Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lecture Six: Fetishism and Popular Culture: Umberto Eco's Casablanca


 


Lecture Six


Fetishism and Popular Culture: Umberto Eco's Casablanca



[originally posted on March 15, 2012 and updated on October 25, 2013]

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The concept of the fetish in Cultural Studies simultaneously refers to commodities, to a constellation of relations the repression and domination of nature, to alienation, and to the desire for authority that connects all of these. It is not by accident that the fetish has been central to materialist critiques of everyday life. Do not slip into the easy view that Cultural Studies is about criticism and philosophy, or about play and whimsy. It is not and should it become so, then Cultural Studies becomes just a marketing teaser instead of a “ruthless critique” of the social and material conditions of the present.

That this may appear to announce that Cultural Studies had a politics is not surprising. The political position of Cultural Studies is that of the critique of the present and of the utopian conceits for the future. This critique begins with the profoundly negative critique of the Frankfurt School and became later, at the instigation of the Birmingham School, an equally positive critique critique of contemporary culture. Positive in the sense of emphasizing the resistance to authority and the constant reproduction of the social relations through the production of culture. Birmingham expressed an overt commitment of theory to the needs of opposition political and social formations.

One of the intractable problems that confronts(-ed) Cultural Studies is that the commitment to critique --- a commitment that requires that one be led by the evidence --- is often at odds with commitments to particular groups and politics. This is not to say that Cultural Studies has no overarching political commitments. It most certainly has always been committed to the politics of the left, as can be seen in its origins in Critical Theory and in the Gramscian interventions and commitment to the working class that one finds in British Cultural Studies.

Cultural Studies, however, always turns its critique back on itself and this results in the difficulty in maintaining long-term commitments to any political orthodoxy. Orthodoxy invites its critique and results in the constant questioning of the very orthodoxies that we hold most dear. After all, a consistent thread through the genealogy of Cultural Studies has been what Horkheimer called the negative task of demolishing our most cherished beliefs and ideals, and then to encourage -- or at least not discourage – one to really thing about the rubble as one reconstructs one’s understanding of everyday life.

This underlines the centrality of materialism in understanding the origins of contemporary Cultural Studies. Notice that I said materialism and not Marxism. Although Marx’s work serves as a basis for much of the social sciences, Marx was himself working within a much longer tradition of social critique: materialism. Marx even wrote his doctoral dissertation on the meaning of freedom in the philosophy of the Greek materialists Democritus and Epicurus.

In choosing his subject, Marx was going the route of many Enlightenment scholars who also turned to the Materialists and the Stoics to support his revolutionary theories of society and social life. Catherine Wilson has written about this in her recent book Epicureanism and the Origins of Modernity.

The fetish first enters into materialism through its critique of religion, politics, and fear. How is it that we come to demand our own domination? Why do we desire it more that freedom or even try to “escape from Freedom”? Epicurus and his followers said that we should first look to religion, which they argued teaches us to fear an afterlife, to fear death, and to seek comfort in ignorance and superstition.
[You can read more on this elsewhere  Link: http://www.Epicurus.info

We can briefly take note of some specific characteristics of early materialism:
*Against the Idols of religion and the marketplace.
*Against fear of living, instead embraced pleasure and moderation.
*Society based upon a social contract, with Epicurean societies (Gardens) based upon the principles of friendship, with gender an social equality.
*There is a cosmopolitanism to materialism that would later give support to, for better and ill, the universalism of Enlightenment.

The Epicurean inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda was set in the marketplace to remind his fellow citizens of the benefits of Epicurusism and the ills of greed, superstition, and the culture of the market place. And just as everyone comes to Rick’s Cafe Americain, so too does Diogenes of Oinoanda (c. 200 CE) speaks of the illusion of distance between peoples and societies:

...and we contrived this [inscription] in order that, even while sitting at home, we might be able to exhibit the goods of philosophy, not to all people here indeed, but to those of them who are civil-spoken; and not least we did this for those who are called "foreigners," though they are not really so. For, while the various segments of the earth give different people a different country, the whole compass of this world gives all people a single country, the entire earth, and a single home, the world. http://www.epicurus.info/picindex3.html 

Oinoanda

We certainly note the centrality of materialism to Enlightenment while still acknowledging some obvious differences and different interpretations over time (see Wilson again). But Marx does not appear out of the blue. The history of materialism extends much further before Marx as well as continuing after him as well. His is, though, a pivotal figure in the genealogy of materialism. He gives his own in the Holy Family, The Poverty of Philosophy, and in his remarkable Epicurean Notebooks.
But let us turn to another of Marx’s sources for his materialism and for his concept of the fetish, Ludwig von Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity.

Here is what Feuerbach writes about the relationship of Humans to the Divine as well as to the fetish that embodies that divinity:

Religion is the dream of the human mind. But even in dreams we do not find ourselves in emptiness or in heaven, but on earth, in the realm of reality; we only see real things in the entrancing splendor of imagination and caprice, instead of in the simple daylight of reality and necessity. Hence I do nothing more to religion – and to speculative philosophy and theology also – than to open its eyes, or rather to turn its gaze from the internal towards the external, i.e., I change the object as it is in the imagination into the object as it is in reality....

Man cannot transcend his true nature. He may indeed by means of the imagination conceive individuals of another so-called higher kind, but even then he can never get loose from his species and his nature. The specific distinctions... which he attributes to these higher individuals, are always drawn from man's own nature --- qualities in which, actually, man images and projects himself. - Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 1841.

Note that we are once again in the realm of dreams, and as with Freud and Borges, even in dreams we “find ourselves ... on earth”. Feuerbach looks for the real, material basis of Christianity and finds it in the people who created it. “Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human. But the human essence is no abstraction in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations” (Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis 6.) Humans can not escape or overcome their place in nature without becoming something other than human. We construct our gods and deities from the materials at hand, and the most important source happens to be us. Thus our goods come to resemble us, to behave as we behave or wish that we might behave. We take the best of ourselves and project it into an imaginary being or its representation – its’ fetish – and this fetish comes to stand over and against us. It regulates and controls our actions. We see the fetish as a power independent of our will when it is in fact constructed by us. Therefore, Feuerbach argues, we have alienated ourselves from these now divine attributes, leaving us reduced and the imaginary fetishes of religion staring down on us.

Religion is the alienation of man from himself; for he sets up God as an antithesis of himself... in religion man objectifies his own ‘latent’ nature. Hence it must be proved that this antithesis, this contrast between God and man with which religion begins, is in reality a conflict between the individual and his own nature. The measure of your god is determined by your own reason. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity. 1841, pgs. 19-20.

Just as God is nothing else than the nature of man purified of everything which appears to the individual as a limitation or an evil, so the future life [after death] is nothing else than life here and now freed from everything that appears a limitation or an evil.... To live in projected dream-images is the essence of religion. Religions sacrifices reality to the projected dream: the ‘Beyond’ is merely the ‘Here’ reflected in the mirror of imagination. Our essential task is now fulfilled. We have reduced the otherworldly, supernatural and Superhuman nature of God to the elements of human nature. We have arrived in the end at where we started from the beginning. The beginning, the center, and the goal of religion is – Man.


It is common place amongst Marxists to overly emphasize the connection between Marx and Hegel. In fact, it was once asserted that one must read Hegel to understand Marx. Of course, a passing familiarity with Marx should have established the absurdity of this assertion. Marx was no Hegelian. Indeed, Marxism rather ignores the importance of Feuerbach’s work for Marx and Engels. For example, Engels’ late work LudwigFeuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy expressed how deeply they were influenced by Feuerbach.

Then came Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity. With one blow it pulverized the contradiction in that without circumlocutions it placed materialism on the throne again. Nature exists independently of all philosophy. It is the foundation upon which we human beings, ourselves products of nature, have grown up. Nothing exists outside nature and man, and the higher beings our religious fantasies have created are only the fantastic reflection of our own essence. The spell [of Hegelianism] was broken. The ‘system’ was exploded and cast aside. And the contradiction shown to exist only in our imagination, was dissolved. One must have experienced the the liberating effect of this book to have any idea of it. Enthusiasm was general. We all became at once Feuerbachians! How enthusiastically Marx greeted the new conception and how much --- in spite of all critical reservations – he was influenced by it, one may read in the Holy Family. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, pg.18.

This debt to Feuerbach is obvious in Capital, particularly in the chapter on “The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret”. It is here that Marx moved the discussion of fetishism and alienation away from the realm of religion and towards the critique of everyday life.

Significantly, Marx undertakes this critique of commodities before the advent of a consumer society. At a time when advertising did not exist (see Raymond Williams “Advertising, the Magic System”), and the bulk of the working classes could not even dream of moving into the middle classes yet alone a 40-hour work week with a "weekend" in which to recreate and reproduce the everyday.

Notice how Marx’s opening remarks place the discussion of commodities into alignment with the earlier critique of religious fetishes.

The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of commodities'.... A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.... The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men's own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relations of the producers....
The commodity form... is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labor as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
-- Karl Marx, Capital, Vol I.

In the coming era, religion would no longer hold sway and nature would become increasingly instrumentalized and dominated. Marx noted this in his Grundrisse, which was perhaps his notebook or a rough draft of Capital.

Is the view of nature and social relations on which the Greek imagination and hence Greek [mythology] is based possible with the self-acting mule spindles and railways and locomotives and eletrical telegraphs? What chance has Vulcan against Roberts & Co., Jupiter against the lightening-rod and Hermes against the Credit Mobilier? All mythology overcomes and dominates and shapes the forces of nature in the imagination and by the imagination; it therefore vanishes with the advent of real mastery over them. Marx, Karl. 1973. Grundrisse, New York: Penguin Classics, 100.

The alienation Feuerbach found in the creation of the religious fetish becomes in Marx the alienation of humans from the products of their own social labor. Commodities stand over and above us, dominating our lives in the same manner that the gods and the saints once ruled over our ancestors. The domination of nature appears natural, just the way things are or in accordance with the dictates of “human nature” rather than the creation of humans through their social relations. Furthermore, the commodity as the crystallization of human labor provides us with an artifact of the social relations of its producers. The commodity can tell us something about the society that produced it as its relation to nature. As Freud said, the fetish appear split into “one part repression, the other vocalized, for we repress the fetishistic aspect of the world and imagine it as natural.”

Unfortunately, this is not the place to pursue an in depth analysis of Marx’s investigations of the commodity form and its social reproduction. It is, however, the place to call your attention to the fact that Marx's analysis of alienation and commodification is in accordance with his materialism and extends throughout his work. I am aware of the current “return” to Althusser evidenced by the interests of some of your own professors and fellow students. This renewal – and it is not the first – shares much in common with the appeal of Walter Benjamin’s Messianic reading of Marxism to those who now lack the comfort of the inevitable revolution but still desire to immerse themselves in a "good" politics with an "ultimate" goal. Likewise, to those left without a Left, Althusser’s scientism appeals to many who desire the security of a science of society and its revolutions. No, there was no break between the “Young Marx” and “mature Marx except in the fantasies of Althusser and in the political expedience of justifying the orthodox Marxism of the Communist Parties . See E. P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory for a critique of Althusser from the perspective of British Cultural Studies.
[For more on Marx’s theory of commodities (besides Marx of course!), see:
Luxemburg, Rosa. 1963 [1913]. The Accumulation of Capital. London: Routledge.
Negri, Antonio. 1991. Marx Beyond Marx; Lessons on the Grundrisse. New York: Autonomedia.
Rubin, I. I. 1973 [1928]. Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value.Montreal/New York: Black Rose Books.
To understand the formation of the social relations of capital, see (besides Marx!)
Fernand Braudel. 1982. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th- 18th Century, Volumes 1-3. New York: Harper & Row.
Weber, Max. 1976 [1904-5, 1920] The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.]
Of course, Marx’s discussion of the Fetish happens in a broader social context and changes brought about by those social formations that we met in earlier lectures:

*Enlightenment
*Colonialism, Imperialism, and the revolutions of the late 18th and throughout the 19th century
*Globalization of Markets
*Scientific advances and the formation of modern science
*Technological innovation and the instrumentation of Nature

Indeed, when we think again about Joseph Conrad, we find his recognition that the very idea of the “spirit of civilization” has already fully merged with the global movements of commodities:

Carlier, smoking native tobacco in a short wooden pipe, would swagger up twirling his moustaches, and surveying the warriors with haughty indulgence, would say--
"Fine animals. Brought any bone? Yes? It's not any too soon. Look at the muscles of that fellow third from the end. I wouldn't care to get a punch on the nose from him. Fine arms, but legs no good below the knee. Couldn't make cavalry men of them." And after glancing down complacently at his own shanks, he always concluded: "Pah! Don't they stink! You, Makola! Take that herd over to the fetish" (the storehouse was in every station called the fetish, perhaps because of the spirit of civilization it contained) "and give them up some of the rubbish you keep there. I'd rather see it full of bone than full of rags." Joseph Conrad An Outpost of Progress, 1898.

Our own era is still profoundly shaped by the the Era of the World Wars, which produced fundamental changes in social life:
The end of Colonialism
The de-centering of Europe
The rise of the United States and spread of American Culture
Authority: Enlightenment & new forms of control
We talked about these in the first lecture.  Now, it has become a commonplace to speak now of a globalized world, but this is really not a new insight. The movement of ivory and bodies captured by Conrad shows that the “process of globalization” is another face of the expansion of the social relations of capital. When as in the present day the commodity form penetrates to every corner of the globe, there is no escape from consumer society. The rebel who stole Qaddafi’s gun was wearing a St. Valentine’s day tee-shirt and a New York Yankees baseball cap.

The analysis of the commodity fetishism of consumer society was first taken up by the Frankfurt School and its associate, Walter Benjamin. They extended both Marx’s analysis into this new era, but they took seriously the political implications of what they called the Culture Industry. In our readings for next week we will turn to the Frankfurt School, but in this clip Max Horkheimer sums up the importance of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School in extending Marx’s critique:

This sociology went beyond the critical theory of society conceived by Marx in order to reflect reality more adequately. One point is very important. For Marx had the ideal of a society of free human beings. He believed that this capitalist society would necessarily have to be overcome by the solidarity spelled by the increasing immiseration of the working class. This idea is wrong. This society in which we live does not immiserate the workers but helps them to build a better life. And apart from that, Marx did not see that freedom and justice are dialectical concepts. The more freedom, the less justice, and the more justice, the less freedom. The critical theory which I conceived later is based on the idea that one cannot determine what is good, what a good, a free society would look like from within the society which we live in now. We lack the means. But in our work we can bring up the negative aspects of this society, which we want to change. Max Horkheimer: Interview, 1969.

As we said earlier, Marx never knew that the expansion of capital and its technological innovations would lead to the swelling of the middle classes and to a society driven as much by desire for consumer goods (e.g., Apple) as by manufacturing. But Marx knew that the future could not be predicted. Instead, we could only rely on the fact the the future would be what we make of it, just as the past was also our creation.

“Humans make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time honored disguise and this borrowed language.” Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire, pg.15 (1)

And here we turn to Casablanca as a cult object, i.e., Casablanca as a fetish and an artifact.

In Eco's essay, we find that we are now dealing a new aspect of the fethish: the spectacle or the the film as a cult object and a cultural artifact. A contemporary of Eco, the political scientist Murray Edelman proposed that politics is now nothing more than spectacle. That leaders, social problems, and policy were constructed through the media through the consumption of the spectacle.

“The political entities that are most influential upon public consciousness and action, then, are fetishes; creations of observers that then dominate and mystify their creators. I try here to analyze the pervasive consequences of the fetishism at the core of politics, never a wholly successful enterprise because it is tempting to exorcise a fetish by constructing a rational theory of politics.” Edelman


I. Casablanca as an Cultural Artifact/Cult Object
II. The Fetish --- Idols of the Market place



For Eco, the cult film is the film that already refers to all other films, past and present. “It is the movies.” It already contains all of the motifs that are to be found in the specific genres. War film, spy, love story, adventure, Western, gangster/Noir films, Casablanca is all of these and yet none of them. It was not trying to capture the time or the various genres. As Eco argues, one can not make a cult film. It is not the result of conscious creation but rather chance and the needs of the moment. Casablanca was simply thrown together using the “archetypes” readily at hand. With its rapid movement from one genre to the next, Casablanca manages to reference them all, to even take essential elements from each one (the rainy airport runway and the trench coat in the final scene, e. g., “Waters? What waters? We’re in the desert” Renault says early in the film) without ever being limited by any one genre. Thus it never actually achieves the continuity of the genre movie. It is instead more like the Borges/Kafka story within a story, as well as stories without an ending. The film is arbitrary and unhinged, as Eco tells us. 

The film must be ramshackled. It must provide a space for you to place yourself into it. This ramshackle openness creates these gaps and through our imagination and fantasy we rush to fill them. The opening sequence with its blend of newsreels, fantasy, and the exotic, announces this appeal to the viewer to project themselves into the film. Like any fetish, the cult movie is a vessel for the fantasies of the viewer in an object alienated from the viewer. The movie takes on a life of its own, so to speak, in the constant repetition of the references to it throughout popular culture. It is a “perfect film” because you must actively watch and because one invests it with one’s fantasies, Eco says.

Of course, this means that not only can a cult film not be consciously produced, but that it is by definition “not serious.” It was not intended to be an important film. It was instead just one of dozens of films being produced to supply an expanding market for the consumption of entertainment. It is not the result of intensive collaboration or an individual “artistic” will, but really the result of the social forces of the time and the vagaries of history. If Ronald Reagan had been under contract to Warner Brothers, he would have had Bogart’s role and perhaps American history might have been somewhat altered. History is replete with chance events, after all.

I will not go into the details that Eco covers so well, but it is significant that this, the greatest of all movies; a movie that is referenced constantly in popular culture, consists of improvised scripts and sets, mannered acting, and absurd plot twists that are thinly concealed by quick, clever dialogue and music videos. It was the classic “B” movie that has seemingly come to be “the movies” as a whole. Recognizing this, we can now use Casablanca to also see the emergence of the Culture Industry:

“The relentless unity of the culture industry bears witness to the emergent unity of politics. Sharp distinctions like those between A and B films, or between short stories published in magazines in different price segments, do not so much reflect real differences as assist in the classification, organization, and identification of consumers. Something is provided for everyone so that no one can escape; differences are hammered home and propagated. The hierarchy of serial qualities purveyed to the public serves only to quantify it more completely. Everyone is suppose to behave spontaneously according to a ‘level’ determined by indices and to select the category of mass product manufacture for their type. On the charts of research organizations, indistinguishable from those of political propaganda, consumers are divided up as statistical material into red, green, and blue areas according to income group.” (Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, pgs. 96-97)

Casablanca is also an artifact of its time. It is an excellent example of how the Culture Industry worked in the days of the studio system -- and perhaps how the institutional structure of the Culture Industry has, in the present day, come full circle to become an integrated industry. Actors, Directors, crews, etc. , all worked for the studio. They were under contract and for many, the studio controlled all aspects of one’s life, including who one dated and how one dressed. So what lends itself to Casablanca status as a B movie is that there were many B movies of the time, and that there was nothing particularly special about its making. All of those involved would just move on to the next assignment.

In thinking about the Culture Industry, it is important to remember that entertainment was produced/consumed differently then. Each studio owned not only the production process of making the film, but the distribution network and the individual movie theaters. If you wanted to see a Warner Brothers film, you had to go to a Warner Brothers theater. Usually one also watched one or several newsreels of world events followed by cartoons. So the opening of Casablanca may have seem like a segue way from a newsreel directly into the film.

As it is set before Pearl Harbor, the film contains several references to the neutrality of America in the war, from Sidney Greenstreet’s advice that “In this world, neutrality is no longer a wise foreign policy” to Rick’s “They are asleep all over America.” Isolationism and neutrality were the most popular political positions of the day in America. It would take Pearl Harbor to get the American public to back intervention in another World War. Rick’s own politics refers to this period as well. He fought with the Anti-Fascists in Spain, perhaps with the International (Abraham Lincoln) Brigade. In Ethiopia, he ran guns to the government troops fighting against the Italian invasion and creation of their own colonial holding at the very end of colonialism. As with Spain, weapons and tactics that would be used in WWII were field tested in Ethiopia. One should not minimize Casablanca as a propaganda film at a moment when Hollywood was happy to join in the war effort.

Rick’s cafe is in fact the coming global world. It anticipates the globalization that we take for granted today.

As a cultural artifact, Casablanca is a play of fetishes and representations, and so it rings true even in its outlandish plots and exoticism. The film is itself a vast accumulation of cult objects, from the décor and the stylized characters and acting to the Letters of Transit and the figure of Ilse, who is at once corrupted and incorruptible. The gendered themes of the movie are quite enlightening. In many ways, Ilse is all important because she is the only character that knows the whole story. She is as once portrayed as quite strong, as when she will not abandon Victor or when she stands up to Strasser, but she is also portrayed as weak, as in letting Rick “do all the thinking” for both of them. One is left with the impression that either she is an all knowing and manipulative femme fatale or just the usual filler. The writer’s switch between these from scene to scene. Even within the same scene as in the encounter in Rick’s office.

But perhaps this ambiguity is there because of what Eco says is the Platonic romance between the male characters.  The movie is as much a romance between Rick, Renault, and Victor as it is a triangle between Rick, Victor,and Ilse. And the beautiful friendship is beginning between Renault and Rick.

The film also reminds us of the social constructions and relations of race in America. Sam is an ex-patriot living in France and partnering with Rick, itself an unusual arrangement as Sam gets a percentage of the profits. In Paris, Ilse pauses to share the toast between the three of them and later refers to Sam as “the boy playing the piano’ when she does not want anyone to realize she knows Sam. Sam and Rick are also together, sometimes as friends, sometimes as Eco says, Sancho and Don Quixote. Don’t miss the French Colonial soldiers guarding the rail station as Paris is evacuated.

For Americans, the last refuge of cosmopolitanism is Rick’s Cafe, because this was, after all, a propaganda film, too!

But we had good reasons for making propaganda, because we actually believed our propaganda. Indeed, for many in the cast, the film is not so unrealistic. In throwing it together, the makers of the film could call upon the large influx of European directors and actors who had escaped Europe for the United States.
Take a look at the various members of the very cosmopolitan cast:
*Paul Henreid (Victor Lazlo),, born in what was Austria-Hungary. Investigated by House Unamerican Activities Committee and blacklisted in the 1950’s.
*Claude Rains (Captain Renault ), British veteran of the trenches in WWI.
*Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), British but a noted actor for his work in German Expressionist films, fled Germany. His wife was Jewish and he was an ardent anti-Nazi who fled when they were both marked for assassination by Nazi death squads. Died of a heart attack a year after the film. He was the highest paid actor in the film and gave much of his wealth and income to support the British war effort.
*Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), was British, before turning to acting, he ran a tea plantation in Ceylon.
*Peter Lorre (Ugante), was a noted German actor, appearing in Fritz Lang’s classic M. Fled Germany with the rise of the Nazis.
*S.Z. Sakall (Carl), fled Germany at the rise of the Nazis.
*Madeleine Lebeau (Yovanne), fled France in 1940 and traveled through Lisbon with her husband.

I will leave you with three notes on what has obviously changed since Eco did his analysis of the commodity fetish:

1] We no longer consume movies as we did. Is a cult film even possible now that the social setting has been eliminated by our choices in the technology we use to experience media? For Rocky Horror and a bit less so for Casablanca, the experience was associated with the audience performing in the movie theater. Now that we do not consume movies in this way, can the film acts as a cult object in the same way?

2] Eco says that “Books are different from movies” Is this still always the case now that books and some magazines are being consumed via screens?

3] Eco minimizes how much one must listen as well as view the cult object/film. In Casablanca, the dialogue is quite quick, sharp, and spoken in many different languages while the film contains a number of what are essentially music videos. The music propels the action and assists with the abrupt transitions in much the same way that the dialogue snatches one from one theme to another. The soundscape of the bar area is decidedly different from that of the gambling room in the back where the sounds of the roulette game dominates.

So we have looked at the changing meaning and uses of the concept of the fetish. We can summarize these as follows:

Ludwig Feuerbach: Alienation and the Fetish

Karl Marx: The commodity and the fetishism of commodities.

Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno: The Culture Industry and the production of commodities are central to understanding how authority functions.

Umberto Eco: Casablanca --- the Movie as a cult object/fetish.

And I’ll leave you with this note from Murray Edelman on the Fetish and the fetishization of politics, social problems, leaders, crises, etc. It seems appropriate to bringing the discussion up to a moment when politics, the work of art, and the commodity have taken on the same fetishistic qualities.

“The spectacle constituted by news reporting continuously constructs and reconstructs social problems, crises, enemies, and leaders and so creates a succession of threats and reassurances. These constructed problems and personalities furnish the content of political journalism and the data for historical and analytic political studies. They also play a central role in winning support and opposition for political causes and policies.... The political entities that are most influential upon public consciousness and action, then, are fetishes; creations of observers that then dominate and mystify their creators. I try here to analyze the pervasive consequences of the fetishism at the core of politics, never a wholly successful enterprise because it is tempting to exorcise a fetish by constructing a rational theory of politics.”



Next Lecture:


Dialectic of Enlightenment II: The Culture industry