chapter  5
20 Pages


From the symbolic to the psychotic

In his book Captains of Consciousness written in the mid-1970s, Stuart Ewen analysed the growth of consumer culture in terms of the extension of corporate control over ways of life. Far-sighted businessmen’, he argued, ‘began to see the necessity of organising their business not merely around the production of goods, but around the creation of a buying public [and of] a psychic desire to consume.’1 This project involved the construction of a ‘mass individual’: ‘by transforming the notion of “class” into “mass”, business hoped to create an “individual” who could locate his needs and frustrations in terms of the consumption of goods rather than the quality and content of his life (work)’.2 The advertising industry ‘increasingly offered mass-produced solutions to “instinctive” strivings’, though this could include ‘mass produced visions of individualism by which people could extricate themselves from the mass’.3 Ewen paints a bleak picture in which authentic (popular) culture is overwhelmed by the false and fetishistic order of the market. The consumer

believes that new freedoms are on offer, but is cruelly deceived in that belief. What is on offer is no more than the illusion of freedom: ‘The linking of the market-place to Utopian ideals, to political and social freedom, to material well-being, and to the realisation of fantasy, represents the spectacle of liberation emanating from the bowels of domination and denial’.4 The spectacle is the device of corporate interests.