Living in the (un)Realities Cultural Codes of Consumption and Creation

Over the month of March, the cultural codes which media (re)produces as part of capitalist ideology could not be disguised. I was in attendance at various events whereby media was the focus of discussions. The themes which consistently came through at each event were blame and lack of representation. Blame lay at the door of the media, whose relentless, unaccountable propagation of hate was to blame for the dehumanisation and attacks of humans, by humans. The state could be blamed, Post-Leveson – a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press – questions continue to be raised around the relationship between the state and the media. The state often viewed as mobilising media for the promotion and positioning of state ideologies. Equally, people – consumers and spectators of media – were to blame. People had enabled any sense of agency and self to become secondary to the needs of the free market, too paralysed by the vastness of an ideology to do anything other than produce and consume capitalist cultural codes. The issue around lack of representation manifested itself in different ways. At Media Reform Festival 2019, the conversations around lack of representation focussed on leftist political ideologies within mainstream media and the impact on society when these voices were silenced or ridiculed. Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Representation in Journalism – a panel discussion hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s newspaper, The Student – sought solutions to challenge the dominance of media discourse by white narratives. Other events – whereby media wasn’t the centre of discussion but shaped the discourse – questioned media and state responses to the Christchurch terror attack and the death of Shamima Begum’s baby son. Can these stories only be told within an capitalist ideology? Would these stories even be told if the ideology was different?

Creators and curators of capitalist culture

Suppose then you try to change media, by becoming independent, accountable and – most importantly – representative of us as a people. All the people who have been historically mis and/or underrepresented are given a voice. Does doing this change the ways in which people see themselves and how they are viewed by others? Whilst more people might consume, purchase and support media which is produced in a voice similar to their own experiences – we seek belonging and connectivity – independent, accountable and representative media and the messages it sends still exists as part of a wider ideology. This reinforces the importance of buying/spending power and reproduces the cultural codes of capitalism which are contained within all facets of the media. If access to social media platforms promotes a sense of agency and/or self, this easily becomes individualised. A narrative can only be developed when a collective is formed around that individual’s ideas, which can all too easily be lost/gained/deleted/blocked, or also remains at risk of reproducing cultural codes of capitalism.

Concepts which surround class, gender, race, masculinity and femininity, marriage, the family, religion and even government, are only some of the social constructs which exist within European societies. The practice of discrimination against any of these social constructs – from personal abuse to colonial oppression – has existed for several hundred years and is an essential part of the European capitalist system and the ways in which it maintains itself.

Discrimination becomes rationalised by theory and as a practice, has historically been supported by different theories each relevant to the environment of the era. That’s why one practice can be underpinned by various theories. Throughout the centuries to present day, discrimination moves from biblical – grounded in religion, to biological – grounded in ‘science’, to historical and/or cultural.

In the history of discrimination towards women in Europe – including Scotland – women were named as witches and were killed to cement patriarchal power and create the subjugated, domestic labour class necessary for capitalism. As Sylvia Federici argues,

“The witch-hunt deepened the divisions between women and men, teaching men to fear the power of women, and destroyed a universe of discipline, thus redefining the main elements of social reproduction.”

The practice of discrimination – against any one of these social constructs – drives the production and consumption of media.

(re)creating cultural codes

Social media via technology allows us to become the creators and curators of capitalist culture. It is often heralded – and demonised – as a gateway to agency, the expression of authentic voice(s) and where people can experience true freedom of speech. Yet, these voices, plentiful and rich in ways traditional, legacy and mainstream media cannot be, (re)produce and reinforce the same ideological beliefs which exist both within and outside of media all together. Operating within capitalist ideology – with the same gate-keepers and methods of extraction/exploitation, creators can only produce content in response to capitalist ideology – particularly in the practice of discrimination, for capitalist consumers who have curated their media within this ideology. We create, curate and consume capitalist ideology as culture.

How and it what ways do we (re)create cultural codes which shift our consciousness away from capitalist culture to one(s) which are not? Current solutions to building community often include hosting events and creating safe spaces offline. ‘All welcome’ events held in places which are inaccessible (for numerous reasons), use huge amounts of energy (emotional and environmental), often comes at a financial cost and can leave both organisers and attendees feeling empty. We create safe spaces – ‘xxxx only’ – exclusive to the construct we struggle because of and causes we struggle for. These safe spaces are important for sharing knowledge and turning a solitary experience into a collective experience, which for many, sustains life. These, like ‘all welcome’ events are strategies which can be utilised in (re)creating cultural codes but must – and should – seek techniques which enables the new collective consciousnesses to develop without risk of (re)producing capitalist cultural codes.

The photographs, live stream/tweet/story which accompany the gatherings dutifully perform the function of documenting our conformity, our resistance to transformative action and re-establishes capitalist cultural codes.

By allowing certain people into certain places, we are feeding the energies and practices of discrimination the capitalist system thrives on. We individualise the collective and create further divisions. Instead of building strength, we are weakening our ways to find commonality.

Outside of binary (un)realities

Exposing the ideology which produces social constructs can’t be done within existing structures. To do so means looking outside of the binary (un)realities we have grown accustomed to, whose right/wrong, good/bad, ugly/beautiful disallows the spaces in-between. The spaces in-between can be found in asking questions, in the sharing of our homes, time and vulnerabilities. The question is, can we share ourselves with people who seem so unlike us – to (re)create cultural codes which remove the struggle for us all – as easily and readily as we share our data?

Comments (8)

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  1. Willie says:

    Outside of exposed binary (un ) realities of social constructs that can’t be done within existing structures with people so unlike us to (re) create cultural codes the struggle as easily and readily as we share data looking outside by allowing certain people into certain places feeding the energies and practices of discrimination we individidulise the collectivtive instead of building strngth documenting our conformity.

    It’s simple really and difficult to know how anyone could find it difficult to know, when you explain it like that. Great piece. Fair set me up for the day.

    1. Anna says:

      Now, I know you’re taking the piss – but there’s a bit of me that doesn’t blame you.
      I found the article almost impenetrable, and I’m a leftie feminist with an English degree. There’s much to be said about the role of the media these days, but surely it’s got to be said in a way that’s accessible to the population at large? This is just going to put folk right off.

      1. Willie says:

        A sensible straightforward comment Anna.

        There is indeed much wrong, very much wrong with our media and it negatively impacts all our lives in so many ways. Were it not so we would not have the new alternative medias that have sprung up over recent years, and which like this one, are well read and enjoyed by many.

        So yes, whilst this particular piece may have been a somewhat impenetrable alternative non-mainstream pieces are more than welcome.

      2. Geri says:

        A standard and unoriginal attack on a thought-provoking piece. It uses the media to address the nature and language of capitalism in a digestible manner. The writer appears to make a conscious effort to connect these tricky concepts rather imaginatively.

  2. Kevin says:

    Scottish media scene has been somewhat lacking in this type of writing. Really pleasing to see this type of analysis and style. Seems a very knowledgeable, creative yet critical writer which is rare. Looking forward to reading more of her work, hope she gets kept on as a regular writer!

  3. Ally says:

    What a refreshing read! More of this please. It’s great to see that Bella are bringing in voices that cut through the trivial stuff to focus on the realities of issues to do with capitalism, racism and the media in Scotland and beyond. Articles that really make you think, like this one, are few and far between (on a side note, I like the image choice too!).

    Looking forward to what they have to say next month and good to see that others found this article as spirited and engaging as I did! Cheers to that.

  4. Robin says:

    Brilliant piece! Was surprised to come across writing like this. Thanks for publishing.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I think we should distinguish what proponents of capitalism say they are for (like “free markets”) and what practising capitalists more likely want (markets rigged in their favour, monopolies, corporate capture of states, and for financial capitalists: instability and even panic).

    I also doubt our society (in the UK, with all its constituent groups and subcultures) is anywhere nearly dominated by capitalist ideology. Anarchists like Colin Ward apparently argued (persuasively, I think) that much of social arrangements (like friendship groups but in many other everyday interactions) is anarchistic in nature. Other kinds of ideologies will thrive in islands, networks and gaps (as the article says briefly: the spaces in-between).

    And historically, I doubt that capitalism was the key feature of European imperialism that gave their forces an advantage. I suspect that communism, in the specific case of a global commons of science and technology (and the testbeds of frequent warfaring), gave those empires the edge. Try to produce capitalist science and you get alchemy and astrology instead of chemistry and astronomy. But an open exchange of ideas through letter-writing, journals and national/international scientific and technological institutions succeeds. Today, although we hear a lot about technology entrepreneurs, they would have no ground to stand on without the open standards, royalty-free technologies, open source software and hardware that the Internet stack runs on. Whenever proprietary attempts to enclose part of the global digital commons runs up against interoperability demands, the proprietary (think AOL) tends to fail, and more open approaches succeed.

    Furthermore, confining an argument to social media misses out the vastly popular world of gaming and other digital experiences (like VR) which often either do not represent any of the human characteristics this article lists, but provides an alternate worldview/roleplay, or allows the player to bring their own identity to a game (as an otherwise nondescript hacker, commander, puzzle-solver, say). True, the capitalist model of much of games development does influence common themes, and even distorts some gameplay with monetary inducements and even pay-to-win odds-stacking for the rich/profligate. Still, it is possible for games with serious social themes to be funded, produced, playable.

    I recently read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, from which I presume the quote was taken. She argues with considerable evidence that even in cultures which could be described as feudal, or slave-holding, or mono-religious, there were actually many dissenters, rebels and heretics, whose struggles have been partly obliterated from our historical record. The same, I believe, goes for our modern globalized culture which is permeated with dirty capitalism and hierarchy-obsessed neocolonialism but contains many more strands including collective goodwill and commons that are essential to support the former.

    In the article’s last question, I would say that patterns of interaction online (perhaps borrowed from offline, or conscious alternatives, improvements or degradations) are more significant than data. I assume that this is a theme of the new Channel 4 gaming comedy Dead Pixels, although I’ve only seen the first (possibly gratuitously offensive) episode. In fact, gaming communities can discriminate against whole new categories (like ‘newbies’). Still, in some ways they may be more meritocratic, and digital real estate escapes being closed off by titled squatters (in games like Minecraft you can generate your own worlds to your heart’s content).

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