According to Karl Marx, once monetary value is put on labor, the laborer is alienated from the activity into caring more about the money. This reduces authenticity from the production. Marx notes a difference between producing for your own use and producing for exchange as commodity, and the consequence of this in consumers’ reactions; “People are distanced from the production of objects and their full materiality, resulting in experiences of estrangement and alienation from the natural and material world as well as relations of inequality” (Lury, 37). Commerce is believed to dull the emotions and cause a disconnect that takes the form of a mask, hiding the sources of commodities.

This makes me wonder, could the intention in buying a commodity to raise cultural capital equate to selling in order to increase economic capital? Is the consumer then alienated from the product itself or more so a part of it? In other words, if the commodity is not bought out of personal preference, rather for presentation to change a certain reality in others’ perception, is the consumer less connected to the product in what it is “supposed to mean” or more so because of this intention? If a girl buys a pair of beautiful heels that she dislikes and cannot even walk in but as efforts to change others’ idea of her, to show that she can participate in this too, is the girl alienated from the product?

I have always believed that people invest economic capital to acquire cultural capital; for example, taking classes on a specific subject; but Bourdieu would make the counter argument that “People actively invest cultural capital to realize economic capital” (Lury, 90). Bourdieu, however also “describes how individuals struggle to improve their social position by manipulating the cultural representation of their situation in the social field” to affirm superiority of taste and lifestyle to legitimize identity (Lury, 90). From this, one can conclude that consumers (through whichever way they desire the process to go: invest cultural capital for economic capital or vice versa) ultimately desire to reach an identity that is a heightened combination of both economic and cultural capital. As Lury writes, “the ‘product’ of individual consumption is ‘the consumer himself’ ” (Lury, 38).

We have learned that objects are carriers of meaning, primarily given by consumers through use; now I understand this is possible because the objects’ use-value have been erased by their exchange-value. This is known as commodity aesthetics, the result of consumer culture saturation in everyday life, in which intangible value is added to objects for positive presentation. Starting from post-Fordism, a heavy emphasis has been put on packaging; the direction changed to targeting “consumers by lifestyle, taste and culture rather than by categories of social class” (Lury, 86). As Professor PS stated in class, “lifestyles are narratives about who we want to be or who we think we are.” Marketers discovered the weight of emotional connection in everyday life and learned to penetrate from advertisement messages to functions and usability in products. More often than not, the advertisements engage consumers because advertisers know to exploit the canvas of the commodity to attach images and make over the material to give it ideological meaning.

With all the discussion of exchange-value overshadowing use-value, how does one put a price on use-value anyway?

jk3169 writes that

“people still consumed the Apple product because of the impact of how these products were marketed.  This is where the exchange value dominates the use-value.  As we discussed in class, we fetishize the price rather than the object and intangible aspects are slowly transforming into practical and functional reasons to consume. “

To build on this, I believe Apple products, especially the iPhone has penetrated everyday life and has revolutionized what phones can mean to people. In its commercials that resonate to many, the iPhone has become an integral part of people’s lives, as a friend, almost. It serves as one’s right hand, left brain, third wheel…it is literally there. The use-value of the iPhone has taken place of social relationships; the iPhone also echoes the need of the “new middle class” in self promotion and the need to “stay connected” to one another, ironically. So is the use-value worth the exchange-value ? I believe for the iPhone, it technically is.

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