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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Commodity

posted by on February 25 at 11:59 AM

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.

RSS icon Comments


at least it wasn't about boobs or butts on the women he wants to hump him.

Posted by erin | February 25, 2008 12:08 PM

His best movie was Rebel Storm.

Posted by Mr. Poe | February 25, 2008 12:14 PM

I actually spotted William Katt in the flesh several years ago in my college's bookstore in NJ. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and thought, "It's the Greatest American Hero!" Then one of the bookstore folks went over to him and asked him if he needed any help. He said no, and thanked them for asking. The bookseller then asked, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you, but are you William Katt?" To which he responded, "Why yes I am." And then the bookseller said, "Oh, I just loved you in Pippin!" And with that, I realized I really couldn't follow that up with something as inane as "Loved you on the Greatest American Hero", and so I left...

Posted by bookworm | February 25, 2008 12:18 PM

"Consumer". Not: "citizen". "Consumer".
I knew it was over when I heard CNN News Anchors referring to Americans as "consumers" not "citizens" in a political context.
We are reduced to mere gaping maws. Slack, flatulent ever-eating mouths that swallow anything and shit plastic.

Posted by treacle | February 25, 2008 12:24 PM

Damn Charles, now I'm gonna have that song stuck in my head all day.

Posted by Mike of Renton | February 25, 2008 12:24 PM

well said Mr. M. but wouldn't this be a breaking of the master slave dialectic?

Posted by LMSW | February 25, 2008 12:26 PM

I vaguely remember a scene from that show where the guy threw a football so high into the atmosphere that it burst. Which is kind of what happens to Charles' arguments much of the time.

Actually, I saw this guy in a play in Oklahoma City. He played the ghost of Lionel Barrymore.

Posted by Ziggity | February 25, 2008 12:26 PM

Do Knight Rider next.

Posted by kid icarus | February 25, 2008 12:27 PM

I had the biggest crush on William Katt.

Posted by ahava | February 25, 2008 12:35 PM

Whatever... look at this version of the Greatest American Hero by the talented Michael Leavitt:

Leavitt's Greatest American Hero

Posted by meks | February 25, 2008 12:35 PM

"Believe it or not/
George isn't at home . . ."

Posted by Ziggity | February 25, 2008 12:36 PM

No, no, do Alf.

Posted by Fnarf | February 25, 2008 12:37 PM

I don't think that is an accurate analysis at all. Capital desperately wants a relationship with each and every one of us, so long as it is on terms that it controls (Cf brand loyalty, word-of-mouth and viral marketing, "consumer advocates", etc.). The comedy of the show comes from the fact that the "ultimate product", the suit, is rendered virtually useless without the complex relationships and infrastructure that capitalism both engenders and requires.

Posted by quilsone | February 25, 2008 12:39 PM

Who cares about customer service when the product is so great it allows you to beat up the commie bad guys even when you don't know how to use it. I'd wear the suit if I could fly even if it was all crazy and involved crash landings (I mean hey he had the suit on it didn't hurt). Like if Zipcar added lasers who would complain about the customer service anymore?

Posted by Brickey | February 25, 2008 1:44 PM

It's not like we consumers can sue the Chinese sub-sub-sub-contractors that are poisoning us with the GMO poison-laced foodstuffs our US firms sold them anyway.

Who cares?

I'm making sabots.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 25, 2008 1:53 PM

I really liked that show when I was a kid, but I never appreciated its metaphysics until now!

Posted by Brendan | February 25, 2008 1:53 PM

No, do Gilligan's Island next. You know, the story of a poor, oppressed working man (Gilligan) whose life is controlled by the all-powerful, heartless State (the Skipper). Right up your alley.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | February 25, 2008 1:58 PM

No, no, do Baywatch next. Where the, you know, boobs and stuff, you know.

Posted by Fnarf | February 25, 2008 2:03 PM

No, no - do "Wonder Woman" next, that way we get post-capitalist/pre-feminist superhero dialectic -

- AND boobs!

Posted by COMTE | February 25, 2008 2:18 PM

Mr Poe is wrong. His best movie was House.

And you know it.

Posted by PdxRitchie | February 25, 2008 2:29 PM

There goes Crazy Mudede again, trying to connected Karl Marx with a stupid 70s TV show.

I'll buy that for a dollar!

Posted by Guy Debord | February 25, 2008 2:53 PM

Whatever! Big Wednesday is his best movie ever. Directed by John Milius of Conan and Apacolypse Now fame, watch as W. Katt as Jack Barlowe lays one into a disheveled J. Michael Vincent!

Posted by el Rutherford | February 25, 2008 3:07 PM

second vote for house

Posted by quilsone | February 25, 2008 3:09 PM

second vote for house

Posted by quilsone | February 25, 2008 3:09 PM

Foo on your whole argument. Who ever reads a manual anyway?!

Posted by amy! | February 25, 2008 3:27 PM

"I’m a pretty die-hard fan of the show, but perhaps I can explain. The emblem’s resemblance to the Chinese character is coincidental. According to an interview on the first season collection of GAH, Cannell got the idea from a pair of scissors with the blades cut or reduced to the points that you see on the suit emblem.

"Finding out about the similarity to the Chinese character 中 and it meaning “middle,” it does fit with the character of Ralph Hinkley. He was a average “middle” class person given a suit with phenomial powers… but only in the suit. He has to deal with the same stuff we do on a daily basis, in his case too the first season, a pretty nasty divorce. So, the more I think about it, maybe there was a reason why the emblem did end up similar to the character."

Posted by chicagogaydude | February 25, 2008 3:52 PM

His best work was PIPPIN.

Posted by Andy Niable | February 25, 2008 4:28 PM

Charles I'm going to get fired if you keep posting pictures of guys in tight red suits.

Posted by poster Girl | February 25, 2008 5:18 PM

Your bullshit falls flat, because he didn't PAY FOR IT. So he's not a consumer. It was GIVEN to him (or he found it). Just like Green Lantern was given the ring because he was worthy. Charles, your a douche. Worst Slog post EVER.

Posted by mike | February 25, 2008 5:56 PM

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