Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Précis Posted for Allyn Benintendi -- Naomi Klein’s Patriarchy Gets Funky


Naomi Klein’s Patriarchy Gets Funky argues that the commercialization of advocacy has the ability to promote or undermine that which is being advocated. She poses a dilemma by questioning whether commercialization works to the benefit or the detriment of the advocate. Klein initiates a conversation that ultimately resolves itself by antagonizing corporations that use “brand identities” for market success. In the example given, Klein details her own experience with “identity politics;” the battle against issues of representation, or rather, misrepresentation and invisibility, which are “a loosely defined set of grievances mostly lodged against the media...” The purpose of Klein’s argument is to reveal that for the culture industries, “identity politics, as they were practiced in the nineties, weren’t a threat, they were a gold mine.” The warrant of the argument rests on understanding market influence in advocacy, and vice versa. Klein explores how corporations use youth movements for branding identities, and how this oppositely perpetuates that which sparked the want for change.
This argument is a two-sided coin. On one hand, the opening quote of the text, stated significantly by Jay Blotcher, an AIDS activist, “Let’s face it, when you're a story line on Friends, it’s hard to keep thinking you're radical.” This implies that with the benefit of market forces taking advantage of activism, the all too common invisibility of causes disappears. Therefore, a clear benefit of market influence on advocacy is promotion. And just maybe, markets are truly supportive of youth culture and progress.
However, Klein also questions, does the commercialization of advocacy lead to trivialization? Does commercialization detract from the point? Klein’s position is clear: “For many of the activists who had…believed that better media representation would make for a more just world, one thing had become abundantly clear: identity politics weren’t fighting the system…they were feeding it.” Klein successfully explores both points of view. Although she weighs both the advantages and disadvantages of market influence on advocacy, an explicit thesis can be derived: Klein argues that the relationship between corporations and advocates differs in authenticity, that advocacy is the genuine counterpart, while corporations merely reap the benefits fed to them by activism.
Klein assumes that market influences solely joined forces with activism as a selling point. “The backlash that identity politics inspired did a pretty good job of masking for us the fact that many of our demands for better representation were quickly accommodated by marketers, media makers and pop-culture producers alike — though perhaps not for the reasons we had hoped.”  Therefore, she also finds that market influence is ridden with “complicated motivations and stark inconsistencies,” all at the expense of the integrity of the cause.
Klein is an activist reaching a general audience to shed light on the ubiquitous nature of market influence on advocacy and cultural industries. Klein is attempting to educate the audience. As subjects of culture and participants in markets and culture, most can be considered a part of the intended audience. This audience is supposed to follow Klein as she explores both the benefits and drawbacks of market influence on advocacy, leading her readers to a conclusion none other than her own.

10 comments:

Dale Carrico said...

This is quite a well-written and well-considered piece of commentary on the Klein. I'm surprised it hasn't provoked more conversation -- no doubt it will. Part of what interests me in the Klein piece is that it is a latter-day echo of a perennial Marxist/classleft debate: Do culture/identity politics distract from the class questions that actually matter most, or do they reflect the way class is stratified by culture/identity in ways class that class politics must come to terms with if it is to do any real lasting good even on its own terms. That initial quote is really quite an intriguing one. Isn't the real question, once AIDS issues are mainstream-legible enough to form the basis for a Friends episode, is it still useful to be radical in the specific way Act Up activists were radical in the 80s. I say this as someone who did activism with Act Up and knows well folks involved in GMHC from the earliest days of AIDS. I doubt that contemporary forms of AIDS radicalism -- concerned as they are with a planetary pandemic exacerbated by global developmental politics and crimes could provide the basis for an episode on the execrable Big Bang Theory (more or less a modern day equivalent of Friends). By the time they could, radicalism would look different again. There is a real tension in the way tolerance politics that challenge the status quo can degenerate into assimilation politics that reinforce the status quo -- Klein's discussion of the brand as a site for subcultural signaling that has come to stand in for critical responsible agency. I think "commercialization" is a bit too loose a term to get at the specificity of the problem -- but the truth is that Klein herself gets a bit loose in her formulations in ways that encourage this -- that's one of the reasons why it is easier to grasp the sense and force of her critique after reading (as we have) critiques by Adorno, Debord, and so on that she is drawing from. Once again, I think this is an excellent, thoughtful, clearly articulated precis.

Allyn Benintendi said...

Thank you for your response. What do you propose as a substitute for "commercialization"? I agree that it does not articulate the problem with enough specificity, but I'm struggling to articulate it myself.

Shayda Azamian said...

Your precis really brought the controversial issue of market influence in advocacy to reality. I have always wondered where the line is that makes a company's involvement with a charitable campaign either honorable or shallow. To expand upon the ideas presented in your piece, I would say intent and level of involvement are the top indicators of a company's genuine interest in advocacy. However, even with these indicators, research into a company's philanthropy is needed to delve past the appearances of shallow advocacy.

Angela Jiang said...

I enjoy this discussion on the constitution of "mainstream" and "radicalism". In the music industry world, the "alternative" genre does not have its own idiosyncratic identity that transcends time, that genres such as R&B and opera have. Whereas our generation's culture associates this term with folk and rock influences, past and future generations defined and will define alternative music in a different way. This goes hand in hand with Klein's theory, in that once novel counter-culture is embraced by branding and marketing, it becomes mainstream itself and loses its radicalism. This reminds me of a quote by Daniel Harris, "The futuristic creates the appearance of tomorrow through the willful disobedience of today". This contesting duality of mainstream and radicalism is a transcendent concept and a pertinent one in understanding history.

Yiming Huang said...

At the first place I struggled in choosing which topic to choose among Naomi Klein's passages for a precis, but finally I went with the first part.

I think the overall topic of the two is about No Logo, but I found the latter one, which is the one you write on, the Patriarchy one... somehow not that related to the topic "No Logo". Maybe it was because I have a different definition of "related" or what...

Anyway I might raise an unreasonable question here(cuz I think I really need to do so): how do you think the passage Patriarchy gets Funky relates with the topic of No Logo?

Erick Berrios said...

Since Klein is an activist, do you believe that the conclusion she is reaching is particularly biased? I understand that you said in the conclusion that she is leading the audience to a conclusion none other than her own, so do you believe there to be alternatives to what she is promoting?

Jo Hodaly said...

Erick, what do you see as an alternative to Klein's advocacy? I'm not sure if Klein's activism makes her any more biased than other academics. I think measuring one's bias by their advocacy for human and civil rights is misplaced, especially as folks (both ourselves as students of rhetoric, and Klein as a humanist author) involved in the humanities. Shouldn't we practice what we believe in? This is what Klein is concerned about, that when people can be mobilized to change the world around them, they are instead made to feel good for having watched "a very special episode" about a human/civil issues. I really enjoyed reading this precis by the way, and I appreciate your attention to Blotcher's quote in your writing about Klein's concern for the trivialization of advocacy. Very thoughtful.

Allyn Benintendi said...

I agree with the above comment. I too was writing something to that effect when I realize a response was already written! It is hard to separate biases from activism, but it is important to understand that these biases are what give advocacy quality and significance. Jo, thank you for your kind comments.

Yiming, I will be honest, I'm not really sure what you are asking. If you explain a little more to me about what you mean, I'd be happy to tackle your question and respond as best I can.

King said...
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King said...

I too liked your Precis, as I was reading it, I kept thinking about the quote mentioned in the text and the movie "Do the right thing, "Why are there no brothers on the wall?”

What kept jumping out at me as I originally watched the movie and read this text was the main protagonist of the movie was named Mookie. The root of the name of course being mook, meaning "a foolish, insignificant, or contemptible person".

I kept wondering, is radicalization and struggle for representation a moot point as all it seems to do help marketers move product instead of creating actual change?

Or is representation even when adopted by branders the first step to wider change? The Mammy (& Handy Manny) doll example makes me think not.