ABSTRACT

This chapter argues that the anthropological notion of the fetish reveals Victorian attitudes toward consumerism and imperialism that remain largely invisible in Marxist and psychoanalytic accounts of commodity fetishism. The monkey's primitive and alien mystique enhances the fetishistic qualities of the commodity, particularly in reinforcing the soap's promise of an alchemical transformation of household possessions that "Makes Tin like Silver, Copper like Gold, Paint like New". The cultural continuity of fetishism that fascinated late Victorian anthropologists even turns up in soap advertising, as we find in a Monkey Brand ad from 1899. The troubles of the frontier are reproduced in the Victorian home, thus exposing the colonial violence suppressed by commodity fetishism, and even suggesting that the British themselves have been objectified by their own consumer culture. On both the domestic and colonial fronts, then, the magical fetish lays bare precisely what commodity fetishism obscures.