In approach to the importance of these three terms within contemporary cultural studies, I explore their relevance within three specific areas of cultural studies, aiming to illustrate the mainstream focus of modern discussion. Consumption, since the branding revolution of the 1980's has become a busy avenue for potential discourse and prior knowledge suggests that meaning, identity and power do have a significant part in the activity of consumption in contemporary Western society. Secondly, the media, as its social role has led it to become a space for eternal power struggles can influence and guide those inflicted by it. The existence of propaganda and advertising illustrates the spread of common meanings, how it is accepted, and who or what has the power to enforce it. An examination of will tie the arguments together, representing a segment of society supposedly liable to separation. I hope to see what these terms mean on a personal level and what part they play in the separation or unification within identifiable groups of society.
I have chosen Youth because though it is often generalized, it seems to be far more complex and diverse than one label, this term 'youth' in itself could be viewed as a use of power over a subordinated group of society, or their self proclaimed identity in resistance to the dominant forces. The media is a common place for power struggles between the dominant ideologies and those resistant to it. Soap Opera, laden with images of the dominant discourse is aimed at women, a subordinate group. Lay views suggest that since soaps are traditionally defined as being made about women and for women then they are supportive in women's resistance against the dominance of men. However, this representational viewing has been produced by the dominant social forces, which are trying to stabilize their position towards hegemony, in this case aiming to further subordinate women into the roles they currently possess. To suggest the dominant ideology is trying to de stabilise itself by promoting female resistance is against rational thought.
Therefore, as was concluded in 'Soap Opera and Women' (Dyer et al, 1977) soap opera is working against the feminist discourse. Power is used by dominant forces through the media in order to influence and control their subordinates, in this case women. However, there must be a balance between opposing discourses in order for any media text to be accepted. Women must be allowed sufficient space in order to generate their own meanings within the text. However, these spaces are few and soap opera, as in all forms of mainstream commercial media use 'representations of women... to...
reproduce and reinforce the subordination of women' (Dyer et al, p 35, 2002). They suggest three main methods of manipulation. Validation of the everyday 'presents rather than explores... it validates everyday life as it is lived' (Dyer et al, p 38, 2002). Reassurance through the public resolution of common problems whilst the 'reassurance that everything will turn out best etc.
, is false' (Dyer et al, p 40, 2002). Thirdly, Utopianism, presenting not the perfect world but a fantasy society through elements of transparency and intensity, which are unrealistic in true life and therefore 'it does not show you either how Utopia would be organized or how to get there' (Dyer et al, p 40, 2002). This study highlights the dominant ideology's power over subordinated resistance. This is one of many methods, helping to keep the norm. It allows a controlled level of resistance from women through a construction of meanings from the text, which is controlled by the dominant. They can allow subordinates a controlled resistance where no damage can be inflicted on the dominant discourse.
The 80's artist Madonna became an influential site of semiotic struggle. Her success is due as much to her videos and personality as it is to her music, this is due to her text providing a space for fans to create their own personal meanings and resist the dominant discourse. However, Fiske (2002) argues that on face value she appears to further subordinate women (young girls in particular as they made up the majority of her fan base) as 'hailing them as feminine subjects within patriarchy, and as such is an agent of patriarchal hegemony' (Fiske, p 97, 2002). She seems to be just another target for the capitalist pop market to profit quickly from a new trend from an exploitable and powerless section of society, young girls. This argument, though undoubtedly true to some extent, does not represent the whole story. This assumes that her fans, like the viewers of soap operas are 'merely 'cultural dopes' able to be manipulated at will and against their own interests by the moguls of the culture industries' (Fiske, p 97, 2002).
This account doesn't recognize how the text is accepted into society, the semiotic struggle. No text will be accepted into society without providing space for personal meanings to be made. Dyer et al's account of soap opera doesn't take into account how women who view these shows receive the text on a personal level, what meaning do they connote and why? The making of meanings and the constant construction of identity is what allow any text to become popular, in any period in any place. Of course, the dominant ideology does not provide these meanings within the text, as they would be shooting themselves in the foot, but have to provide spaces in order for their text to be accepted and profit to be made. Aspects of Madonna's image escaped ideological control, allowing a subordinated part of society an opportunity for resistance against patriarchal control. On the surface she seems to conform to patriarchy by the sexual exploitation of her body and postures of submission whilst to those to whom she could relate she represented quite the opposite, as being a 'threat to dominant definitions of femininity and masculinity' (Fiske, p 97, 2002).
An example of how Madonna achieves this can be found in some of her videos where she is shown watching and controlling the activity of the camera, thus controlling the viewers and the patriarchal dominance represented by the camera. Madonna's success seems to be largely due to her ability to let her fans construct meaning from her, assisting their own identity as individual and independent women against patriarchy, her music merely seemed to be the backdrop to sell from, people don't consciously shop for their identity. Madonna is a perfect model for girls to form their identity against patriarchy by embodying two persona, the agent of patriarchal hegemony at face value and the evasive figure of feminine resistance, the 'patriarchal meanings must be there for the resisting meanings to work against' (Fiske, p 104, 2002). Her fans, after extracting meaning from Madonna's identity continue to develop their own in similar resistance to hers, emulating her. They can resist patriarchy more individually in their own lives as Madonna illustrates 'meanings of femininity that have broken free from the ideological binary opposition of virgin: whore. They find in her image positive feminine-centred representations of sexuality' (Fiske, p 104, 2002).
An example of girls creating their identity in resistant tandem is the excessive use of make-up and jewellery as 'excess over spills ideological control' (Fiske, p 105, 2002). This new use of products of capitalism is bringing their initial use into doubt. Why must women feel the need to decorate themselves? A typical form of urban popular culture, wrenching texts, altering their meaning in order to work against the discourse of its dominant producer. Thus, it can be seen that success depends on the texts ability to be accepted into society. In order to be accepted, one must be able to denote meanings in order to improve or adjust ones personal identity. Would Madonna have been successful just for her music? Evidence would suggest otherwise as she was struggling to be noticed until she made a provocative video, which grasped potential fans attention to the opportunity to resist.
Her success and thus, peoples need, is for meaning and personal identity. This relates to power, as it is the subordinate who are desperate to create an identity strong enough to suppress their oppressors and improve their situation; of course, we are all subordinate in some way and this practise will always continue. Reverting back towards the plight of the oppressors we can look at Cornell West's (1992) study of nihilism in black America. He suggests that the right wing politics of Northern America shows 'no understanding of the structural character of culture' leaving oppressed people 'hungry for identity, meaning and self-worth' (Cornell, 2002, p 276). He argues that due to cutbacks, poor people, especially poor black people have become separated from the rest of society due to 'demons of hopelessness, meaninglessness and lovelessness' (Cornell, 2002, p 277). Their lack of equality has made poor black people create meanings that are destructive towards themselves and others.
Right-Wing politics have been illustrated to be able to use its superior power to further undermine the plight of the poor, as Nihilism is 'a threat that feeds on poverty and shattered cultural institutions' (Cornell, 2002, p 276). The re-emergence of this threat was due, Cornell suggests, to the profit making market institutions that seek to undermine non market values, which were important in sustaining poverty ridden moral. Before the weakening of black cultural institutions, in the early seventies, black Americans had the lowest suicide rate in the United States, they now head the statistics. What was taken away from this community to destroy their moral so swiftly? I would like to focus on the shift of social expectation through 'complex interlocking corporate market institutions that have a disproportionate amount of capital, power and influence on how our society is shaped' (Cornell, 2002, p 278).
Their aim is profit, all else is second to profit. They want to create a seductive way of life to promote consumption; pleasure as being achievable only through an ability to consume, illustrate images of comfort, convenience and sexual stimulation. Those without an ability to consume who are equally subjected to the overwhelming images are left powerless and empty. 'Neither there is any punishment so horrible that it can keep them from stealing which have no other craft whereby to get their living. Therefore in this point, not you only, but also the most part of the world, be like evil schoolmasters, which be readier to beat, than to teach.' (More, 1997, p 31) In the seventies poor black people had powerful barriers against the nihilistic threat, 'cultural armour' (p 277), an interlocking system of 'cultural structures of meaning and feeling that created and sustained communities' (Cornell, 2002, p 277). Meaning and identity had the ability to sustain an entire community regardless of their vastly subordinate position and made them more stable than their oppressors, represented through the low suicide rate.
Their cultural barriers and meanings were generally built out of religious and civic institutions, which, of course are not marketable networks. When these images, laden with images of love, care and support, were outdone by the bombardment of the marketable seductive images, the barriers were weakened allowing nihilism to slip through and release the threat, which is possible through their poverty ridden communities. This study further recognises the need for individuals to create positive meanings and identities out of cultural institutions and the destructive nature of people if these meanings are baron or subsided by negative images. Who holds the power holds the ability to influence and create cultural institutions in an attempt to effect the meanings that people create. However, to blame the destruction of black society purely on external forces would not do society justice. The power of choice has never left their control.
The unattainable images created by the corporate institutions did not have to be accepted to their self-destruction. Perhaps some fault should be put on the new generation of poor black people. Their meaning has thus been redirected towards images and identities that are almost unattainable for them, due to a distinct lack of opportunity, thus crime becomes the only realistic method of success. The power of corporate institutions has destroyed a once morally prosperous part of society by exposing them to unattainable dreams. Perhaps the balance of power is too one sided for the poverty-ridden parts to compete with? Working class values all over the world have been destroyed by similar methods and consumption can be seen as a key attribute to their success and our demise. 'We live in an era of commodity fetish, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx.
Soft drink and computer brands play the role of Deities in our culture. They are creating the most powerful iconography, they are the ones building our most Utopian monuments, they are articulating our experience back to us. Not religion, not intellectuals, not poets, not politicians. They are all on the Nike payroll now.' (Klein, 2002, p 30) Bocock (1993) states that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Western population can afford to buy consumer products in non-recession periods. Thus, they can satisfy the need provided by corporations. Of course, there are those who 'cannot afford to buy all the things and pleasurable experiences which they might wish as a consequence of seeing what is on offer' (Bocock, 2002, p 76).
I now beg the question why we desire to draw our meanings and identity from the power structures that provide the potential cultural products. Baudrillard (1988) suggests either modern or post-modern (whichever you choose to accept) consumers are trying to satisfy their emotional desires, rather than a satisfaction of material needs. Gucci shoes are consumed for their aesthetic rather than ascetic value. Work has been suggested to have less impact on identity construction when compared with consumption, in post-modern society you are what you buy. An important contemporary attribute of identity forming can be illustrated through ethnic consumption patterns within western societies.
Firstly, it is evident that ethnic differences can cause antagonism towards others in a similar economic class position. Identity formation, possibly through consumption patterns, 'may be used to maintain and mark out differences between groups, to demarcate boundaries between ethnic groups, to mark out some as members and others as outsiders' (Bocock, 2002, p 80). Again, negative identity formation is illustrated, possibly because of cultural industries promoting competition rather than class unity. Perhaps, a united plebeian class would be too powerful for the dominant ideology to counter resist.
Identity in this instance as in the last of poor black Americans, illustrates how the formation of identity has become a weapon against the subordinated groups and used by the dominant. Meanings are made through consumption, which tend to be resistant against social groups of similar economic and political power as opposed to the real 'enemy' or 'oppressor', who, using their power and influence are deflecting anger away from themselves, thus, retaining power. Another method of the corporate institutions to deflect anger is through a shift in the patterns of desire throughout lower social groups. Pleasure, in whatever individual understanding is taken becomes the central life-concern.
This is opposed to a desire in 'copying the ways of living and consumption patterns of 'superior's social status groups' (Bocock, 2002, p 81). Bocock suggests that post-modern desire is not satisfied in Western culture through physical need but as 'being in part, if not entirely, the consequence of the social and cultural practices which surround people' (Bocock, 2002, p 82). This shift allows powerful interlocking institutions to have influence on people's desires where previously physical needs, which could be influenced little, predominated. However, Bocock concedes that this 'is not intended to suggest that everyone is determined to desire what their cultural group holds up in high social esteem as being highly desirable patterns of activities' (Bocock, 2002, p 82). Perhaps, it could be suggested that the vast majority of people will follow a particular predetermined pattern of activity, thus being liable to oppressive influence.
Any life patterns that initially escape the scope of consumption is eventually caught, changed, packaged and used against those that produced it initially. Loaded with the dominant ideology, which it initially resisted. At most, the satisfaction of these desires can provide a designated resistance area where no damage or change will ever affect the dominant ideology or significantly alter their oppressed position within society. Meaning and identity interlock with power as the weapons used to enforce its redistribution. However, the further unbalanced the less freedom people are allowed to create and circulate the meanings. These three concepts are obviously key terms within contemporary cultural studies as they are from every period.
These examples from important contemporary frameworks have all shown that whilst power is used to influence the meanings and identities people generate, it is the subordinated that hold the real power of resistance through the use of these terms. More, Sir Thomas Utopia Wordsworth 1997 Bocock, Robert Consumption Routledge 1993 Fiske, John Reading the Popular Routledge 2002 Klein, Naomi Fences and Windows Routledge 2002 Dyer et al Soap Opera and Women Broadcast 1977 West, Cornel Nihilism in Black America Bay Press 1992.