Garrett Lockhart, Mariah Andrews, Andrew Lorant, Ellyse Saunderson
This week we were given the task of exploring the branded self as a form of free labour, with reference to works by Alison Hearn and Theresa M. Senft.
Alison Hearn explores the phenomena of ‘self-branding’ and the unclear boundaries between product, consumer and identity. She explains the relationship between post-Fordist capitalism and the notions of the self being indicative of production and consumption practices following the 20th century. Defined as the “self-conscious construction of a meta-narrative and meta-image of self through the use of cultural meanings and images drawn from the narrative and visual codes of the mainstream culture industries,” it touches on concepts we have previously explored including Barthes’ theories of myth-making, Stuart Hall’s explanation of signs and symbols and the Frankfurt School’s ideas of the ‘culture industry.’
Hearn discusses three inflections of branding—the first being a common marketing practice linking products to cultural meanings. Images and logos are an example of this as they are created as a means of social brand identity for the consumer to engage with. The second inflection explains branding as a “cultural resource” which can be used by individuals and groups to define themselves. Lastly, the third inflection defines ‘brand’ as a “value generating form of property” in itself. A brand can be recognised and coined by corporate practices such as trademarking.
She explains self-promotion and the rise of self-improvement and management literature and how this relates to branding. Post-Fordism introduced ‘flexible accumulation’ which describes the need of organisational flexibility and production as a result of industrialism. This relies heavily on the consumption of symbols and product images, design and marketing. In this light, branding can be seen as “materialising the political economy of sign” (Goldman and Papson, 2006:328). The flexibility of organised networks introduced a new value system, fueled by self-fulfillment and self-justification according to capitalist ideals. Success became dependent on the packaging of the self and a worker’s image. The worker becomes even more commodified and is now a product with “features and benefits” to sell to the “customer.” However with this comes limitations and rules which will restrict the ways in which you are encouraged to ‘brand’ yourself. The worker is shaped by market discourse, therefore acting with “political maneuvering, competition and cynicism” (Lair et al. 2005: 335-36).
Hearn goes on to talk about how reality TV can either be a narrative on how to become a celebrity or to look like a celebrity in your daily life. Reality TV also gives contestants an opportunity for fame and to commodify themselves as celebrities. Even in 1953 there was a law passed stating that fame was a commodity since celebrities can endorse a product and have the value of said product sky-rocket. Unfortunately the branded-self that we see on television is not necessarily the true person that we are watching on the television set. The producers of these reality shows edit clips and show the viewing population what they want the viewers to see, not the whole truth.
The internet is also a massive area for the consumer population to create their own self brands, through sites such as 2night.com or universityparty.ca or even social media sites such as facebook or myspace. The first two are examples of websites that take pictures at parties and then post for the world to see making you the celebrity and brand. The second 2 sites are controlled by the user to create their own self image with the core goal of being to get the most friends possible, because when it comes down to it that’s really what facebook is: a competition to see who can get the most “friends” possible. This function however turns people into a commodity to be collected and and used. This also works in the reverse fashion where employers and other people can view your profile as a commodity and you are no longer an individual like you originally thought. Self branding is “the process by which people transform nature into objects of their imagination” (Burawoy, 1979).
The second article, Theresa M Senft’s “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self,” explores the concept of online identities and the ways in which the internet is used are analyzed from a critical perspective. She introduces her paper through describing the notion of identity crisis; she later proposes to speak of a relatively new form of self on the internet, as ‘microcelebrity’, through the lens of this crisis.
She goes on to explain how identities function at three different ways online: the identity of the internet itself, the identity of the internet user, and the ways in which the users use the internet. The “Internet as a Marketplace” paragraph of the essay explains the confusing, ambiguous language surrounding how the internet is used by individuals. The terms ‘produser’ and prosumer are brought up in describing how users create, steal, remix, sell, pass on, and consume media.
The second half of Senft’s article focuses on the branded self online, the ways in which users curate their content, and the idea of a ‘subculture star’, while drawing from the ideas of Andy Warhol and blogger Momus. Senft then begins to uncover her ideas on immaterial labour and the “Attention” economy, arguing a switch from being a consumer to producers of attention. Under this section, she also explains how an individual can become a corporation—how the private can turn public. With this shift, Senft introduces two more terms: the super-public and strange familiarity. The super-public, she explains, can be used to describe audiences that cannot be conceptualized yet, as one speaks across time and space. The second term, strange familiarity, can be described as a familiarity that arises from being shared private information with people we are removed from.
Senft’s article provides important information regarding the ‘new self.” With the rise of online personalities, brands, and publics, a critical analysis of the relationships of micro-celebrities and the internet must be done to provide insight on how the internet will shape and form identity in the future.
1. How do you self-brand yourself? Are you aware of the ways you self-brand?
2. How does your personal value change from online representations of yourself to the ‘real’ you?
3.Does your online identity fluctuate based social media trends?