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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign...
Hello friends. It is time for another installment of Marxist theory! YAY! I know you're all so excited to read up on this. Today, we'll be looking a Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard was a big time Marxist until one day, he just basically said, "Fuck this" and went off onto different types of things. Last lecture of his that I was at, he was talking about artificial intelligence and stuff like that. Some of his theories were the basis for the movie The Matrix. So, we're going to look at something called the political value of the sign. What does that mean? Let's look to my article below, shall we?
Baudrillard brings together Marxism and the theory of semiotics in an attempt to explain the world's commodity system at work today. Baudrillard sees the commodity or object as a sign. It is a sign of status rather than some arbitrary sign which really has no real bearing on its signified. Unlike Marx's analysis of the commodity as fulfilling needs, Baudrillard claims that the commodity also fulfills social needs. The commodity is a way for the upper classes to show off that they are the bourgeoisie. Baudrillard's theory is not of needs but of social codes since "An accurate theory of objects will not be established upon a theory of needs and their satisfaction, but upon a theory of social prestations and signification."
In Baudrillard's theory, the use value of commodity changes from being what it can be used for to how the commodity can be used to show off the owner's prestige, "They [objects] no longer 'designate' the world, but rather the being and social rank of their possessor." Baudrillard twists Marx's theory so that the commodity is an object that signifies rather than fulfills a need. That is, in Marx's theory, the need is met through commodity and the extent to which that need is met is in the commodity's value. However, in this theory, the commodity signifies the lack of a need. The bourgeoisie buys the large home and underlines it with a white picket fence. The home is screaming, "My owners are so well off that they do not need to live hand to mouth and can even show me off!" The world of objects is the sole lines of communication with others. We know something about each other through our property. The rich man drives the luxurious Mercedes-Benz while the poor man drives an 87 Honda Civic hatchback (or walks, or what have you). The absence of commodity also tells us about a person.
Baudrillard also goes on to add another significant twist to Marx's original theory of exchange value and use vale. He adds on the symbolic exchange value and the sign exchange value. Coming back to your rich man's house, we can say that the use value of the house is to provide shelter from the elements. Its exchange value is based upon the amount of labour that went into building it. The house's symbolic exchange value only exists if it were given as a gift, "What constitutes the object as value in symbolic exchange is that one separates himself from it in order to give it, to throw it at the feet of the other, under the gaze of the other." So, if the house was given to the rich man as a gift from a dying uncle, the house has a psychic value in that it has sentimental ties to the owner. Finally, the sign exchange value gets the most attention from Baudrillard.
The sign exchange value of the house is its relationship which is determined by the other houses on the street (or in the city but let's try to keep this as simple as we can). This house may have more sign exchange value because it has a fountain the front yard and the one next door does not. Thus, the house's status is increased by the fact that it has a few more trimmings. Of course, it's not always this minor. We can talk the difference between the mansion in Beverly Hills versus say a tiny home in the city of El Monte in the Los Angeles area. But as I said, let's keep it as simple as possible. This relationship of sings determines the importance of people. The relationship of signs tell us about the other by way of deciphering the code of signs. Thus, we live in a world in which status and social codes dictate which commodities are bought and needs. The signs must be free to act as signs of wealth or poverty in order for the world to be able to differentiate between the classes and therefore, read who is more important. Is this the world we want to live in?
Like lots of stuff that people say, this seems reasonable until someone believes that it is the whole of the truth. Yes, a ferrarri has 'cred' but it's a fucking mechanical marvel. The same might not be said of Harleys, however, in that they are more attractive to buyers than other 'custom' (that's what the bike mags call them here, I don't want a huge fucking argument about bike terms) bikes and cost significantly more although mechanically they may not be as good. Certainly kids I have taught, who talked to me about bikes just because I had one and they assumed I must be obsessed with them too, wanted a Harley "because they're 'cool'" (cool? bloody freezing most of the year over here, more like). So yeah, they have a value that is largely social, perhaps (although not to everyone who buys them, just the mongs/sheep). But nice houses in nice areas are nice to live in (I imagine...).
I enjoy these, Flo
EDIT: This post is shit. I will do better in future...
We are living in a material world and Carl Marx was a material girl.
I think jewelry typifies your point such as walking around with a 4 carat diamond. It's value is artificial and it's usefullness is nil where it's price is based on it's value as a status symbol.
On the other hand owning a highly specialised and precision piece of equipment in the same price range gains it's value from it's functionality without respect to the social status of the owner.
I think your point is specific to the worst attributes of mankind and do not reflect upon the whole existence of humanity.
So in that light it isn't such a bad world to live in. People aren't perfect and we tend to focus on the bad rather than the overwhelmingly large amount of good.
I should make a note to point out that these articles I've done have been to give quick overviews of texts that I've read. The questions at the end are, admittedly, me going out and making my own argument about the text and what they imply. Nonetheless, it is also a ploy to get the reader of my article to want to read more and see exactly what this philosopher/theorist said so as to achieve full awareness of what is said.
Having said that, yes you are right that precision pieces of equipment are more than just status symbols. And Baudrillard did go into it in detail. However, you must also realise that I wrote a two page article on a book that was around 250 pages. So, I gave a quick review in hopes that questions like these would appear and would cause the reader to want to know more.
And Smug, I'm glad to hear that my work is appreciated. I'm coming to the end with them though. So, I've begun reading a new book that I'll have an article for, oh who knows when.
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