25 Feb 2007, 12:30pm
consumption pop culture
by jordan

1 comment

closet capital

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ … and Closet — New York Times

an interesting, if largely predictable article in the Times explores the growing consumer trend of buying brands and labels observed on television, especially fashion items such as shoes, clothing, and jewelry. the article tracks the increasing number of websites dedicated to connecting consumers to the brands sported by their favorite characters on shows like Veronica Mars, Grey’s Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives. of course, popular media have long acted as vehicles that define current styles in fashion and drive accelerated consumption. while it’s interesting to look at how these nascent websites are capitalizing on consumer interest in celebrity fashion, the article predictably parrots the superficial assertion that consumers are simply celebrity-obsessed, and have no independent taste or style of their own. according to this line of thinking, consumers (predominantly female) slavishly attempt to replicate the look of their favorite celebrities, in a debasing act of simian mimesis. as usual, this kind of account obscures the underlying economic strategies that drive taste and consumption in our culture.

fashion and style, in fact, often act as signifiers of status and position, in which the more elite and inaccessible products confer the greatest status (or cultural capital, as sociologist Bourdieu would have put it). celebrities, as members of the elite class, must continually seek out cultural goods and styles that are limited in availability, and which require insider knowledge to identify and acquire (the latest labels in “premium denim,” cutting-edge couturiers, outrageously expensive designer shoes and bags, etc). once these products (or looks) become more widely known and available, their signifying power becomes attenuated, and those in elite circles must find other fashions to continue asserting their status. for middle-class consumers, these products are appealing not because so many women want to ape characters on TV, but because they promise to confer a certain kind of cultural credibility, indicating that the wearer is “in the know.”

by suggesting that consumers are simply “celebrity-obsessed,” the media continues to overlook a hierarchical status structure that continually reinforces the symbolic and economic power of certain groups over others. consumers are held solely responsble for elective fashion decisions, and the broader cultural and social context fades into the background, allowing readers to shake their heads in contempt for women who seem so beholden to popular images that they can’t exercise any kind of sartorial independence. nowhere does the article investigate why certain programs inspire this kind of duplication more than others, nor does it explore the very gendered nature of this consumption. unsurprisingly, the Times simply perpetuates the very consumerism it purports to deride, by participating in the mystification of underlying economic structures.

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