Postmodernism and Consumer Society by Fredric Jameson

Introduction

In the article, “Postmodernism and Consumer society”, by Fredric Jameson, the author attempts to review postmodernism as a concept that attracts the attention of most scholars. Unlike some of the scholars who try to link modernism and postmodernism, Jameson contradicts the two concepts. However, he focuses on a variety of themes ranging from literature to art. Furthermore, Jameson integrates the theme of culture in the process of highlighting differences between the two concepts with a view on culture. The main aim of this paper is to present a critical review of Jameson’s article with a focus on theoretical perspectives that he has uses in the article. With reference to his analysis of Bonaventure Hotel, Jameson highlights the point that postmodernism creates resistance to late capitalism through spatial resistance.

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Summary of Jameson’s Core Ideas

Jameson begins his article by highlighting the relationship between postmodernism and modernism. According to the author, postmodernism is a direct reaction to modernism and it is characterised by the proliferation of pop culture in the society (Jameson 1998). Currently, scholars are shifting their attention from theoretical discourse to arts among other representations of the space. Furthermore, these changes are also present in academic fields and they are attributed to economic and social changes arising from the introduction of consumer culture. In a bid to clarify postmodernism, Jameson (1998) focuses on showing how it opposes modernism. Postmodernism has two distinct features that distinguish this concept from that of modernism. In the first case, this concept hinges on the principle of disaffirming modernism after novel ideas arise to counter the conventional understanding of space.

Additionally, postmodernism depicts fading boundaries between popular and high culture. The emerging culture accounts for the integration of mass and technological concepts into the modernism. Some of the concepts incorporated into this article include the death of the subject, hyperspace, nostalgia, technological alienation, and pastiche (Jameson 1998).

Wood and Lodge (2014, p. 84) posit that pastiche and parody ‘depict an imitation of the manner in which styles twitch other styles’. However, the two perspectives are different as pastiche depicts the imitation of a unique style, but not satirical in nature. On the contrary, parody entails an imitation that incorporates satire. The death of the subject depicts an end of individualism that accompanies capitalism. Modern capitalism encourages people to focus on unique self and private identity, thus the emergence of individualism (Jameson 1998). With the postmodern capitalism, technological advancements and media account for the death of bureaucracies in private organisations, state institutions, and businesses. According to Jameson (1998), the bourgeois class never prevailed in the society. However, this argument contradicts class analysis as presented by the Marxist economics. According to the Marxists, bourgeois is the class of wage earners and they are at the middle of the socioeconomic hierarchy (Wood & Lodge 2014). Although late capitalism dismantles the idea of unique self, Jameson should recognise that class inequalities prevail even in the recent times.

With reference to nostalgia, Jameson uses a variety of artistic expressions to analyse this topic. For example, he uses the film, American Graffiti, by George Lucas to recapture historical events that occurred in the United States in the 1950s (Jameson 1998). Although the film focuses on historical generational events, it has an ambiguous setting that blurs references. However, with the consumer capitalism, people can hardly focus on the present or capitalise on the present events and create aesthetic representations. For hyperspace, Jameson (1998) recognises that people are yet to keep pace with the evolution process. Such is the case as people lack the perceptual equipment that matches the needs of the new hyperspace. The analysis of the Bonaventure Hotel illustrates this argument. Apart from the introduction of a variety of new cultural products such as architecture, Bonaventure Hotel also reveals the negative side of postmodernism. Apart from technological alienation, postmodernism disorients people in their environment, thus creating additional dilemma (Helmling 2001).

Postmodernism and Late Capitalism

In the article, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, Jameson (1998) focuses on the built space and developments that occur in this space in a bid to express the concept of postmodern space. According to Jameson (1998), people succumb to physical disorientation as they fail to align themselves with the new developments. Jameson (1998) refers to the newly developed space as hyperspace that entails a link between postmodernism and late capitalism. According to Jameson (1998), late capitalism characterises post-industrial society that is equipped with new and powerful types of technology and media. From Jameson’s analysis, it is easy to differentiate pre-civil war society from the post-industrial society. The author moves further to highlight that with the powerful technology and me media, post-industrial society has managed to create high-quality art and commercial forms. In the recent times, such commercial forms are part of the culture as they depict the society’s concept of reality and own production (Jameson 1998).

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From Jameson’s argument, one can describe late capitalism, as a shift from production goals that focus on certain market aspects such as consumer needs. With the late capitalism, people focus on growing a capital economy based on finance. With the incorporation of new economic aspects in the communications technology, post-modernism gets its way into the society and forms part of the consumption culture. Furthermore, such remarks reveal the contrast between post-modernism and modernism coupled with how post-modernism creates a hyperspace society. However, people can hardly react against post-modernism as the concept is strongly embedded in crucial societal realms, viz. technology and media (Jameson 1998). Jameson’s view of late capitalism paves the way for the analysis of how this concept is incorporated into the Bonaventure Hotel.

Bonaventure Hotel and Resistance

With reference to the Bonaventure Hotel, Jameson extends his analysis of post-modernism. Having been constructed in the 1970s, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel is Los Angeles’ landmark (Jameson 1998). With a view of when the hotel was constructed, it is evident that its structure was based on a futuristic concept. The building has a unique architecture, as it comprises three towers covered with glass and glass elevators that move toward hotel rooms in a circular motion. Some of other high-end amenities include an exotic indoor lake, a shopping complex, and a mobile rooftop lounge. According to Jameson (1998), such a building depicts total space and creates a complete world that sets it apart from the rest of the city. Unlike the majority of the modern building, Jameson contends that Bonaventure does not seek to distinguish itself from the rest of the city. Nevertheless, Jameson provides an exemplary description of late capitalism with reference to the Bonaventure Hotel. Although the hotel was constructed to reflect the economic and physical landscape of its location, it does not represent normal elements of the whole. Rather, the hotel’s architectural design is so unique that it separates the hotel from the rest of the city (Zezulka-Mailloux & Gifford 2003).

From Jameson’s description of Bonaventure Hotel, there is a dismaying disjunction between the environment in which the hotel is constructed and the body. With such latest developments in the space, people can hardly link with the global and decentralised communication networks that surround them. Looking at the society in the contemporary times, one can clearly associate the society with post-modernism as described by Jameson. Although not everything in the contemporary culture is postmodern, postmodernism prevails in the majority of the countries. Just as capitalism controls production forces, postmodernism controls culture. People can hardly ignore postmodernism as the concept influences their way of life. Such occurs by introducing recent capitalistic developments into the culture; hence, the power of dominating the people’s lives (Jameson 1998). With reference to Jameson’s description of the Bonaventure Hotel, one can relate such description to a prediction of the future. Jameson’s description mark trends in the current culture.

At this point, one can question whether to condemn postmodernism. As highlighted through the Bonaventure Hotel, it is evident that postmodernism has both negative and positive qualities. For example, the deconstruction of the real images by Bonaventure’s mirrored walls depicts a limitation of freedom and happiness. However, the comfort that one derives from using the Bonaventure’s luxurious amenities contributes to increasing happiness and freedom. With a comprehensive analysis of the concept, one can grasp the true nature of the recent society.

Buchanan (2006, p. 80) posits that Jameson’s analysis of hyperspace ‘depicts a critique of the hotel’s environment and the effects that it has on the hotel’s clients and business in general’. For example, using elevators replaces the traditional strolls. However, they both represent forms of movements, but the former depicts changes introduced by technology. With the technology that forms a central part of the hotel’s functions, one can argue that technological developments separate Bonaventure from the rest of Los Angeles. Furthermore, Bonaventure’s environment is a depiction of how postmodernism eclipses the old by introducing people to a diachronic experience of post-industrial society. However, Jameson argues the space surrounded by Bonaventure’s walls generates postmodern feeling. From this argument, one can conclude that a person can hardly experience postmodernism unless he or she is exposed to such an environment (Buchanan 2006).

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According to Jameson (1998), hyperspace must be characterised by a busy status as people interact with and within the postmodern space. However, Jameson forgets to highlight that such space is filled with an artificial expression that distract people from the reality. Nevertheless, with the articulated description of Bonaventure, Jameson succeeds in creating a suppressed depth of the hotel, thus equating it with forms of art such as literature and painting. The hotel’s architecture can hardly match with the traditional paintings, hence calling for postmodern expressions that can be mapped into three-dimensional spaces. In the modern world, paintings and books depict artistic expressions. However, with postmodernism, Bonaventure’s space and architecture depict complete artistic expressions (Helmling 2001).

People may expect postmodernism to improve business relations, especially with a focus on customer experience. In the modern context, businesses tend to improve customer experience by increasing contact and the rate of interaction between the business and its clients. Such is the opposite with postmodernism as the developments incorporated in the business space separate the premises further from the clients (Zezulka-Mailloux & Gifford 2003). In the hyperspace, clients may succumb to a dilemma due to confusion and disorientation. The environment is highly complicated that clients can hardly distinguish entrepreneurs from other clients. Such confusion emerges from the view that technology facilitates transactions and communication between clients and business owners (Jameson 1998). With such technological developments, business people shift from the culture of staying in their premises to doing business as they mingle with other people within social spaces.

With reference to consumer behaviour, disorientation not only demoralises customers, but also it discourages them from maintaining customer loyalty. With the complications that accompany business space in the post-industrial society, customers tend to do business with premises that they can easily locate. Such a move accounts for a reduced client base in some of the stores. With competition that emanates from the globalisation and liberalisation of markets, the competition that originates from the two can contribute to business failure. In a bid to ensure the survival of a business, firms that lose clients will be forced to lower their prices to attract other customers. However, such a move lowers business revenues, which is a decrement of the corporate profits (Jameson 1998).

According to Jameson (1998), the detrimental effects that accompany hyperspace depict potential challenges of late capitalism in the postmodern society. However, the manner in which capitalism responds to these challenges depicts aspects of resistance to postmodernism. With reference to the Bonaventure Hotel, Jameson reveals that the facility uses directional signals accompanied by color-coding. However, such steps can hardly restore the coordinates that marked the former space. At this point, it is important to recall that Bonaventure’s hyperspace is a product of late capitalism (Jameson 1998). With such knowledge, it suffices to conclude that the resulting space can be equated with late capitalism. The incorporation of color-coding and directions in Bonaventure’s space entails the efforts to direct business flow to avoid confusion. Nevertheless, such directions interfere with the quality of hyperspace as the deconstructed space generates a replicate to enhance functionality (Buchanan 2006).

At this point, one may argue that although enterprises housed within Bonaventure’s space struggle for recognition, the hotel is a success as a whole. Such an argument relies on the evidence that the hotel attracts people from different parts of the world and it has featured in various American films. Although such is a marking strategy, it highlights the American livelihood, hence fitting in the United States’ social context (Jameson 1998). However, it is crucial to highlight that the hotel is a film and tourist commodity that prevails within a global space. According to Jameson (1998), Bonaventure’s environment depicts a globalised and decentralised network of communication that characterises late capitalism. From Jameson’s argument, it is evident that capitalism generates resistance within itself and seeks to subvert production systems and consumption patterns in a bid to acquire sustainability. At this point, one can question what constitutes space mutation for physical space to transform to hyperspace.

Late capitalism is characterised by increased shifts in the monetary and economic systems. With such economic changes, the inherent nature of products becomes insignificant in a market. Such a change emanates from changes in the market as liberalisation increases the rate of interaction between the foreign and local market. In such a market environment, competition emerges, thus pushing people to shift their tastes and preferences to a variety of products in the market. Furthermore, a shift in the customers’ tastes and preferences motivates manufacturers to abandon specific production processes and methods to venture into new markets. However, their focus must be on highly profitable ventures (Jameson 1998). With reference to the Marx’s theory of material conception, different mental aspects such as thinking and conception influence an individual’s material behaviour. From this argument, it is evident that changes emanating from the late capitalism influence an individual’s perceptions significantly. Therefore, one can conclude that Bonaventure’s space is a representation of post-industrial perception, hence a direct reflection of the late capitalism (Jameson 1998). From this analysis, it is clear that the late capitalism conceals its adverse effects by re-marking the new space as a disguise of the former space.

Jameson’s review of the Bonaventure Hotel entails a crucial illustration of the resistance to the late capitalism and postmodernism. Through the Bonaventure’s manifestation, people are introduced to the adverse effects of postmodernism and late capitalism. However, ways in which postmodernism responds to the late capitalism tend to subvert adverse elements of the concept, rather than providing sustainable solutions to the challenge. Most people subscribe to the modern economic context. As such, these people hardly recognise the concept of late capitalism in relation to postmodernism and its effects on the economy. However, Jameson has not presented a comprehensive review of this concept in a manner that readers can understand easily. For example, Jameson does not discuss comprehensively how capitalism attempts to conceal adverse effects that accompany postmodernism and late capitalism. Rather, he diverts the reader’s attention by introducing a different capitalism concept. In this concept, Jameson uses pop cultural concepts such as film previews to re-enhance the society by introducing cultural and media-directed meanings. Media images and stereotypical post-industrial language form part of the new culture, despite being independent of the real world (Berger 2004).

Critique of Jameson’s style

In his article, Jameson uses cognitive mapping to incorporate critical rationality in presenting his argument. In the introduction section, Jameson is open to highlight the extent to which people misunderstand postmodernism as a concept. However, he relies exclusively on the review of the Bonaventure Hotel to highlight features of postmodernism. What the author does not mention is the prevalence of different forms of postmodernism. Reviewing an array of different forms of postmodernism can help in highlighting a clear distinction between high and popular culture. Although this development is distressing, Jameson should receive credit for founding the basics of this new concept.

Owing to the fact that Jameson introduced the concept of postmodernism in the late 20th century, the concept must have mutated to generate newer postmodernisms. For example, different and newer postmodernisms are inspired by whole landscape affected by the emerging technological changes. With such changes, new postmodernisms accommodate older spaces under new categories. Such categorisation contradicts Jameson’s argument in relation to postmodernism. Jameson’s postmodernism does not create new hyperspace to replace the older space as opposed to accommodating them. With reference to the article’s approach, Jameson makes exemplary use of ideological inquiry and interpretation to enhance his theoretical framework and analysis (Buchanan 2006). For ideological inquiry, the author uses this method to describe postmodernism with a focus on artistic style and historical period. The integration of artistic and historical perspectives helps in correlating new formal structures with the surfacing of latest varieties of social life.

Furthermore, ideological inquiry enhances the expression of dislocation that people tend to experience as they interact with hyperspace. With reference to the interpretive technique, Jameson uses this technique to analyse the new form of capitalism and its effects on the economy. However, Jameson fails to present a comprehensive analysis of the transitioning period. Usually, the society can hardly embrace a new concept without undergoing a transition period. Jameson incorporates a variety of illustrations into his article to highlight both the features and effects of postmodernism.

Conclusion

From the article, Postmodernism and consumer society, Jameson’s ideas revolve around modernism and postmodernism in relation to consumer society and cultural production. Jameson believes that postmodernism is a product of people’s rejection of modernism as it was not part of the mass culture. The emergence of postmodernism is characterised by the late capitalism. Although Jameson is dissatisfied with the modern culture, postmodernism has negative effects on society. It subjects people to technological alienation coupled with disorienting them within their environment. Nevertheless, people should focus on consumer capitalism in a bid to understand Jameson’s concept of postmodernism. Therefore, postmodernism reinforces multinational capitalism.

Reference

Berger, J 2004, ‘Tethering the Butterfly: Revisiting Jameson’s “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” and the Paradox of Resistance’, Cultural Logic, vol.7, no.1, pp. 45-53.

Buchanan, I 2006, Fredric Jameson: live theory, Continuum, London.

Helmling, S 2001, The success and failure of Fredric Jameson: writing, the sublime, and the dialectic of critique, State University of New York Press, Albany.

Jameson, F 1998, Postmodernism and Consumer society, Web.

Wood, N & Lodge, D 2014, Modern Criticism and Theory, Routledge, New York.

Zezulka-Mailloux, G & Gifford, J 2003, Culture + the state, CRC Humanities Studio, Edmonton.

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