Desire-Production: When the State Recognizes and Clamps down on Marketing

While many recognize capitalism is about extracting surplus value from labour and the means of production by producing products more valuable than the work and resources required to produce them, what is often less recognized is the importance of the production of the desire which makes those products valuable enough to be produced profitably. In fact, the logically prior form of production in capitalism is desire-production, for without constantly renewing desire the populous will not constantly re-purchase a thing when what one already has is not worn out. Since quality and reliability are strong values, it is necessary for marketers to encourage people to replace their goods long before those goods are near the end of their service life.

Mostly, the state approves of desire-production – after all it is an important condition for constant growth. Its power is rarely acknowledged – we are encouraged to think that we want new products because they are objectively better, because things are improving – not because that desire is produced in us by an alien force. However, when marketing is seen to be producing a desire which is socially taboo or illegal, all of a sudden the state’s repressive apparatus clamps down on marketers and aggressively justifies this clampdown in terms of the power of marketing. This is most clear in the restriction of the marketing of cigaretts towards children.

This issue is topica today because legislation passed by the Federal Government has come into effect, banning the sale of flavoured cigarettes marketed towards youth, sometimes called “Candy Cigarettes”. Retailers have had the last 9 months to remove these from their shelves – after today if they are caught selling the illegal goods they will be subject to “potential enforcement action, including fines”.

The singling out of cigarette advertising for its destructive force is nothing new – Canada has already banned the marketing of cigarettes from television, radio, and cultural event sponsoring by cigarette companies was banned in 2003.

The rhetoric surrounding the marketing of cigarettes is always an interesting insight into the ambiguous capitalist/democratic power structures. When else would Stephen Harper condemn a corporation for engaging in “unscrupulous marketing practices”?

Either being sarcastic, or a typical un-analytic libertarian, “Tom” on the Macleans discussion board says

Why do they not get rid of chips and candy bars and soda pop as well, the obesity that kids face to day is worse that the possibility of picking up smoking.

This comment points towards the other incident I know of in Canada when a government recognizes the negative role desire-production plays in the formation of youth in our society – the BC Liberal’s campaign against junk food in schools. In Campbell’s 2004 address to delegates he stated:

To build on that success over the next year, I have asked Tom Christensen to work with public school boards to eliminate junk food from the public schools of British Columbia. And just so there is no question, let me be as clear as I can be: by the end of our next term, junk food in our schools will be gone!

Now, I have plenty to disagree with on the topic of Gordon Campbell’s government, and on this specific issue their impact on my old high school cafeteria was actually negative (their funding cuts shut down the locally run food preparation classes and forced their replacement by contracted out pre-prepared frozen style food, uncannily similar to what is ridiculed in Super Size Me). From what I’ve seen, Junk Food was not eliminated in BC schools by 2006, but perhaps I’m wrong. Either way, it’s the rhetoric that’s interesting – once something becomes a publicly endorsed, or even endorsable position, it becomes possible to assert it and fight for its enactment.

Hopefully, the incremental increases in public recognition (by which I mean recognition in the political and business press) of the importance of marketing and its role in desire, will help lead to a society-shift in the perception of marketing as such. The recognition that many of our desires are not genuinely ours, but produced in us in order to set us to work for someone else’s gains is not optional for the coming to pass of genuinely free society.

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