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The capitalist mode of production has gone through some significant changes in the twentieth century. Cultural phenomena have become crucial forces in the moments of distribution, exchange and consumption of commodities. The heroic age of the revolutionary bourgeoisie ended around 1910 with the decline of all of the referentials of early capitalism: clock time, the vanishing point in art, the work ethic and productive values, etc. Class strategy has shifted from the organization of production to the bureaucratic organization of consumption and everyday life. The age of simulation begins with the liquidation of referentials according to Jean Baudrillard. Signs and signifiers have become detached from their referents, from reality, and now only refer to each other. For Baudrillard, the production and reproduction of the hyperreal is what material production is all about in our postmodern society, a fundamental break from neo-capitalism. Simulations, signs and codes now structure social relations and social practices rather than the capital/labor relation of classical capitalism.
While commodification and industrialization were seen as elements of an explosive process in early capitalism, Baudrillard, following Marshall McLuhan, sees an implosion of all binary distinctions and boundaries in neo-capitalism: high and low culture, past and present, good and evil, capital and labor, male and female, white and nonwhite, developed and underdeveloped nations, appearance and reality, urban and rural, representation and reality, true and false etc. The poles of every opposition have been absorbed into one another and have become undecidable; indifference and neutralization of all of these dialectical oppositions is the consequence. Capital is simply one sign among a multitude of signs that structure social experience and practices in everyday life. Lefebvre traces this process of implosion to the failure of the proletariat to take us beyond the contradictions of capitalism. While Lefebvre sees the implosion of this over-organized society as a dystopic possibility, Baudrillard sees it as an accomplished fact and offers us only one alternative, a return to symbolic exchange.
- Baudrillard, , (1994) Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.
- Gottdiener, M. (2001) The Theming of America, 2nd edn. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
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