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Critically Explore Baudrillard's Concept Of ‘The Finest Consumer Object' Concerning Relevant Media And Cultural Examples.
Jean Baudrillard is the French culturalist theorist who has majorly contributed in the fields of sociology and philosophy. According to Baudrillard, modern consumption concept has been seen in the most of the parts of western societies. Consumption is said to be a global response that justifies world's cultural system. As per Baudrillard's assumption, the word consumption has replaced the concept of satisfaction with product differentiation. Today, consumer market is more actuated to buy those products which have brought uniqueness and differentiation to them. This new consumption pattern has somehow subsided the traditional consumer satisfaction concept (Bignell, J. 2008, 13). This paper discusses Baudrillard's concept of ‘the finest consumer object' with respect to media and cultural examples.
Identity and Consumerism
The concept of Consumerism is defined as the social, as well as, an economic order which actuates potential/existing consumers to acquire products and services for the purpose of self-expression, attaining self-worth and individuation. The French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard described in his book ‘For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign' that the products and services which consumers choose today are because of some social signs/symbols. Every product has some economic, as well as, functional values. Apart from the above-mentioned values, there are some there associated values with the products and services like symbolic value and sign value. Symbolic value has been assigned by the subject to the object, for instance, a pair of shoes is symbolized as pampering the consumer in most extreme months like summers or winters. On the other hand, the sign value depicts the associated brand prestige and social status of the product. The consumption pattern depends on how product value has been positioned in the market. For instance, the Louboutin shoes' ownership depicts wealthy class, sophisticated cultural identity and celebrity cultural associations because the pair of shoes is worn by the famous celebrity Sarah Jessica Parker and others.
The consumer gets social status similar to the product positioned value. The more product is associated with glamorous features and sexuality, the more consumption of the product increases. The worth of product is set by the advertisers, not by the consumers. Consumers are manipulated by the depicted product worth and representation in the mass media. However, there are consumers and advertisers who have apparent resistance against capitalist fetishisation of the products and services. They have replicated the same marketing procedure by replacing the capitalist fetishes from product advertisement. One of the best examples is Che Guevara T-shirt that has created its value, class and subculture like the Louboutin shoes but without using body representation and sexuality (Miklitsch, R. 1998, 1-15; Bignell, J. 2008, 13).
‘The Finest Consumer Object: The Body’
Baudrillard has written a book "The Consumer Society. Myths and Structures” where he discusses how the contemporary culture is treating the gendered body as the finest consumer object as fetish and capital. If its says that sex sells well, then it's not wrong. In today's contemporary consumer culture, the body is depicted as capital. According to Bourdieu's term body is a reflection as a possessor of power, distinctive symbolic forms, and status. The image depicted on the front page of a woman of cosmopolitan magazine depicts body as a fetish. It is the simple depiction of a commodity that substitutes itself for individuation and identity. The message conveys through fetish ad depicts that woman gets all the success by consuming the right products rather than doing hardships or some other actions. The depiction of happiness is constructed in the ad by defining three words ‘ Smart, Sexy and Confident.’ These three words are the best depiction of consumption happiness. Because the consumption happiness can be achieved if the marketers trigger all the socially responsible and external markers in the ads then the chances of attaining consumption happiness get augmented (Adorno, T. & Horkeimer, M. 1993, 1-13).
Baudrillard explains in his book more about representing body as the piece of commodity. He rediscovers body as the most eminent object augment company's financial progress. In today's contemporary environment, the product selling is completely based on the depiction of physical and sexual liberation. Sexual and physical liberation is common in today's mass culture, fashion, advertisements, elegance, the femininity, hygiene, regime, and treatment. The body is the reflection of cultural fact. Marketers and advertisers have sensed the society transformational theology that is the reason they are deliberately investing on bodies as fetish and capitalistic (Tiggeman, M. & Kuring, J. 2004, 299-311)
He discusses the key terms in his book to explain body as the finest object. The body depicts functional beauty which means functional exchange of the value. Advertisements depict a functional beauty of a body that creates a picture in the mind of consumers of a glorified, fulfilled body and actuates the urge of desire and pleasure among them. These arise feelings help in actuating consumption pattern. He further explains the concept of functional eroticism which does not associate with the sensuality and intimacy but from the estimated sexual importance. He has given the understanding of managing narcissism. Today, consumer culture is more towards satisfying their self by showing themselves what they are not. This consumer psyche has been explained by Jean in his book in the term ‘ managed narcissism.' Today, marketers are playing with consumers and their psyche. Because of this reason, they are advertising and portraying body images in the media which actuate consumers to become self-centered and associate more the portraying images. Managed Narcissism is the concept in which consumer tries to copy the displayed image or body without knowing their body detailings. Advertisers manage to display the body image perfect to the outside world and associate different features like signs of beauty, health, and animality with that. Consumers follow the associated signs of the advertised body. The concept of ‘Selfie'is Baudrillard's modern example in which consumers and advertisers manage the body as a functional object for gaining personal and social benefit (McKinley, N. & Hyde, J. 1996, 181-215).
The social pressures have actuated everyone to gone through some changes in the body image. One of the best examples today is the rise of selfie surgery. A case has been reported recently of a reality star Kylie Jenner, who is just 18 years of age. She had gone through the face work done by a surgeon. The London plastic surgeon Dr. Karidis reveal the fact that social media is driving everyone to look perfect and for that reason they do work done on their faces at the most earlier ages like 18s or early 20s. The main reason is that girls want to look prettier on social media like Instagram and Facebook, and they take health risks just to get admiration. Same is the case with Kylie, who underwent the lip filler surgery in her 18s because she has to post pictures on her Instagram where more than 36 million people are following her. Today, common man needs to take access to all those things which are shown on the mass media. For instance, a young blogger name Claire is fond of taking selfies and sharing them on social media just to get lots of praise. She was not satisfied with her lips and cheeks as they did not come perfectly on selfies, so she underwent on their surgery. The desire of getting beautiful and appreciated by others have been augmented because of the media representation of beauty and sexuality (Kilbourne, J. 2002, n.p).
Baudrillard Statement and Mass Media Role
Baudrillard is famous for his unconventional and profound intellectual transformation. He highlights and debates on human health issues like slimness, dietary obsession, utilization of sexuality for commercial purposes. The post-modern society and consumption are similar to the consumer society. He did research on the initial stages of the credit card system which is considered as the key reason for the consumer society progression.
In today's modern environment, the consumption is based on the objectification of the social relations. Individuals, bodies, and physical appearances have taken over the concept of consumption. According to him, the real world has been replaced by the illusionary world. The depiction of glamor and sexuality are now become the reason of burgeoning consumption in today's consumer market. Baudrillard myth depicts that the middle ages society surrounds around creating a balance between the God and the evil. However, today's society is the balance between consumption its denunciation (Kilbourne, J. 2002, n.p). He gave the concept of body and its representation as the finest consumer object in today’s modern culture. Transformation of society from acquiring an object which gives nothing but consumption satisfaction has been replaced by some illusionary concepts of consumption.
Figure 1: Sexy, Confident and Smart: That’s You (Enescu., R. 2014)
The above image has been published in the Cosmopolitan magazine of UK edition. In the front page, it is mentioned to ‘Live Big And Go For It.' The image depicts woman lower portion and describes it in three words that is ‘Sexy, Confident, and Smart: That's You.' The product description is written in the bottom corner of the page. The texts depict that it is the advertisement of woman garments and Christian Louboutin shoes. The ads have grabbed the attention of many customers not because of the product itself but the body representation of woman in the advertisement. The ad itself depicts the transformed consumer market, the markets/advertisers instead of emphasizing on the actual object that is ‘Product' they represented what sells that is ‘Sexuality and Body.' The objectification of women in advertisements does not tell the full story. This image is the true reflection of consumer culture of today (Gettman, J. & Roberts, T. 2004, 17-27).
Sexual Objectification and Media
Globalization has played an immense role in connecting the world. On every single day, people are prone to thousands of advertisements. There are few who keeps a mark on the consumers. Advertising is the most powerful source of product awareness. It is also a useful medium to grab and retain existing yet, potential consumers. However, the cultural transformation has actuated to marketers to display and portray their product in a way that consumer can more closely relate to them. The more consumer has associated with the product; the more product is successful in this competitive market. Advertisement is not just showcasing the product details to the potential consumers, but it is also used to create a need among potential consumers. Same is the scenario with most of the men and women; the mass media has risen the need of alteration, disguise, and augmentation of the body features.
Marketers have realized that sexual objectification is the quickest way of gaining the attention of the potential consumers. So they start objectified women, although, in the past objectifying women was considered as imponderable but as the consumer culture has changed the use of mass media has also been transformed. The objectification theory suggests that our culture is responsible for socializing women to internalize an observers' perspectives on their bodies. This causes women to emphasize more on the observer's body characteristics rather than emphasizing on the nonobservable body characteristics like feelings etc. The dismemberment of women in media has been more observable in today's consumer culture. Dismemberment ads are those which show a certain part of woman body in the ad. Such ads are the true depiction of objectification of women body (Good, L. Mills, A. Murnen, S. & Smolak, L. 2003, 427-437).
Figure 2: “Your Tax Refund Should Be So Big” retrieved from http://www.genderads.com/styled-8/photos-16/
Marketers advertise dismemberment ads for the purpose of selling the product. Such ads encourage the viewers to see women body in different parts and perceive them as many individual pieces rather than as a whole. These acts create dissatisfaction among women with their body image. They start thinking that their body parts are less than perfect, so they actuate to buy the advertised product. The dismembered ads objectified women to body parts for selling their specific products. These ads make the women think about the different parts of her body which lack the perfection. For advertisers, such ads are the source of lucrative results but the cause of anxiety, distress and eating disorder among women. The sexual display of women body on media has given negative outcomes (Gettman, J. & Roberts, T. 2004, 17-27)
Figure 3: Sexy, Confident and Smart: That’s You (Enescu., R. 2014)
The ad published on the cover page of Cosmopolitan magazine depicts nothing but sexuality and fetishes. It is a welcoming picture for the male gaze. The product makers want to sell the product and want to gain brand recognition through featuring woman body as a commodity and capitalism. The ad is for women yet attracting the Cosmo males. So it's a two-way publicity act, for the magazine as well as for the product itself. The message delivered through the ad is more towards sexual objectification rather than on objectification. The consumers are actuated to buy the product so that they too become sexy like the body image representation on the ad. Baudrillard explains the two key differences of erotic body and sex object. The erotic body is different from the sex object as it predominately depicts the social function of the exchange. In the ad, it is shown that the model becomes sexy because of the products she is wearing. She is not a sex object, and her body is not a desirable object, what is desirable in the ad are products she is wearing. This interpretation of the ad clarifies Jean definition of the erotic body (Fredrickson, B. Noll, S. Roberts, T. Twenge, J. & Quinn, D. 1998, 269-284).
The Myth of Femininity and the Consumerist Body
The myth of femininity is depicted by portraying an emanciation women body without compromising on the sexuality. In real life, women have different shapes bodies and by seeing the ideal and petite shape of a portrayed woman in the media, they start buying the products and services which give them a similar look. The level of dissatisfaction from self-arises by portraying some specific shape women. Women in real life stop enjoying their freedom of life as they start comparing themselves with the beauty depicted in the mass media as a model depicts in the beauty magazine cover (Brooks, G. 1995, 13).
Figure 4: Cosmopolitan Magazine UK (Enescu., R. 2014)
The left side of the image is taken from the UK Cosmopolitan magazine where the women are portraying herself as confident, sexy and bold just because she is in good shape and using the specific brand product. On the other right side, the image is a metaphoric depiction of a real woman who is enjoying her freedom and does not have perfect body image still she is bold, confident. The real body depiction is not shown in the mass media. The actual image of the women body is not depicted because the consumer market does not excite seeing the imperfect body image. They rather fantasize things and buy those products which give them the dreams of attaining the body parts of the displayed women. Baudrillard has explained the scenario as the pressure of consumer culture has augmented the myth about body image of the women. On the other hand, the clothes consumer market is showcasing an extremely and unhealthy body image of women as the symbolic representation of a perfect body shape for the western dresses.
The unhealthier body representation is also exciting women in different parts of the world and they get actuated towards consuming food less than what is expected to be healthier. Advertisers and marketers are using models in showcasing their dresses not more than an object. Women model to get career progression are following an unhealthier lifestyle. They are also setting a trend where women health is compromised just to get the a desirable body for wearing specific brand clothes like Zara, Victoria secrets, Ralph Lauren, etc. (Baker, D. Sivyer, R. & Towell, T. 1997, 43).
Figure 5: Ralph Lauren (Klein V., A. 2015).
Baudrillard depicts clearly that woman has not given the equal status as the man possesses. Men have the option to choose the beauty rather than to be chosen by somebody else on the basis of certain stereotype body image. On the other hand, women in the consumer market, as well as, in mass media have been compelled to look good and must have a perfect body to get chosen by the others. She does not possess to choose an option. The cultural pressure compels specific gender to buy certain products in order to get the desirable appearance (Kilbourne, J. 2002, n.p). ‘Sex in the City’ is the best drama series that shows women as fetishizing of commodities. The story revolves around four women who enjoy their lives by going out for lunches, doing shopping and dating with rich men. The women are always carrying up Gucci bags and wearing Manolo Blahnik shoes. By their lifestyles and brands they wear actuate people to adapt their style.
Figure 6: Sex in the City retrieved from
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