As they come off the assembly line, consumer goods might as well be lumps of coal. They are utterly inanimate, so much plastic, metal and/or fabric.
It's up to cultural creatives to breath life into them. Through a cunning process of meaning manufacture, designers and marketers make the inanimate animate. They make objects come to life.
This process raises lots of questions for the anthropologist. Here are one or two:
Are there any meanings in our culture that cannot be invested in goods? How big is the envelope of useable meanings? Is any meaning off limits? Is anything impossible because implausible? Are there, to use Austin's language, felicity conditions that must be satisfied?
Nike ACG Blazers offers us an interesting test. They are designed by Cassette Playa and launched during the “Future Primitive” runway show. The theme of the show was “urban shamanism.”
Cassette Playa’s creative director Carri Munden (pictured here with the ACG) offered this exegesis of the meanings of her design:
“Ancient Amazonian hunting rituals adapted by a gang of skaters in a post apocalyptic city”.
See the entire Carri Munden Interview here.
Austin, J L. 1965. How to Do Things With Words. New York: Oxford University Press.
Florida, Richard. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.
Grant, it’s a very intriguing exegesis! Is the concept of “purpose” central to attaching meaning to the inanimate artifacts of manufacturing? Do products “live” without being put to some use?
What a very interesting topic! I’m not so certain that it’s always the marketers that give meaning to material objects, but rather the possessors. Of course marketers need to give some initial reason for people to buy them, but it is those people who have bought them who must continue to keep them alive by investing and reinvesting them with meaning, which I find a fascinating process. If the goods have been gifted or if they have been bought for oneself, there is likely very different meanings.
As to whether there are any meanings that are implausible to invest in material goods? I think that there is probably no limit to people’s ability to imagine meaning in objects. I could be wrong, though. 🙂