Progressive politics, ideas & culture


The fetishism of commodities Part I

This Magazine Staff

The excellent young writer Katie Raynes-Goldie has alerted me to a bit of trouble bewing over the iPod: Some people are alleging that the built-in batteries are designed to stop recharging after a year or so, and Apple is charging $99 to replace them.
But as always, the truth is a bit more complicated… which is part of the reason why I distrust culture-jamming.

Marx opens his famous discussion of commodity fetishism with the following paragraph:
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.
As he goes on to argue, the problem with the fetishism of commodities is that social relationships become confused with their medium, the commodity. As the commodity comes to be seen as imbued with human or supernatural powers, this confusion obscures the basic political issues involved in social relationships, and ensures that neither side is fully conscious of the political positions they occupy, and the power relations involved.
But still.
Don’t you just crave one of these?

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