Essential criticisms and debates, contested concepts
The focus on the individual as physical unit has produced an ideology in which individuals are viewed, in cultural terms, as successful when they are able to obtain the goods and services that distinguish them from their peers and those with lesser status (Bourdieu 1982). But ideas do not operate as contained entities any more than individuals do; their genesis is elsewhere, in the social relations of society that provide the foundation for their development. The ideology that rationalizes capitalist relations is experienced by the individual as the necessity for furthering personal status. The ability to contribute and to reap the rewards of these relations is dependent on class position and location; the ideal presented in the construction of social norms is the achievement of those marks of status that define the successful individual, and can be achieved through the purchase of goods. Capitalist ideology has focused on the individual as seller of labour power, and late capitalism has intensified that focus in the realms of both exchange and consumption. In turn, sexuality and desire have become massivelyconsumerized. Roland Barthes (1990) showed us that ‘the look’ is more important than the act itself. But what does this mean as a unit of analysis? The creation ofideal behaviour in capitalist societies is basic to social control. The ability to obtain commodities fixes energy on the acquisition of things as perceived needs. This, of course, does not rule out a rejection of the creation of need; but it does lead to inequalities that are reinforced by the very act of striving.
The integration of advertising and consumerism into the psyche is a multi-layered process, mediated by a dominant ‘culture-ideology’ (Skiair 1991: 297). The seeding of the unconscious by social processes such as advertising acts to mask the etiology of desire, sexual or otherwise, which underpins consumer culture.
Queer theory has not addressed the attempts at the creation of uniformity in needs and desires. What the history of advertising shows is that you can appeal to the queer community without condoning individual or group behaviour. While the human need for community enhances the drive for conformity, the realization of the generalized non-acceptance and ‘otherness’ of queerness fuels arguments for difference as an expression of resistance, while, at the same time, it extols the desire to normalize and consume, evoking courses of action that often result in the buying of uniforms rather than the celebrating of difference.
Communities, both geographic and spatial, have historically acted as agents of resistance to exogenous forces that would transform their role as centres of daily physical and emotional maintenance for individuals, kinship units and groups. The aim of the capitalist engagement of the social realm, then, is the creation of the ego-centred individual and the destruction of communities as places of mutual support and resistance. The abstractions inherent in the foundation of queer theory as ego-centred, while this is not a stated goal, support this managerial variable in the search for cheap labour and the conflicts inherent in the managerial control over capital and labour. In more recent times, transnational corporations have responded to the ability of communities to resist outside domination by actively fighting their influence on social life, and indeed their very existence. In the face of conflict, these transnational corporations have moved their production to other areas where communities and unions are less organized. In the 1970s the mass movement of factories from stable communities to less situated areas where communities did not exist often forced wage seekers to travel to the worksite. The movement of corporations offshore serves to provide, at least initially, resistance-free factories. These are calculated strategies to counter incipient organization.
The separation of worker from both product and community affects every aspect of daily living and emotional life. But there is resistance to attempts to destroy solidarity on the part of outside and global forces. As Jeffrey Weeks tells us, geographic communities can even act as barricades against the attempt to enforce hegemony. Emotional communities — whether they are produced by similarities based on sex, gender, race or class — serve as centres of identification: spaces where individuals realize that there are others like themselves and that provide a counter to the alienation caused by rejection and discrimination (Weeks 1985). Communities can thus provide alternatives to the goals of capitalist production. These movements of resistance cannot be accounted for in queer theory as the abstract individual cannot include how individuals form variants of‘communitas’ as a counter to alienation. The social aspect of humanness works against the isolation, no matter the skills of those capitalist managers who attempt to dominate the mechanisms of the reproduction of society.
Further connecting with the tenets of queer theory, Jameson has proposed that the concept of alienation in late capitalism has been replaced with fragmentation (1991: 14). Fragmentation highlights the increased separation of people from one another and from geographic place that is now occurring. It is located in a generalized and growing lack of cultural affect that distinguishes our present period from our past. Which is not to say, in Jameson’s words, that ‘the cultural 272
products of the postmodern era are utterly devoid of feeling, but rather that such feelings — which it may be better and more accurate, following J.F. Lyotard, to call “intensities” — are particularly free flowing and impersonal’ (1991: 16). Here, many postmodernists and poststructuralists argue, is the disappearance of the individual as subject. Yet what is really completed with this disappearance is the objectification of the individual as alone and incomparable. As the idea of difference becomes embedded in culture it also becomes more abstract:
What we must now ask ourselves is whether it is precisely this semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere that has been destroyed by the logic of late capitalism. Yet to argue that culture today no longer enjoys the relative autonomy it once enjoyed at one level among others in earlier moments of capitalism (let alone in precapitalist societies) is not necessarily to imply its disappearance or extinction. Quite the contrary; we must go on to affirm that the autonomous sphere of culture throughout the social realm, to the point at which everything in our social life — from economic value and state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche itself— can be said to become ‘cultural’ in some original and yet untheorized sense. This proposition is, however, substantially quite consistent with the previous diagnosis of a society of the image or simulacrum and a transformation of the ‘real’ into so many pseudeoevents.
(Jameson 1991: 48)
The fragmentation of social life repeats itself in the proposal that sexuality and gender are separate and autonomous from bureaucratic state organization, as queer theory indirectly proposes. If, as in Jameson’s terms, differences can be equated, then this should not pose a problem for the mobilization of resistance to inequality. However, as postmodernist and post-structuralist writers (and therefore queer theorists) assume a position that this equation is impossible and undesirable, then the dominant modes of power will prevail without analysis or opposition. The danger, of course, is that, while we concentrate on decentring identity, we succeed in promoting the very goals of global capitalism that work against the formation of communities or provide the means to destroy those that already exist, and with them any hope for political action.