MSA 2016 Panel Proposal: The Commodification of Everyday Life

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Andrew Kalaidjian and Steven Pokornowski Seek Panelists for Proposed Panel at Modernist Studies Association Annual Meeting 2016

In "Enlightenment as Mass Deception," Horkheimer and Adorno famously bemoan "the false identity of the general and the particular" produced via mass culture, arguing that there is no escaping the violent generalization of Capital. Furthermore, they argue that regardless of politics, "all mass culture is [aesthetically] identical." The problem, in short, is that culture has been industrialized โ€“ in both the sense of its mechanical reproducibility and its production for sale and profit. The rise of the internet and digital culture has only further intensified this trend. Consider: reality television, social media, and so called "gig economy" apps such as Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB serve to both infinitely reproduce and commodify everyday life.

That being said, the technological advances that made mass culture possible have also made cultural production more accessible to the masses than ever before. With smartphones and computers, any one piece of mass culture can be hacked, coopted, remixed, or otherwise actively manipulated. This could mean everything from the manipulation of aspect ratios and sound levels when screening a film, to homemade remixes, fanvids, and found-image art. While it has commodified everyday life โ€“ although, perhaps, really, the modernists did that first โ€“ the digital age has also at once given us access to the means of cultural production (and to some extent, reproduction).

As Douglas Davis emphasized 25 years ago, the malleability and reproducibility of the digital have all but undone the relation between original and fake and forced us to reconsider our relation to the aura, the event, and the work of art. Davis's questions seem just as relevant today, considering that in the 25 years since his piece we've gotten the iPhone and Android; Facebook and Twitter; Yelp; Adobe Premier, Final Cut Pro, and GarageBand; and the aforementioned gig economy apps.

We are looking for one to two more panelists to help us explore this paradox. Embracing an ambivalent posture modeled on Benjamin's take on mass production in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," this panel will take a comparative approach to examine how the age of digital reproduction and the age of industrial reproduction follow the same structure: at once generalizing, commodifying, and democratizing.

Please send paper proposals to or no later than 5:00PM of April 8, 2016.

Panel Proposals are due to the MSA by April 16 and we will be open, transparent, and dialogic about the process as it unfolds and will respond individually to all proposed papers, though we can only accept at most two.