Saturday, May 21, 2005


In Rob Walker's "Consumed" column this week in The New York Times Magazine is a piece about the re-re-reissues of Elvis Costello's albums that entirely misses the point about them and reveals what is generally wrong with the column, which makes wry observations only to retreat from any of their implications, shrugging its shoulders at capitalism's vagaries, as if to say, "Boy, it sure is something what people will do, huh?" Just another chapter in the wacky annals of shopping -- the essence of this column every week is to laugh away the extremities of consumerism and make it all seem like whimsical fun, inviting you to rationalize your own cosumerist behavior and embrace it as a definitive sign of yor own uniqueness within the social matrix now defined exclusively by retail stores and commodities and the rites of passage that lead to their purchase. The piece on the re-re-re-issues winds its way to that climax, as each week's column inevitably seems to when reflecting on the superfandom that drives people to buy the same thing over and over again, Walker concludes "It's only other people's fandom that seems embarassing or irrational." In other words, you're a self-deluded snob if you are dismayed at wasteful obsessive-compulse consumption; you're blind to how you play the same game because ultimately our society makes it absolutely mandatory that you play this game, for you to even give yourself depths to contemplate, to give you some kind of grooming activity to get to know yourself through as you comb through and organize your most cherished possessions. Walker spends no time discussing the exploitation of these superfans, perhaps because it's so self-evident, and he never explores why culture generates superfans of Elvis Costello and Star Trek rather than informed voters. (Politics is just another form of superfandom, as the fawning profile of "Man on Dog" Santorum in the same magazine suggests.) Superfandom marshals mammoth amounts of creative energy and channels it into a comparatively passive activity controlled ultimately by the corporations that manufacture "new" product and carefully schedule its release to maximize desperation in its audience.

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