This will be the last mad thought of the year, to leave you free and unencumbered for the holidays and to leave me time to think. So, a break from the harrowing and dark, a pause on extreme topics such as forcible confinement and suicide, and, instead, some of the lighter, more frivolous side of madness, perhaps. But it is Christmas coming…
If you love Christmas, no worries; I too am looking forward to it, and what follows is not about loving Christmas but, apparently, loving it too much. Christmas is a hard time for many, a harrowing and dark time exactly because it is supposed to be so fantastic, but I shall not dwell on that here. Rather, I want to think about those who are captured, intensely, frenetically, completely, in the magic of Christmas.
The Christmas spirit: commodity fetishism
Now, being caught by the spirit of something does sound a bit like psychosis, but I wish to stay positive and so put that aside. ‘In the Christmas spirit’ will be understood in ordinary terms, then, as something like massively overinvesting emotional energy (if nothing else) in a short, critical, and market-intensive (like nothing else) phenomenon.
If you are still with me – and no rabid defenders of Christmas idealism will likely be, so you are somewhat open to scepticism – there is no need to worry. I have less the taste for Grinch-like holiday bashing than I do for tripping and spinning in the euphoric, manic, silliness of madness – cavorting, that is – in the unrestrained, unbounded, unregulated free space beyond reality, truth and good sense. What opportunity does Christmas give us for such collective carnival?
Not much, I have to say, but the heights of commodity fetishism. Sounds sort of kinky and transgressive but the reality is duller even though it includes understanding shopping as a sexual experience (even that sounds too exciting, so flip it around: sex has become shopping, for some, and nothing more). Without at this point getting out one’s Capital Volume One by Karl Marx, what may we say about the pleasures promised by the holidays?
A (reality TV) lesson in Marxism
Fortunately, reality television is a great help here, as it is to anyone wishing to track the contemporary character of social obsessions – the 21st Century cultural shape, if you will – of our most readily comprehensible disorders. Watch My Crazy Obsession, My Shopping Addiction, Extreme Cheapskates, Hoarders (if you can stomach it), and, for a remedy to all that, Duck Dynasty. Duck Dynasty represents one major side of reality television, the producer side (much of this may read like an abstract of Marx’s Grundrisse or Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, where in breaking down production he distinguishes between producing, consuming, distributing, and circulating only to identify them later on, in a magical mystery tour of capital where everything becomes what it is not). On the production side, then, we are televisually introduced to new, and sometimes old, forms of work.
In the case of Duck Dynasty duck call manufacture is the production specialty. The show undercuts the boring reality television categories and features little of the activities of making duck calls as the ‘workers’ – Louisianna ‘rednecks’ constantly resisting alienation as workers and goofing around – live their lives as not very good consumers at all given their new family millions and their redneck right to be different.
Extreme Cheapskates, My Shopping Addiction, My Crazy Obsession, and Hoarders focus on the consumption side. Note that we and our monomaniacal culture keep it quite simple: producing and consuming stuff (i.e. commodities, stuff to be sold/purchased). While Duck Dynasty, for me, gives a much needed break from commodity fetishism, as well as some good old fashioned tips on how to avoid senseless social pressure (including by way of laughing at mental illness labels and the head shrinkers), the other shows are a catalogue of our evermore specialized, evermore specularized and spectacularized microaddictions and obsessions, our seemingly capital-commodity-fetish defined mental and behavioral traumas and difficulties. Extreme Cheapskates is about the revolution of use-value over exchange-value, or getting something for nothing (previously impossible but given sufficient time to invest in coupons, now real as a step forward into hoarding or a charity exercise). My Shopping Addiction features such human heart-warming events as a young, good-looking, high-earning man thanking his girlfriend for valuing him more than a premier handbag.
The normalized holiday disorders
But to catch us up with our seasonal topic, it was My Crazy Obsession that, in the spirit of Christmas, presented a special featuring the Christmas-obsessed. If we are already in the world of commodity fetishism – where commodities are real in the sense of acting and having power over us and where human agents in turn are transformed into passive, played upon things – it makes much sense for the major spending season of the year, the one that makes every other profitable, to birth its own disorders. I am not speaking here of bankrupting oneself over presents (been there, done that, way too ordinary a pathology). Let’s talk about so many Christmas lights that it’s almost too hot in December to enter your house even with the heating shut off. Let’s talk six figures spent on Christmas decorations. Now you’re getting the properly fetishistic aspect of it. What is even more remarkable to me than the people so running their lives is the people around them who go along with it. Not the children, who may know no better or have no other options. I mean the free, mature individuals who choose to live with such fetishists and, more so, choose to be documented on reality television doing so. Better to have one’s pathology televisualized than not to be noticed, it appears.
Happy happy happy holidays then. I steal the ‘happy happy happy’ from the grand patriarch of Duck Dynasty, who brands the repetitive, redundant phrase as his own in a kind of (unknowing perhaps) Gertrude Steinian gesture (given her own branding by way of ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’). Turn the supposed sense and accompanying imposed militancy of Christmas against itself, turn it into whichever nonsense you please. Revel, play, be silly, enjoy your holidays.
Postscript: Apologies for the error in the last column – it is Nikolas Rose who wrote the excellent, recent ‘The Politics of Life’ (not his brother Stephen). Also, I will fulfill my promise to write about Canadian universities’ mental health efforts in the new year.