Cultural Commodification

Commodification (or commoditization) is the transformation of goods, ideas, or other entities that may not normally be regarded as goods into a commodity. American author and feminist bell hooks refers to cultural commodification [kuh-mod-uh-fi-key-shuhn] as ‘eating the other.’ By this she means that cultural expressions, revolutionary, or post modern, can be sold to the dominant culture. Any messages of social change are not marketed for their messages but used as a mechanism to acquire a piece of the ‘primitive.’ Any interests in past historical culture almost always have a modern twist.

According to Mariana Torgovnick, ‘What is clear now is that the West’s fascination with the primitive has to do with its own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe.’ Hooks states that marginalized groups are seduced by this concept because of ‘the promise of recognition and reconciliation.’ ‘When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism.’

Socialist movements are losing their voices on change because members of the ‘movement’ are not promoting the message but participating in a fashion statement. Activists’ hard works are marketable to the masses without accountability. An example of commodification is the colors red, black, and green, which are the colors of the African Liberation Army (ALA). For people of African descent these colors represent red (the innocent bloodshed of Africans), black (African people) and green (stolen land of Africa). These colors are marketed worldwide on all types of apparel and shoes. The colors do not carry the message of the resistance any longer; they are now merely a fashion statement. ‘Given this cultural context, Black Nationalism is more a gesture of powerlessness than a sign of critical resistance.

Who can take seriously Public Enemy’s insistence that the dominated and their allies ‘fight the power’ when that declaration is in no way linked to the collective organized struggle. When young black people mouth 1960s’ black nationalist rhetoric, don Kente cloth, gold medallions, dread their hair, and diss the white folks they hang out with, they expose the way meaningless commodification strips these signs of political integrity and meaning, denying the possibility that they can serve as a catalyst for concrete political action. As signs, their power to ignite critical consciousness is diffused when they are commodified. Communities of resistance are replaced by communities of consumption.’

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