How commodification normalizes everything that makes you different
This quarter, I am enrolled in TCOM 353: “Critical Approaches to the Study of Media.” The instructor, Alexandra Nutter, has introduced me to the theory of commodification. In a paper she wrote, simply titled, “Commodification” she defined it as “the process by which goods or services that previously were valued for their use are assigned an economic value and become exchangeable items, or commodities.” To put it simply, commodification happens when the artistic value of something is stripped away, and is only seen for how much money it is worth. This is something that we are victims of. Not in the sense that we commodify things ourselves, but that we consume these products as if we have no care for the original artistic or societal value.
A great example is the “Star Wars” franchise. I grew up watching the prequel trilogy, which is widely detested, but I would argue that there was a story to finish, which was set up by the original trilogy. Since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, there has been movies and TV shows being spat out in conveyor belt style just to capitalize on the fans of “Star Wars” — who will watch this content even if they are certain that it adds little to no substance to the actual canon of the fictional universe. I know this because I am a fan who watches these new canonical additions, due to FOMO — the fear of missing out.
In her paper, Nutter also discussed how smaller, more niche subcultures can be commodified as well. She used the example of yoga, saying that it went from being about spiritual connection, to merely being all about flexibility and wearing fashionable and comfortable clothing. Being a devout skateboarder, this immediately struck a chord with me. I’m not saying that the spirituality of yoga is at all comparable with skateboarding, but it is comparable in the sense of certain aspects being borrowed for the purpose of fitting the description of a desired aesthetic. This desired aesthetic is the “skater boy” aesthetic, which is most commonly associated with clothing from Thrasher Magazine. I have several Thrasher shirts that I simply don’t wear anymore because commodification has removed it from the subculture I am a part of. I find it fascinating that something as silly as a logo on a t-shirt, which at one point represented the entire spirit and rhetoric of skateboarding, can be annulled and dismissed by the mainstream, simply because it looks cool.
My Thrasher t-shirts made me stand out at one point, but if I wore them now, I’d look like the masses. I think I should say that I’m not angered by people who wear Thrasher shirts. In fact, the physicality of the Thrasher shirt is immaterial, and it is merely what it once represented to me. It was something that represented a facet of my personality and life, and was ripped from my hands for the sake of sales and fashion. It’s inescapable, which begs the conclusion that anything that you think makes you different is illusory. If it hasn’t been commodified yet, then it’s going to be. It’s that simple. My mother, along with others, tell me that the pants I wear are too baggy. But when everyone you know starts buying pants that are too big, and sinching their waists with a belt, maybe then you’ll realize just how ahead of the curve I was, and maybe I’ll even look like everyone else.