Skip navigation

When I first started this blog it was a typical capricious moment; at a time when I somehow had the quaint notion some text activity of mine on the blogosphere might actually serve some kind of (auto)didactic revolutionary purpose. Academically, I think it was a sign of still needing to “grow-up”, which is not to say I turn my back to revolutionary purpose. On the contrary. However, an order of humility and affirmation is warranted. I’ve made that point. ‘Why are you so negative about everything?’ A comment maker asked AV at a time when I left the blog to drift far out on the sea of my priorities.

A blog should be useful to me and potentially to others who stumble upon it in a search. Now one thing I have to do as part of my work is review books, and most of them “academic”. But the thing with me and reviews, I’m not so good yet at the publishable quality academic book review. I either get too intense into the material and so start writing a paper, or I procrastinate and wait too long until after reading the text, which is the biggest sin of book reviewing. Yet, when I have taken the time to write 1000 words book reviews on some text I always arrive at helpful reference text for myself.

After analyzing this somewhat paradoxical situation it occurred to me that my problem, in part, is that I have little extrinsic motivation to write the reviews as a matter of course precisely because they are not destined their selves to be published, and so then it becomes yet another “chore” aspect of research work. Meanwhile, I have this blogspace. Why not write my reviews as for blog publication? This will encourage me to develop a style for reviewing texts that I like, give me a sense of destination with the texts thus making no longer a “chore” of research, but part of the more enjoyable, creative stuff, and in addition to serving me as described above, perhaps also serve others.

Now, I do not want to get into a textual bias or a logocentrism. The theme is not delimited in any dogmatic or orthodox way by an epistemology, method, or ontology. Ultimately, I envision reviewing all the media which moves through my library. But for now, I’ll start small, and start functional, and make the first review of a book I just finished reading and taking notes from.

I’m sitting here at the home page of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition website watching the video clips. At the time of my visit three videos are streamed via the front page with the remainder accessible via hyperlink. The three videos are brought to us through the sponsorship of Sears and Ford; are from the grand give-away portion of three different shows. The grand give-away comes at the end of the show where the deserving family returns from their all expense vacation to be showered not simply with a new home but all sorts of ostentatious gifts from some of the show’s sponsors:

1. “Ford Gives to the Tate family”

Frontline Iraq war veteran (PTSD?) receives new truck.

2. “Papa John’s gives pizza to a local community center”

A community center for kids in what appears to be a low income neighborhood receives credit for over $10,000 worth of pizza (‘a year’s worth’).

3. “Ford gives to the Farina Family”

Dedicated ‘find a cure’ activist and her mother receive new cars.

Even if you have not seen the show, that the grand giveaway would constitute the front page snippets is no shock. The sponsors (presumably)expect a degree of notoriety for their charitable acts. Indeed, the point of the show is to make a specatcle out of charity by making it conspicuous. This show is a combination of habitat for humanity, disnyland, and amphetamines, all with a streak evangalism/messianism.

If Ford wants to throw a few crumbs in front of the television camera, so be it. At least the show convinces me beforehand that the people deserve what they get -but then again, it is really hard to convince me that a person or family is NOT deserving of a ‘decent’ place to live and some safe, sufficient, and (preferrably) clean means of mobility in the community.

Perhaps the best place to begin as I explore this goodwill reality series is its basic narrative structure, which can then be broken up in order to deal with the content and themes in a somewhat systematic way.

Based on my casual observation of multiple episodes I feel it is safe to generalize a narrative structure for almost every episode:

1. Establish sympathy and legitimate need, i.e. these people deserve to be the recipients of conspicuous charity because… (editation of family application video + design team commentary)

2. Consolidate sympathy and empirically establish legitimate need… (walk through of inadequate housing conditions coupled with community, family, and design team commentary confirms and consolidates not only the material need of family, but crucially, how the family through some deed(s), condition, or response to harsh circumstances fulfill the ethical/moral/spiritual requirements to legitmately receive conspicuous sympathy and aid).

3. Heroism of the build… (Comments and anecdotes of various players sustain sympathy and logic of legitimate conspicuous aid, but this is now used to cast the designers and builders as heroes of mercy in their ambitious, highly individualized, and ‘extreme’ building plans to be completed within a mere 7 days….) For those out there seeking out the religious aspects of the show, that is quite a coincidental number.

4. Conspicuous charity… (the family returns from all expense vacation and is ‘blown away’ by the new home, furniture, and landscape with all of its novelties and gifts the design team and producers can convince sponsors to procure. This becomes the point of catharsis for the audience: symptoms of structural distress in American sosciety as experienced [tragically] by a family deserving of legitimate sympathy is ‘healed’ and witnessed in healing [through workers at the site; vicariously by the audience] through acts of conspicuous charity).

I think the easiest way to proceed from here is to compare the content of the particular narrative portions to see what patterns and tendencies are there. Only after I have closely analyzed this show will I dosclose a more comprehensive critique. For now, the question for me is, as far as Extreme Makeover: Home Condition (its producers, design team, and sponsors, and expected audience are concerned), which types of families deserve legitimate sympathy and thus receive the conspicuous charity, the symptom-healing act of god, of Disney Corporation’s ABC?  

I watch a fair amount of television, and I am interested in analyzing television in both a pragmatic and critical manner, i.e. a sociological reading of television. Such readings are attempted often in media studies, studies in contemporary culture, studies in popular culture.

Any discussion of culture cannot escape discussions of power, representation, and politics; and there is no shortage of philosophical, social theoretical, and critical literature out there to point out the impossible complexity of the groups of groupings that entertain forms and types of cultural products:

The heirarchy of texts and interpretations, the use of subversive readings and the practicality of such subversion, the theme of ‘popular culture’ as ‘secular religion’ -or maybe, and here I’ll go out on a limb, a reassertion of a paganism indigenous to European culture come Ameropean -with American products sometimes (and I don’t want to over-emphasize this as a generality) retaining puritanical and messianic recreations easily allegorically related to Judeo-Christian constructs (which themselves never really escaped certain signifiers of pagan spiritual disposition; Christian tradition especially literally occupying pagan sites with their own churches and cathedrals all carved nice and neat with pagan style gargoyles and the assertion of protestations and factionalising in the face of a policy of linguistic and canonical domination).

Yeah. That’s one sentence.

This means a literature survey and discussion of the relations of popular culture, media, religion, representation, and politics. It also means brainstorming…and harvesting questions. To begin I’ll search for articles dealing with paganism and popular culture, since it seems a sufficiently narrow place to start and I doubt I’ll find many dealing with both together.  

I also wish to open up a discussion about different persistent types of television shows.

citizen/super hero and and/or light sci-fi : the 4400, smallville, heroes, lost, medium,

sci-fi: Star Trek, Stargate, Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica

medical/social serial drama (tragic-comic): ER, judging amy, grey’s anatomy, scrubs

class comedy and adolescent/adult identity: gilmore girls OC, one tree hill

alternative-traditional family sitcoms: will & grace, friends, etc.

reality makeover: Extreme Home Makeover

Of course this is just a scheme and boundaries are not hard. For example, Smallville could fit in ‘sci-fi’, ‘citizen/superhero’, ‘sexuality sitcom’, ‘social serial drama’, or ‘adolescent identity’: depending upon the sample of shows and scenes selected. Moreover, I know there are many types of shows that even this broad construction of categories leaves out, crime, investigation, and mystery serials/dramas, among many others. 

I am going to pick up Extreme Home Makeover as my first case study here, since the show really is starting to scare me for reasons to be made more clear to myself and in text down the road.

This is sort of a piece which starts out social scientific and then devolves into polemic near the end. That is not to say I could not find evidence to support my later claims, I think I could, just that I didn’t in this instance and that caught the attention of 2 of the 4 professors reading this and cost me some fractions of points. Whatever, the themes are auto-centrism, transportation infrustrucutre, structural violence, urban planning, and Foucouldian concept of governmentality. This is on my back-burner now, but maybe it will give more immediately useful ideas to somebody else:

Ends of Governance

*** I caught wind the EU is considering more draconian anti-piracy measures. I am removing this paper from my blog until I have time to revise the paper with respect to provisions of anonymity for the public hubs and the network I analyzed***

All right. If you thought I dropped off the face the planet you are correct. You need to take 30 credits for my Master’s and I took 40. How dumb is that? I spent all of December and January bleeding ink and paper. And what do I get? A number, they call it a ‘grade’ or a ‘mark’. I am marked and I am graded and that in relation to everybody else. Grades and results are two different things, but let’s not talk about that right now.

I’ve tried many things in the past to make this blog the proper habit it should be, and I think I may have worked out a solution. First, I am opening the format. Talking about Marx all the time gets tiresome. I love Marx, but I also love other things too -like Foucault, and Smallville, and so on.

 Second, taking stock, I actually have a number of blogs to keep up with. I have no idea how this happened. Anyway. Since this semester I take only one class and write my thesis, Monday is blog day. Period!! Third, I’m not going to be such a prick to every piece of literature I look at. Fourth, I want to devise creative ways of presenting the Marx read along. Ideas are welcome here… ‘Marx for Dummies’. Any masochists out there reading/who have read Capital? 

Fifth, if I get at least one person… Sorglose Nacht?  the Karl Marx Blog? to blog a book club reading of Grundrisse (or suggest another) with me (which I have never read BTW) that would be awesome. I’ll sit on this if I get no bites for 1 month; then I’m coming after YOU!!!

See, it’s fun to be informal. I’m really not so stiff. Soon I will have my web interlinked appropriately and you will see there are many ways to be a marxist, one of which is to speak in cryptic terms.

Now. I have written a number of papers. Some of them are interesting maybe, others not maybe. I do not know. I know what my professors claim to think about them, but that is not important to your reading; in the end, I don’t write for the grade but for understanding or some other such lofty nonsense. So I begin posting those now in serial, and responding to comments… and whatever else strikes my fancy (re. resolution 1).  

These are just notes yo.

A bullet of how I might proceed in this discussion: A. Let’s make the following suppositions 1. It is possible to be ‘scientific’, but that what constitutes ‘science’ is a contested set of tools and methods for approaching the things we observe, as in the things we sense in the broadest notion of the verb -to sense.   2. The way one goes about ‘being scientific’ varies and must vary from one field and context in that field to the next.  

3. Our field is a matrix of constructed/constructing fields, the social. The social is an insanely complicated collection of agents bearing their habitus and shaping the bearing of it. What I like about the Turner piece is that it reminds us of the need for representations, models, theories as a sort of ‘language of sociology’ – but only with the understanding that these are indeed ‘just models’ and mappings to provide some method for discussing occurrence and concepts of occurrence, an attempt to gain the ‘clear definitions’ Weber, Durkheim and Marx all through method and constant definition.  I think Bourdieu provides an aside that I feel comfortable with just before he presents this convincingly complex model of ‘the space of social positions’ (Bourdieu, 128): “…this diagram does not aim to be the crystal ball in which the alchemists claimed to see at a glance everything happening in the world; and like mathematicians who also treat what they call ‘imaginary’ as a necessary evil, I am tempted to withdraw it in the very act of presenting it. For there is reason to fear that it will encourage readings which will reduce the homologies between systems of differences to direct, mechanical relationships between groups and properties; or that it will encourage the form of voyeurism which is inherent in the objectivist intention, putting the sociologist in the role of the lame devil who takes off the roofs and reveals the secrets of domestic life to his fascinated readers” (Bourdieu, 126) Bourdieu invites in some respects the same question Engels prefaced in Marx’s challenge to the science of political economy: 

“Political economy has generally been content to take, just as they were, the terms of commercial and industrial life, and to operate with them, entirely failing to see that by so doing it confined itself within the narrow circle of ideas expressed by those terms…classical political economy never went beyond the received notions, and therefore never arrived at a clear comprehension” (Engels in Marx, 111). A clear comprehension never entirely clear by the very fact it must always be re-clarified. “You have to confess before you profess” Art Homer, professor of poetry at my Bachelor alma mater use to say. However,   We must cause our definitions, which are really our perceptions plotted out, to confess. While Turner provides what I feel to be an excellent reference for thinking about the structure of theory (which I digested really well thanks to all the ‘all other things equal’ in the language of Capital 1-3) he does not go far enough with his: “The goal of sociology is to gain knowledge about the nature of human organization.” (Turner, 1).  Bourdieu invites us, and in a wonderfully explicit manner, to acknowledge that in claiming the ‘right’ to study society in this way we have a responsibility to use our specialization in a way that ‘writes -diagnoses /and/ prescribes- with understanding’. It is not enough to merely view and describe the what is. It is vital to invite discussion among as many people as possible; with as much information and ‘understanding’ as possible as to what we like and dislike about the social in which we now endure. We are invited into the question, what does our research mean? Why do I research what I do? For whom? Why do I research it this way? What do I think about this situation? What can I do about it? How does what I do effect the production of it? At the very least we must try.  As my friend ‘Maeffro’, a Bachelor of the fine arts program at the University of Iowa (theater) once related the sentiment, ‘a hero is a man who does what he can’. Maeffro now works with the mentally disabled and participates in the production of theater and music. His sentiment is transcribed here like ‘the words of the plumber’.   Social science cannot be neutral not merely because the researcher is positioned in so many related positions in so many related fields but because those fields and all the capital brought to them are never neutral, they are perpetually contested, dominated, and defined. But this cannot just be polemically achieved. There is responsibility in the research process itself, a responsibility of understanding; of understanding the world of the subject without necessarily imposing your own categories of meaning upon them. Of being aware of the loss of fidelity and the ‘true fidelity’ achieved in the act of transcribing our sense of the subjects who become our objects and the modesty that demands on the part of the social scientist.  There is an act of representation. I enjoy also how Bourdieu establishes sociology as the ‘opposite of journalism’. In light of the above discussion of ‘what is social science’ it neatly summarizes much of what I dislike in much of the approach applied and reproduced in the field of journalism; precisely why the imperative to challenge concepts like ‘professional’ and probe deeper into the role of author as authority; the way in which authority is accumulated, exercised, produced and reproduced, challenged and changed. 

x commodity A = y commodity B or = z commodity C or = v commodity D, etc., etc.

100,000 pencils = 1 computer or = 1 ton of coffee, or = 50,000 erasers.

Here the value of commodity A, our commodity playing value in its relative form is now expressed in innumerable commodities. While this is hidden in the simple expression of value, here the fact that value expresses itself through commodities as congealed quantities of abstract, undifferentiated human labor is apparant in the exchangeability of one thing for anything else in the right quantitites. In short, the endless series of value expressions implies that the particular use-values in which the value appears is ‘a matter of indiference’. Value of 1 = value of 1 whether that value is borne by coffee or computers, erasers or pencils. Moreover, it is not the exchange of commodities which regulates the magnitude of their values. It is the magnitude of value of the comomdities which regulates the proportion in which they exchange.

As a matter of fact, the phrase ‘supply and demand’ is not to really enter our vocabulary set and analysis for another 2000 pages – that is in volume 3.

Of course what this expanded form also means is that the natural form of each commodity is now a particular equivalent form of value alongside so many other commodities playing or capable of playing the equivalent form. Many specific labors contained in this mass of equivalent forms, in the sea of these commodities, now count as so many forms of manifestation of human labor.

But this is not really new information. We arrived at all of this already through close examination of the simple expression of value. Similarly the questions and ‘defects’ of this form are the same.

The expanded form of value is merely the sum of all the simple expressions. The sum of 100,000 pencils = 1 computer or 100,000 pencils = 50,000 erasers. What should be all too clear at this point is that this expanded form of value implies the existence of the General Form of Value:

1 computer

50,000 erasers             =      100,000 pencils

1 ton coffee

The way in which people exchange things with each other in a capitalist mode of production and reproduction is the subject at hand. We have discussed the role of relative and equivalent forms of value in the following value expression:

x commodity A = y commodity B; with commodity A adopting the role of the relative form of value and commodity B adopting the role of A’s equivalent form of value. At the end of this discussion on the simple expression of value I hope to have working definitions for both – something I didn’t take the time to do my first time through the text.

Anyway, and even more recently discussed was the equivalent form of value and the ‘three peculiarities’ of the commoditiy that fills the role:

1. use-value becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, namely value.

2. concrete (useful) labor becomes the form of apperance of its opposite, namely abstract social labor

3. private labor takes on the form of its opposite, labor in a directly social form.

Now that we have examined the pieces of the simple expression of value it’s time to put them back together and consider the simple expression of value as a whole.

Our scenario, as a reminder: 100,000 pencils = 1 computer (or any like relation between two different commodities).

This value expression is not contained in the commodities themselves, rather only in relationship to and with another commodity of a different kind.

The value of pencils is expressed qualitatively (seemingly as a quality of the commodity in the relative form of value) by and through its direct exchangeability with computers. The quality of exchange value is expressed in exchange; the value of pencils is expressed quantitatively by and through the exchangeability of pencils and computers in specific quantities: 100,000:1, or whatever.

Value is expressed independent of the specific commodity. A commodity is /not/ both a use and an exchange value. Rather, a commodity is a use-value looked at in a value relation – a use-value bearing socially produced and realized value.

“The product of labor is an object of utility in all states of society; but it is only a historically specific epoch of development which presents the labor expended in the production of a useful article as an ‘objective’ property of that article, i.e. as its value. It is only then that the product of labor becomes transformed into a commodity”

What is the simple form of value? “it is an embryonic form which must undergo a series of metamorphoses before it can ripen into the price-form”.

Next time we move on to the next, less embryonic, form of the value expression: ‘The Total or Expanded Form of Value’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m begining to feel a bit beaten down on this whole analysis of the equivalent form of value. I’m too exhausted to review yesterday’s post here again in writing. It is, of course, below for those who want to review it now. We were discussing the three peculiarities of the equicalent form of value.

The second peculiarity of the equivalent form is that in it concrete labor becomes the form of of manifestation of its opposite, abstract human labor. This is private labor, a particular form of concrete labor in its directly social form of abstract human labor presented in the shape of a product that, as a bearer of exchange value in its equivalent form, is directly exchangeable with other commodities.

Really this was covered, I think, under the first peculiarity, or at least its easy to make that logical step. Which bumps us nicely along to the third peculiarity unless there is a good quote to pull…let me see…nope.

The third peculiarity of the equivalent form. Private labor takes on the form of its opposite, labor in its dirfectly exchangeable and social form.

“The secret of the expression of value, namely the equality and equivalence of all kinds of labor because and in so far as they are human labor in general, could not be deciphered [as Aristotle could not in a slave society] until the concept of human equality had already acquired the permanence of a fixed popular opinion. This however becomes possible only in a society where the commodity-form is the universal form of the product of labor, hence the dominant social relation is the relation between men as possessors of commodities” (152).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.