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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

  Rebels on the Net

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However, even Jerry Rubin's later positions evolved closer to a defense of entrepreneurial capitalism and individual economic initiative than early slogans such as "a hip capitalist is a pig capitalist" allowed to forecast. The new breed of capitalists, say start-ups' owners, can hardly be distinguished from their customers. They live the same life, eat the same food, play the same games, wear the same clothes. Hip capitalism has become the norm in the world of the piously dubbed New Economy whose ethos is to produce real money with virtual goods. What are the advocates of Napster truly fighting for, who are they really supporting? 

A young guitar-strumming ex-student, indeed genuinely committed to inventing groundbreaking software and living the frugal life of many computer geeks, but who is also the customized Mazda RX-7 driving owner of a potentially major business venture (whose chief-executive is capitalist veteran Hank Barry), who recently introduced Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards and has been offered a deal by Nike. Shawn Fanning, that the press now nicknames the David-turned-Goliath, plans to make money by placing ads on his site or selling merchandising. As a matter of fact, on the carefully composed picture illustrating the Time special issue, the bottles of beer and soda remain anonymous, but the logos of Fanning's Dell computer and Quiksilver T-shirt have been discreetly enhanced in white. However, Fanning himself is not the point; he is certainly less money-minded and more sincere about writing innovative software than many others. 

What is interesting is how an ordinary young man has been turned by many youths, journalists and media professors into a symbol of revolt, how a simply consumer-friendly idea has become the most subversive technology of the decade. This is extremely revealing of our society's needs for archetypal, polarized clashes, regardless, to some extent, of their content. We need, it seems, regular doses of ideologically enhanced issues, particularly of the small-versus-big type, in order to vent frustrations and restore social cohesion through cathartic struggles. Because unlike the previous systems of production, the new economic world is not owned or led by a real class with vested interests, political polarization between the left and the right has become more problematic, hence the resort to artificially sustained oppositions. Typically, the postmodern locus of our rebellions has become consumption and the businesses that provide it.

By showing to what extent contemporary battles are no longer waged on cultural, political or artistic grounds, but for the right to consume, by identifying consumption as the ultimate link between people, Napster raises the issue of modernity: the confusion, loss of hierarchy and undifferenciation that the centrality of consumption entails. The contradictory consequence of this evolution is that as uniformity and homogenization spread, the injunction to be different becomes stronger, which tallies with the fact that media cultures are at once more stereotyping, and in that sense conservative, but also hooked on constant marginal variation. Difference is being erased but it also has to be maintained, even if it but a simulacrum of difference, a superficial one, through highly ritualized and symbolical struggles such as Napster's. 

So that, as Charles Jencks claims, the postmodern world is shifting from "centralised culture to fragmented, minority taste cultures [...] from repetitive manufacture of identical objects to automated manufacture of small amounts of superficially varying objects, from few styles to many genres"(72), all superficial differences that cannot hide the relentless, invisible process towards ultimate confusion, the total commodification of society of which Napster is but the latest example, a mimetic reflection of society rather than a subversion of its norms.

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° Rubrique About The World