Thursday, August 27, 2009

Becoming the Media & Hegemony

Clayton McIntosh

Branding Faith
Mara Einstein

Einstein's chapter “Branding Faith” discusses the nature of religion in regards to advertising. She focuses on brands and the process of consumerism and religious conversions.

Einstein explains that advertising is a psychologically business used to sell unneeded products to consumers. Advertisers want their product to stand out in the clutter, and they want to make consumers form an immediate bond with the product. They use brands to achieve this; to make meaning of their products. Unconsciously, a brand represents everything you know of that product.

Einstein argues that people find their meaning and identity in the products they buy, not unlike the way people find find meaning and identity in their religion. She suggests that consumerism is almost exactly the same as being a part of religion. She also finds similarities between selling a product and evangelising a faith. She compares the “relationship marketing curve”, or the selling of a product, to the “conversion career”, or someone being converted to a religion. She argues that they are similar, and have borrowed from each other – that religion has borrowed from marketing, and that marketing has borrowed from religion.

Einstein then explores “Neotribalism” - The return to communities (tribes) based on similarities people share. One form of Neotribalism are “Brand communities”; groups of people who share a strong loyalty with a particular product, such as Apple or Harley Davidson. Again she compares products to religion, particularly in regards to “Faith Brands”, products (including people) based around selling a part of religion. She suggests Joyce Myer or The Alpha Course as faith brands. Faith brands act like other consumer products.

Einstein's article explains the similarities between products and religion, focusing on brands. The article poses questions - Is religion a product? Is consumerism a religion? Einstein concludes that religion is at base a product.

Einstein, Mara (2007), Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age, New York: Routledge, pp. 67-94

Hadassah Meadows

Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society
Jennifer Rindfleish

Rindfleish makes some key observations that form the basis of her analysis of the four new age spiritual thinkers she critiques within the article. The four new age spiritual thinkers whose views she dissects are Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, Gary Zukav and Shakti Gawain. Outlined below are the major concepts Rindfleish tackles within her article.

Firstly, Rindfleish states that the late 20th century has brought about modified discourses and practices from Eastern and Western traditional religious beliefs, western science and psychotherapy. These have been melded together by many new age spiritualists to create an alternative meta-theory. This discourse has been designed and developed to assist individuals ‘transform’ themselves. By doing this, new age spiritual thinkers imply the spiritual confusion of modern consumers is due to the inherent contradictions between many different schools of thought, and they offer a convenient and less confusing alternative by synthesising and collapsing the more complex aspects of each major religion into a palatable, easy to digest formula. Rindfleish points out that by merging Eastern, Western and scientific schools of thought, Chopra, Wilbur and the others purposefully collapse the knowledge and experience inherent in complex and rich traditions, and in the centuries of social and physical sciences to develop their own ‘unique’ meta-theory.

Secondly, each of the spiritualists analysed identify and differentiate between two types of self’s. Each writer outlines a basic or unenlightened self, which can be improved through practices to circumvent the weaknesses of this self. The result, each writer promises, will be an enlightened, fulfilled self who has attained happiness and success, and gained power through the process.

Each of these new age spiritual thinkers have released numerous books, programs, media and commercial information. Zukav is also a frequent guest on Oprah, reaching an audience conservatively estimated at 20 million viewers. The vast amount of literature, media or information available (and in so many different forms) alludes to spirituality as a ‘social product’ in today’s society. Rindfleish explores the uncertainty and insecurity of people in our consumer society, who often rely on such ‘social products’ as the new age and self help spirituality supply, to gain or to craft a new self or self image. These consumers, Rindfleish maintains, eventually find the initial purpose and discourse of their new age practice is lost and becomes redundant, due to redundancy being the inevitable outcome for any social product in a commodified world. Due to the consumer nature of this spirituality, the implications for individual self-identity are that it is always in the nature of ‘becoming’, rather than actually achieving a specific goal. Rindfleish predicts that new age spirituality will continue to change in order to promise satisfaction of consumer needs in a never ending cycle.

Rindfleish, Jennifer (2005). Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as a 'social product' in Consumer Society. Consumption, Markets and Culture,
Vol. 8, No. 4, December 2005, pp. 343–360

Meg Lowrey

The Industrialization of the Mind in The Consciousness Industry
Hans Magnus Enzenberger

Enzenberger’s article The Consciousness Industry discusses the media as the mind making industry, and how this industry shapes and informs our consciousness. Suggests that because the media is evaluated separately in terms of form, film on one hand, radio on another, society has become unaware of what he calls the phenomenon as a whole, which is the industrialization of the mind (3). The industry is also difficult to understand because it no longer attempts to sell a product, but rather to ‘sell’ the existing order, both political and social. The article argues that the industry’s main aim is ‘to expand and train our consciousness in order to exploit it’ implying control (7). He outlines four conditions that are necessary for the industry’s development. The first is enlightenment, defined by Enzenberger as the end of theocracy. This is followed by a proclamation of human rights although it is not necessary for these rights to be realised. The third condition is the one which has not been met fully across the globe, the economic ability to develop and sustain the mind industry. Finally the technology required for the development of the different mediums which make up the mind industry (6-7).

Due to societies increased awareness in human and individual rights, people have become more active in both their social and political participation. This has created a problem for those of the ruling class or elites, as traditional methods of control, the use of force, control of capital or production, are no longer effective in maintaining the existing order. Thus, the mind industry has become the latest method of control and key industry of the 20th and 21st centuries (5). Today situations such as the state of emergency in Fiji in April of this year, when the government disabled radio transmitters and the deliberate internal interference reported by media during unrest following elections in June demonstrate the importance placed on the industry.

The development of the internet has created a whole new set of problem for the media and those that produce it. Many sites would easily form part of the mind industry, news sites, government sites, even belief net. However there are also sites such as you tube and twitter which allow individuals to create and produce their own media with the ability to reach large audiences and provide alternatives to mainstream media. Though Enzenberger’s article was written over thirty years ago, most of its themes and ideas are still relevant today, particularly his ideas about breaking free from the control of the mind industry. He argues that awareness is the key, if we are aware of the process, of the industrialization of the mind, society will be able to create alternatives and to overcome its influence (14). New media such as internet sites like YouTube allow the freedom to do this.

Enzensberger HM, (1974). ‘The Industrialization of the Mind’, in The Consciousness Industry. On Literature, Politics and the Media, New York, The Seabury Press, 3-15

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