A Dialectic of Production and Consumption in Propaganda Media
Georges Bataille, from The Meaning of General Economy:
Between the production of automobiles and the Beneral movement of the economy, the interdependence is rather clear, but the economy taken as a whole is usually studied as if it were a matter of an isolatable system of operation. Production and consumption are linked together, but, considered jointly, it does not seem difficult to study them as one might study an elementary operation relatively independent of that which it is not.
This quote identifies the interdependence between production and consumption in an economy, an interdependence he argues is conventionally marginalized, left unconsidered, merely overlooked. This is despite the significant implications when examining capitalist and imperialist propaganda media's underlying metaphysical proposition when it comes to defining production and consumption as modes and behaviors to explore a relationship between Bataille's quote and, for example, analysis of that production and consumption via Theodor Adorno's mass culture problem.
Specifically, we're talking about a relationship between production for the sake of consumption, where the latter can only occur in one mode because of the nature of the transaction; consuming propaganda to critique, for example, lacks economic singularity– you bought the ticket, the message reached you, your critique has no such assurances that anyone will hear, or believe, you; you are a disgruntled customer, in the eyes of the producer. This inclination toward cynicism is something we will discuss as well.
In (sigh, of course) Aesthetic Theory, Adorno argues mass culture produces a false sense of individuality and freedom that is actually constrained by the prevailing, if not dominant, economic and political forces constituting, what Marx terms, the superstructure; that the culture industry manufactures a rational, commodified form of entertainment that, further than desensitizes, inculcates an inclination toward individualistic brain candy style consumption as self-care, for example, for this mass audience to their own exploitation and oppression by this superstructure. The culture industry produces and disseminates mass media such as films, music, and advertising for the explicit and singular purpose of reinforcing the values and beliefs of the ruling classes that are to, ultimately, extract from this mass, through the intermediary functions of economy, labor dynamic under capitalism, and ultimately, yes, the ways in which participation is coerced and normalized and rewarded with, not relief but, a sense of insulation couched as comfort, from the externalities of imperialism, and the moral and social relativism of how good you, yourself, have it under the prevailing domestic order. The consumer is presented with a pre-packaged set of cultural artifacts that offer the illusion of choice but, materially, offer nothing but reinforced predetermined outcomes, if all consumers are regarded rationally.
The relationship between mass media's production and consumption, taken as a cycle, a material process, as perhaps somewhat intending to eventually compel consumers to act self-predatorily, an ouroboros of self-motivating compulsion to compliance with the desires of the superstructure's ruling class; where the culture industry produces standardized cultural products that are consumed by the masses– the outcome is, ideally for the mass culture, more demand for same creating a counterfeit sense of individuality, bereft of true choice, leaving the consumer presented with truly a single choice, or else to abandon culture such as it is altogether, designed to reinforce the prevailing culture's social and political and economic dominance. This is encouraged with the intention of voiding the public of any kind of revolutionary intent to challenge.
In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher expands on Adorno's analysis of the culture industry, arguing that capitalist realism has become the dominant model of the weaponization of the practices of cultural production and consumption for a late capitalist society. Capitalist realism is a belief that capitalism is not only the only viable economic system, but that there is no alternative to it. Fisher contends that this belief is reinforced by the culture industry, which produces a set of standardized cultural products that perpetuates this misconception about the efficacy and benefits of the capitalism mode of economics. Fisher posited that not only was this not actually true of capitalism (a case found in incontrovertible evidence for the public and working class, and its many intersections, since Marx himself, and synthesized to all manner of these social and political configurations), but like Jacques Derrida before him, suggests that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the solidifying of a monopolar world in favor of western liberal democratic order, and in so saying, capitalism, was the final death of global socialism. Fisher did not live into the present era, where the impending reality that multipolar world is not only inevitable (as Marx, again, could have predicted, but anyone with a functional understanding of concepts from revolutionary theory like the j-curve of rising expectations and how tolerance of imperialist and class oppression maps to the resulting extremism required to combat it, would have anticipated as well– as had the superstructure today) but bending back with predictable and timely force. His point, however, stands: for the average consumer skeptical of the production of the media they are asked to consume as leisure, entertainment, if not outright ideological rigor, passive or inherently as a function of patriotism, history has essentially ended, if you accept that individual actions matter discretely from that of other individuals, absent any functional class solidarity.
Fisher, ultimately, argues that the production and consumption of capitalist propaganda media are symptomatic of capitalist realism, of a corrosive sense of hopelessness and despair among the masses unable to imagine a world beyond the prevailing mass culture's dominance, whose byproduct is a reinforced culture industry's promotion of this false sense of individuality and choice I mentioned above. Notably, this is in contrast to Adorno where Fisher (perhaps out of character) is optimistic for the possibilities of contemporary society, arguing that citizen digital media (social media, in one instance) have the potential to challenge a dominant culture, in theory; we've seen the ways this can be used to produce psyops, producing cosplayers in a fake populist revolution, at the behest of imperialist task masters in the western corporate media space, but he contends that these forms of media offer, in the abstract, rudimentary but utilizable possibility of creating new forms, and in the Platonic sense (in that it bears character in its form of revolutionary or countercultural intent) of culture that are unconstrained by a dominant economic and political power intent on a populace's supplication.
Bataille wrote, "Of course, the error that results from so complete a disregard does not just concern man's claim to lucidity. It is not easy to realize one's own ends if one must, in trying to do so, carry out a movement that surpasses them. No doubt these ends and this movement may not be entirely irreconcilable; but if these two terms are to be reconciled we must cease to ignore one of them; otherwise, our works quickly turn to catastrophe." speaking to the interconnectedness of production and consumption in the economy. Adorno's analysis of the culture industry provides a powerful critique, while Fisher's analysis of capitalist realism offers a more hopeful perspective, on the prevailing media culture's likely outcomes, but share a common perspective on the lecherous intent of the practice of production for consumption to a certain and non-deterministic from the perspective of production, but illusorily ripe with choice from the perspective of consumers, where only the former is materially significant from the perspective of outcome. With this in mind, Bataille's quote reminds us that when we disregard one of the terms, whether it be our ends or the movement that surpasses them, our works can quickly turn to catastrophe-- the disregard for the interconnectedness of production and consumption, a displacing of the role of material analysis of the desired outcomes of this mass cultural behavior, can lead down a road to only further calamity for the public being asked to freely supplicate before a ruling class.