It is almost 30 years since Tom Wolfe first ‘celebrated’ the sinful vanities of greed, class and racism lurking behind Wall Street successes of the 1980s. Since then the excess of city traders and bankers has hardly moderated; nor has the media lost its appetite for reproducing such excess as moralising narratives of avarice, corruption and claims of cynically manipulative practices informing neoliberal market capitalism. Beyond commentary on a culture of high-profile moral posturing set to sell anything and everything as media product, one detects two trenchant and defining insights born of nascent informational capitalism (Castells, 2001). The first relates to the immersion of identity in ‘vast incalculable circuits’ of connectivity; not merely of the conventional media of Wolfe’s era, but of the vast global enterprise of networked society and its computer-mediated worlds where, as predicted, selfdom is indeed experienced as being ‘multiple, fluid, and constituted in interaction with machine connections; it is [indeed] made and transformed by language; sexual congress is [indeed] an exchange of signifiers; and understanding [indeed] follows from navigation and tinkering rather than analysis’ (Turkle, 1997, p. 15). The second relates to the ongoing explosion of new technologies of reproduction in that the identification of the commodity with its image as media content occurs under conditions governed by the ‘systematic production of messages, not from the world, but from the medium itself’ (Baudrillard, 1998, p. 125); and that the interplay of connectivity as mediatised sociality animates symbolic circulation to the point where everyday interactivity consists in a ‘mass medium at the level of the brand’ (Baudrillard, 1998, p. 125). These insights suggest Lury’s (2004, p. 51) exposition of the brand as an ‘interface: a frame that organises and connects as a site of interactivity with its own recursive logic independent of context’. Indeed, in writing that ‘the brand is an image instrument, a medium of translation, a new media object’, Lury (2004, p. 49) not only restates the view of Douglas and Isherwood (1980, p. 62) that ‘the essential function of consumption is its capacity to make sense’, to make meaning, to think with: she anticipates the underlying concern of this special issue that brands function as distributed cultural intermediaries; and that this is most apparent empirically at the level of the celebrity brand.
- mass media
- market culture