similar sentiment: that the Beatles were a cultural product of their time, and people should stop being caught up in the nostalgia. Among other comments,
LENNON: We tuned in to the message. That’s all. I don’t mean to belittle the Beatles when I say they weren’t this, they weren’t that. I’m just trying not to overblow their importance as separate from society. And I don’t think they were more important than Glenn Miller or Woody Herman or Bessie Smith. It was our generation, that’s all. It was Sixties music.

LENNON: I never went to high school reunions. My thing is, Out of sight, out of mind. That’s my attitude toward life. So I don’t have any romanticism about any part of my past. I think of it only inasmuch as it gave me pleasure or helped me grow psychologically. That is the only thing that interests me about yesterday. I don’t believe in yesterday, by the way. You know I don’t believe in yesterday. I am only interested in what I am doing now.

…Intersting interview, Mark. But Lennon was possibly the most nostalgic man of The Beatles. Lots of the things he said in interviews an image he would sell for the press and fans. Himself couldn’t fathom to hear anyone talking shit about The Beatles only himself (and Yoko). He asked to his aunt send him his school uniforms and notebooks and once employeed a great Beatles fan only to talk about the band. Also he had a huge collection of Beatles outakes, bootlegs and memorablia.

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