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H enr y A . G iroux Heroin Chic, Trendy Aesthetics, and the Politics of Pathology November 1997 Introduction “It is the fear of what Jean Baudrillard calls simulations without referents, a Disneyland society in which unanchored desires float from object to object at the dictate of consumer capitalism. The body in such a society loses its material reality; pain ceases to be a teacher, and pleasure is degraded to mere stimulation.”1 In the Postmodern world described by Jean Baudrillard, daily life consists of an endless series of simulations that lack any concrete referents. Disneyland becomes a model for a sanitized society purged of politics, a society in which representations become increasingly homogenized and cease to be read critically as part of a broader strategy of understanding , struggle, and intervention.3 In this Postmodern media-scape, images bombard the senses, identities become transparent and one-dimensional, space and time collapse and displace traditional understandings of place and history, and concrete reality slips into a virtual society where “there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” Postmodern culture has become less a mode of cultural criticism than a political and social condition marked by the rise of the national 266   T h e E s s e n t i a l N ew A rt E xaminer entertainment state and the spread of corporate culture into every facet of life.4 The concentration of apparatuses of cultural production, organization , and distribution in fewer and fewer hands undermines the possibility of culture as a dynamic zone of contention, an active public space prompting dialogue, dissent, and critical engagement. Culture becomes instead a commercial public sphere marked by the emergence, if not the triumph of stylized and superficial forms. Within such a society, “the social turns itself into advertising and . . . all current forms of activity tend toward advertising and most exhaust themselves therein.”5 As the social is emptied of all political and ethical referents, the tension between entertainment and politics becomes blurred, just as the relationship between art and commerce becomes less controversial. It would be comforting to believe that Baudrillard’s world of simulations exists simply as an arcane theoretical discourse endlessly replayed at academic conferences or Las Vegas retreats.6 But the logic of the simulation—with its indifference to the distinction between representations of reality and actual experiences—operates in a variety of public spheresthroughwhichthesocialimaginaryisredefinedandreproduced within a commercial logic that renounces all claims to politics, moral compassion, and the obligations of public life. In such a society, art and commerce increasingly combine to package identities, commodity bodies, and organize desires to the dictates of the market. Creativity is given free reign as long as it sells goods, rather than connecting artistic transgression with political resistance or democratic struggle. As culture is increasingly corporatized, artists and other cultural workers can comfortably mortgage themselves to the logic of late capitalism and engage the larger society as public-relations intellectuals rather than as agents of social responsibility. For instance, film directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Ridley Scott surrender their critical sensibilities and auteur status to work for corporate giants such as Disney, producing films that dissolve politics into either white-bread comedy or high-octane, military machismo (i.e., Jack and G.I. Jane). Numerous contemporary artists have followed in Andy Warhol’s footsteps, using their talents to produce ads for Absolut Vodka.7 Similarly, Benetton displays its ads in various galleries and employs a variety of actors and artists to either endorse or work for the company. Besides blurring the line between culture and society, they purge artistic production of any ethical referent while reaffirming the victory of capital over compassion : social responsibility loses out to “show me the money.” H E N R Y A . G I R O U X    Heroin Chic, Trendy Aesthetics, and the Politics of Pathology   267 In a Postmodern world in which the focus of the “capitalist economy since the 1920s shifted from production to consumption,”8 culture is more than commodified; it is emptied of resistance as critical reflection gives way to the reified image of the spectacle. Failing to discern between reality as a fact and reality as a possibility, between a morality committed to addressing forms of oppression and a representative politics in which oppression, suffering, and despair are translated into a stylized aesthetic, the commodified cultural realm demonstrates an apocalyptic emptiness. As the machineries of cultural pedagogy extend beyond the school into the largely corporate...


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