Commodification, Sex in the City, and Nealon

After tonight’s feminist film theory class, I find it necessary to (re)approach Nealon by means of the hit television drama Sex and the City.  The issue that became of particular interest during the discussion of this show, was the numerous ways in which commodification operates in contemporary media forms. 

Initially, there was some disagreement concerning the relationship existing between commodification and the series as a whole.  Although professor Shaviro and many of my fellow classmates argued that there is an overarching narrative in Sex and the City, and suggested that this a means of reading the show as the dramatic evolution of earlier television dramas (namely, “I Love Lucie”), I feel that there is a much more disjunctive relationship existing between each individual episode.  Quite simply, I view each episode as an attempt to approach or address a specific issue that the intended audience will find particularly provocative.  For instance, the episodes that we viewed this evening were based explicitly on issues of sexuality and the ambiguity of gender difference in contemporary urban America.  The format of the episodes indicates, in part, the desire of the audience to approach certain very complicated social issues by means of a mediating force; through the relative safety of television interaction.  The popularity of this show, quite simply, can be attributed to its very ability to package an individual commodity.

As the conversaton continued, Shaviro began discussing niche groups as they relate to television shows and the larger issue of commodification.  His suggestion, which I agree with in its entirety, is that as more channels are made available and as viewing choices become more diverse, the advertiser attempts to approach as many groups as possible.  This argument, as I suggested in class, is reminiscent of the approach that Nealon takes to understanding biopower as it exists in more contemporary contexts.  The point, as Nealon argues in Foucault beyond Foucault, is to include as many people and groups as possible.  Control is no longer a matter of the operation of forces which seek to exclude minority groups or “undesirables.” 

Returning to Sex and the City, one is provided the opportunity to consider the way that commodification facilitates a certain approach.  Each individual episode, as it is encapsulated by some strange temporal and spatial boundary, allows the audience member to chose his/her pleasure.  If the issue of abortion is particularly appealing than one flips to the appropriate episode and, “takes a walk on the (not so) wild side.”  In this regard, the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which I have really just become acquainted with, takes quite a similar approach.  In fact, it seems that most contemporary television shows work by a similar format.  As with Sex and the City, though more provocatively, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia allows the viewer to watch episodes that pertain to issues of underage drinking, gun rights, and abortion, seperately.  The viewer is enabled the opportunity to consider what it might be like to quite literally “jump the fence,” though through a strange form of commodification which appeals to the individual desire for differentiation.   

So, as I am attempting to address, two issues are brought to mind.  First, the product is commodified as it is hermetically sealed and isolated.  Second, there is an appeal to various niche markets which indicates an attempt to include various people and social groups.  How the two issues relate is not so easily discernible.  Could it be that commodification is the very individualizing force that operates in order to include?  Might it be a reasonable suggestion, then, to conclude that “individuality” is fundamentally an issue of safety?  is it safe to approach the product that will make me an individual?


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