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Leon Li-Aun Sooi (z3292856) 22nd April 2009
Michel Foucault theorized a ‘normalizing gaze.’ Define this theory in relation to mass media or digital media and ask, ‘Who is served by this normalization.’ Use two specific examples. In Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, disciplinary power is distilled into its most ideal form (Foucault, 1975). Under permanent threat of being observed by the tower's guards, incarcerated prisoners automatically behave according to the prison's rules and timetables, thus exemplifying the effectiveness of the “normalizing gaze”. Foucault asserts that the panopticon is prevalent throughout society, as it is the most effective way to control human behavior. In our consumeristic society, individuals – playing both the roles of the guard and the prisoner – continuously examine themselves in relation to the crowd, and are pressured to conform to social norms (Wren, 1999), usually defined and propagated by advertising in the mass media. Thus, corporations that dominate the media will have the most influence on social norms, and can manipulate them across space (geographically and culturally) and time (changing social trends) for their economic gain. Mass advertising by corporations creates a homogenizing effect that erodes geographical and cultural diversity, limiting individual tastes and preferences. This is reflected in pop artist Andy Warhol's comment that “America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.” Regardless of the individuals' social, economic, or ethnic backgrounds, they are compelled to accept the “ideal lifestyle” promoted through the media, and are eventually normalized to adhere to the trends (Leonard, 2007). Warhol's painting “100 Campbell Soup Cans” (1962) illustrates this relationship between media and mass consumerism. A hundred Campbell soup cans are painted on a silvery background, reminiscent of the glossy pages of magazines, a mass-produced and mass-circulated medium that is responsible for advertising. Furthermore, the hundred soup cans are arranged in a rigid 10 X 10 grid, reminiscent of a supermarket shelf, emphasizing the mechanical and monotonous nature in which mass consumption takes place. With a homogenized global consumer market, corporations are able to increase their scale of production, and benefit by operating more efficiently and reaping substantial economies of scale (Sloman, 2002). Though Foucault claims that individuals are inclined towards normalizing themselves to social norms, it is arguable that human nature seeks individuality. A desire for novelty, variety and personal uniqueness is essential to some industries, such as fashion (Sproles, 1979). Nevertheless, media advertising is able to capture the tastes and preferences of diverse groups and still entice them into purchasing a similar product. In “100 Campbell Soup Cans”, every Campbell soup can has exactly the same visual appearance, yet they are differentiated by one perfunctory detail: flavor. The work suggests that a small level of differentiation does exist in mass-consumed products,
deluded by the glamour of consumerism. However. just like the mechanical and repetitive silkscreen process Warhol employed to create the “100 Campbell Soup Cans”. the intangible damage to society can be inferred from the emaciated. The inhabitants of Axiom are constantly bombarded with advertisements. flattened colors of “100 Campbell Soup Cans”. of course. and that obsolescence encourages product improvement (McKean. The beneficiary. is the fictional multinational mega-corporation “Buy N Large”. individuals are eventually pressured into aligning themselves to the new norms. deliberately causing a product to become obsolete. suggesting a superficial façade of society that has lost its original cultural diversity. This acrimonious mockery of our society’s consumer-capitalist system highlights the way media controls our minds and behavior. Furthermore. For a self-conscious individual who is afraid of deviating from the crowd. The beginning scenes of Wall-E feature forlorn landscapes with skyscrapers of garbage that humans left behind on the planet. such that consumers will purchase a newer model (Slade. known as “planned obsolescence” operates on the precondition that the “normalizing gaze” will seduce people to keep making new purchases out of an anxiety to keep in line with the crowd. It is lamentable that self-serving corporations seem to be exploiting this “herd mentality” of consumers for their economic gain. fabricating a false impression of the social norm. Advertising sends out the message that those who do not follow the trend would be discriminated as the “deviant” (Leonard. society suffers from environmental damage and loss of diversity. Therefore. This marketing strategy. Under peer influence. To continually fuel consumerism. While corporations receive economic benefits from consumerism. corporations manipulate social trends over time. 1944). Through the mass media. allowing corporations to profit from the endless cycle of purchasing and consuming. Humans. it seems almost impossible to live without purchasing the latest Apple gadget or another redundant pair of shoes. consumers can satisfy their craving for individual uniqueness despite being conformed to the social norm. corporations aggressively advertise their products and ideology as necessities for the “ideal lifestyle” desired by everybody. what to eat and what to think. it is not impossible to rectify the system. rendering it uninhabitable. 2003). which profits every time subservient consumers heed the advice of a new advertisement. 2006). . and conditioned to be told what to wear. Corporations defend themselves by asserting that reaping economies of scale lowers prices (Sloman. 2002). there are also external costs to society. Nevertheless. 2007).possibly to increase its appeal to the public’s varying tastes and preferences. are transformed into impersonal automaton. The variety of choices constructed by the manufacturer creates an illusion of individuality (Adorno. Consumers are hurled into an endless cycle of purchasing and consuming as trends rapidly evolve over time. The film Wall-E (2008) paints a satirical scenario of the dystopian future of consumerism. This is an acute critique of the profligate waste that resulted from unrestrained consumerism.
environmental conservation. private collection. • Slade. London. 2006. Penguin. New York • Foucault. ‘How Obama is Using the Science of Change’. • Wall-E. Fashion: Consumer Behaviour Toward Dress. Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. A. M. accessed 22nd April 2009. Seabury Press. 1962. artwork. • McKean. G. Prentice Hall.00. viewed 22nd April 2009. Minnesota. • Grunwald. motion picture. California. September. • Wren. K. 2nd April 2009. InfoWorld (Editor’s Letter).storyofstuff. New York. and financial prudency should be created to bring forth benefits to the whole of society. Social Influences. 2009). Harvard University Press. London. Bibliography • Adorno.B.. Burgess Publishing Co. Horkheimer. • Warhol.9171. 1999. 1979.. 2009.1889153. . 2003.time. online video. The Story of Stuff. K. the government can also take control of the media for social engineering. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. M. New social norms of energy efficiency.With the right policies enforced (Grunwald. Routledge. Economics. 1944. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. pp. T. Massachusetts. • Sloman.html? xid=newsletter-daily> • Leonard. <http://www. 2008.com/time/magazine/article/0. Pixar Animation Studios. 2002. <http://www. J. 100 Campbell Soup Cans. G. ‘Planned Obsolescence’. 1975. M. 8. Emeryville. Time. 2007.com/>. A. • Sproles.