Thursday, 12 March 2009

Arcades & Promenades

James Kennell (of Hyper, Pessimistic Activism) and I have started a project to read Benjamin's Arcades Project and, eventually, study the Promenades of the British Seaside.  Read all about it.

Staus Symbols of Media Culture

Our media culture, the world of media that we engage with and consume, is replete with status symbols that we can either use or have used against us.  The most obvious are costly media texts (Vogue, The FT, DVD Box Sets, etc) but the volume and form of consumption and the types of media read or consumed are also indicative of social status and the great game of status competition.
Status competition is a deadly serious game and one that is impossible to avoid.  You may not seek to participate in the game of status but that does not prevent others situating you in their games and treating you (poorly or well) accordingly.  In fact it is impossible to escape being classified by others and even the act of active rejection of classification on your part in effect classifies (into those who classify and those who do not (you)) and is therefore the ultimate act of status completion; 'I do not participate in status competition' is the claim of those who consider their status in the field in question to be so far beyond the others around them as to be axiomatic.
Media status competition is a question (following Bourdieu) not just of the volume of media consumed but of the composition of that media.  The volume of media consumption will position an individual in the great game of distinction but may not necessarily always afford a high position in the hierarchy of that game.  Indeed massive and conspicuous consumption of media can be stigmatised and stigmatising rather than distinguishing.  On the level of display this conspicuous consumption of media (through really substantial multi-channel TV subscriptions [especially through dedicated film & sport subscriptions], high bandwidth broadband contracts, expensive mobile phones on expensive monthly contract terms, possession of expensive new media equipment [especially the very wide screen TV], etc) is concerned with display of access to resources (economic capital) and not with social/cultural capital.  It can therefore be used to denigrate those who enact this media-potlatch by those with surplus socio-cultural capital.  This is to say that a strategy of distinction can be mobilised by those of high socio-cultural capital against those of equal (or greater) economic capital who have less socio-cultural capital.  The very display that equates to successful distinction in one field of status competition can be a failing strategy in another.  This is very easy to imagine simply by considering the cultural position of Premiership Football.  Football does not hold a position in the high reaches of the cultural life of England but TV access to it requires just the media-potlatch under discussion; dedicated multi-channel TV equipment (not Freeview) and special (and expensive) subscriptions.
It is this antagonism between groups with different amounts of cultural capital (even if the total volume of capital is equal the unequal composition will come into play) that leads to denigration of the media (and thus cultural) choices of those people located in the lower parts of the cultural hierarchy (of the "they live in council houses but can afford satellite television..." type).  As the lower reaches of the cultural capital hierarchy are, typically, also the lower reaches of the economic capital hierarchy this competition leads to the enactment of symbolic violence against that lower capital volume part of society.  The least powerful feel the double effect of the actual violence of low economic capital (the choice of the necessary) and the symbolic violence of low socio-cultural capital; they have less and are made to suffer shame and disgrace for that lack.
As our society utilises a 'capitalist' mode of resource allocation (i.e. rationing by power of resources) it only notices persons with a certain capital volume and is uninterested in the rest of society and so those who lack and are made to suffer for that lack are not represented by our media and so suffer the final annihilation of not existing in our media society.  The absence of the poor from our media landscape is a brutal expression of the brutality of our social formation.


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