The Consumer as a Fan

I'm With the Brand

Joshua Gamson is a Yale professor who's written about the way audiences increasingly crave info about the manufacture of fame--the story behind the story. "The process is a story in itself," says Gamson. Look at the Entertainment Weekly stories dissecting Eddie Murphy's "image 'recovery strategy' " and the anti-ads (Sprite's "Image is nothing," Miller Lite's Dick) that make fun of advertising. The exposure of artifice--rather than turning us away from commercial culture--engages us in other ways. When authenticity is irrelevant, we can see the celebs/ads as prefabricated jokes and remain wholly entertained. Witness all the anti-Hanson, anti-Titanic ("the Titanic sank, let's move on"), anti-Tamagotchi zines and Web sites. Of course, people focused on hating the Spice Girls--and collecting pictures, building Web sites, and making jokes about hating the Spice Girls--are nonetheless focused on the Spice Girls. Their criticisms don't challenge consumption; they suggest we're not consuming the right stuff.

"Everything is in terms of consumption," says Gamson (who, for the record, loves the Spice Girls, hates Disney, and suspects Julia Roberts could turn him straight). What's disturbing, he argues, is not that we use consumption symbols to create and communicate--but the fact that that's all we use. Commercial symbols clearly address real, human needs. But the solution they provide to meet them leads on a treadmill to nowhere. How to transcend mere fandom (or prove inspiration)? Be a bigger fan. To stand out from the audience, watch more, collect more, and whatever you do, be visible about it!

Stepping off the treadmill means not simply exposing and countering ads or TV shows, but creating real alternatives to commercial culture. For instance? Um, we're working on it. Meanwhile, Jazzercise?

e-mail: stayfree@sunsite.unc.edu

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