Film The Commodity
posted by February 25 at 11:59 AMon
The Greatest American Hero aired between 1981 and 1983:
Despite its short life, the point of the show’s premise has a meaning that radiates back into the deep past (the 19th century) and into the future (the 21st century). What is its potent core, the source of the program’s incredible energy? An American consumer, William Katt, receives from aliens an amazing product: a “power suit.” But immediately after the aliens return to space, the consumer loses the instructions to this amazing product. He himself must now learn how to use the alien product.
For one, the premise of the show turns the alienation that deeply worried classical Marxist thought into a comedy. The worker/consumer literally receives the product from an alien. And because he does not understand how it works, he crashes into buildings, falls from the sky, runs into trees. We laugh at the fate of the clueless consumer. He has no idea what to do with his product; it is alien to him.
The fate of the consumer in American Hero, however—and this is the program’s truth and power—reflects a larger shift in the relationship between consumer and the producer of the commodity, capital. That shift has less to do with Marxist alienation and more to do with how capital wants the consumer to take greater (and eventually complete) responsibility of the use and burden of the commodity.
Capital wants no post-purchase relationship with the consumer. It wants the consumer to buy and go away. In short, capital desires the death of customer service, one of its most public (socialistic) institutions. Customer service, tech support, help desks are a burden on capital, and so it works relentlessly to shift more and more of that load onto the back of the consumer. In the case of American Hero, capital’s wish is fulfilled: the consumer is entirely responsible for the product.
Believe it or not it’s just me, the consumer, the buyer, the last American hero.