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Harry Potter and the Commodity
Fetish: Activating Corporate
Readings in the Journey from Text
to Commercial Intertext
Written by Jarrod Waetjen & Timothy A. Gibson
CMC 200
March 21, 2013
Morgan Saunders
Jarrod Waetjen
Timothy A. Gibson
• Professor at NOVA (Northern Virginia • Teaches: Critical media studies,
mass communication theory, and
Community College).
urban communication.
• Faculty/Staff English.
• Communications Professor in the
Cultural Studies PhD program at
• Ph.D. Cultural Studies (ABD) George
George Mason University.
Mason University.
• M.A. American Literature San Diego • Received his BA in liberal arts from
The Evergreen State College.
State University.
• Received his MA in communication
from University of Massachusetts,
• Received his PhD in communication
from Simon Fraser Univeristy in
Vancouver, B.C.
Timothy A. Gibson
• This is his most recent article (released
in 2007) with Dr. Waetjen
• Many works published, two in which
are books:
• Securring the Spectacular City:
The Politics of Revitalization and
Homelessness in Downtown
Seattle (2004)
• Urban Communication: Production,
Text, and Context (2007)
Big Five
• Topic: The shift of class and consumerism in the Harry Potter series
as the franchise moved from text to film.
• Focus: Harry Potter and its supposed commercial intertext
• Method: Textual Analysis and Political Economy
• Target of Analysis: AOL Time Warner Political Economy of Harry
• Goals: Undermine AOL Time Warner Political Economy of Harry
Harry Potter and the Commodity Fetish: Activating Corporate
Readings in the Journey from Text to Commercial Intertext
In reality, Harry Potter is an extremely lucky individual.
Mediocre child with native power and innate ability.
In a couple scenes from Harry Potter, Rowling plays with Dickensian
• In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is ordered to
come downstairs to watch the bacon (as it must not burn) because everything
must be perfect on Duddy’s birthday. Harry immediately obeys his aunt,
Petunia Dursley. (Poor social conditions)
• Sleeps in a cupboard underneath the stairwell. (Treated like an orphan)
• Duddy finds it very funny that Harry attends a public school, while he attends a
private school.
• Comically repulsive character: “Duddy” who is “spoiled, overweight, and dimwitted” and also complains about only receiving thirty-seven presents.
Key Quotes
• “The current explosion of Potter-inspired merchandise is, to be
sure, a textbook case in the commodification of children’s culture
and the proliferating sins of hyper-commercialism” (Waetjen &
Gibson 2007, 5).
• What do you believe the impact is of the authors suggested
ciphered Harry Potter representing the ideal consumer in an
unequal class stratification?
• Can you give examples of any other children’s cultural
commodification's in media?
Key Quotes
• “Drawing on this textual analysis, we then argue that these same
contradictions were strategically exploited by AOL Time Warner in their
drive to transform the universe of Potter characters and settings into a
long-term source of licensing revenue […] In short, Rowling’s portrayal of
Harry as a gadget-loving hero, when combined with her vision of an
economic system seemingly devoid of labor exploitation and commodity
fetishism, could be read as a full-throated celebration of guilt-free
consumption. And, indeed, we argue that it is precisely this reading that
AOL Time Warner has ‘‘activated’’ in its commercial appropriation and
amplification of the Harry Potter universe” (Waetjen & Gibson 2007, 5).
• Considering this is not of a studio where you would expect the intent to
hyper-commercialize, I ask the question; is there any form of cultural
expression left in this country that isn’t commodified?
Key Quotes
• “Perhaps because of the ambiguity of labor power in a world that runs
by magic, the picture of class relations in the wizarding world is more
categorical than relational. Rowling, in short, never suggests that the
poverty of one family can be tied to the wealth of another” (Waetjen &
Gibson 2007, 13).
• “Some wizards, for whatever reason, are poor. Others are rich and
always have been. Those who do the dirty work (the house elves) seem
to enjoy it. That is just the way things are. Unfortunately, that is not how
the muggle world works. In our world, the class system is utterly
relational---the wealth of some depends upon the exploitation of many.
And so, despite Rowling’s sometimes vivid and powerful descriptions of
class inequality, she stops well short of offering an insightful, radical
critique of systems of class-based exploitation” (Waetjen & Gibson
2007, 13).
• “The myth that commodities can change your life, win you friends, and
achieve your dreams is, of course, the most powerful message of
advertising” (Waetjen & Gibson 2007, 14).
• The meaning of commodities, as Sut Jhally notes, is thus purged in
the process of their circulation. This empty meaning-space, however,
is quickly filled by the work of advertisers and marketers, who first
invest their goods with a whole range of meanings (status, love, etc.)
and then move to encourage consumers to find themselves and their
desires in an always-changing, never-ending constellation of
fetishized commodity-signs.
• Why magic? What does it do for the characters? Why does this
system even exist?
• Looking at class construction, why does Rowling continuously
use the theme of “creating something out of nothing”?
• (Tent)
Class Activity
• How is money and class shown in the Harry Potter Films?
• Money:
• (Train)
• (Wand)
• (Ron’s house)
• Class:
• (Mudblood)
• (Dobbie)