Culture, Reality
Capitalism sucks

The Heart of Cheapness

by Brandon Edmonds / 07.02.2012

The best living critic of popular culture, Greil Marcus, was struck by the “primary reality” of “cheapness” in the film version of Orwell’s 1984 (with John Hurt and Richard Burton). “Totalitarian offices were cheap because they no longer needed grandeur; they no longer needed to affirm their own authority. They no longer needed to convince anybody of anything.”

Two aspects of cheapness come to mind here. One applies at home. An unwelcome continuity between the present the ANC has in mind for us and the apartheid past this present is supposed to have overcome, is the cheapness of complacency. The cheapness of an ideology running on empty. The empty ideal of past-minority rule is now the empty ideal of the ANC’s go-to election slogan, “A Better Life for All”. Once stirring words left to paper over the fact that they were abandoned long ago by the political elite amidst runaway self-interest and corruption.

Compounded by the cheapness of post-apartheid culture, basically branded township slang and red meat Saturday Supersport, unable in its mediocrity to confront or explain the anxiety of a society circling a set of emptied out ideals. It can’t explain us to ourselves as a valid thriving culture should. So we drift as South Africans. Drift, drink and despair.

The other aspect is the universal cheapness of capitalism itself. Francis Fukuyama famously claimed in 1989, upon the collapse of state socialism in Russia, the End of History: “the triumph of the West” (meaning capitalism) and the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”. This is exactly the attitude, as Marcus puts it, that “no longer needs to convince anybody of anything”. An attitude that has reigned for over 20 years in the guise of globalism, right up to the mortgage meltdown of 2008.

At last we are seeing mass alternatives emerge. A shared awareness that this is a system encouraging a profit-driven competitive mania that refuses to acknowledge the destructive social costs it unleashes. Immense jobless misery, oil spills, shooting sprees, arms races, widespread depression and savage inequality. Local grotesques like Kulubuse Zuma. Everyone knows capitalism treats us with contempt unless we adopt the only identity it endorses: the happy shopper. The approach to humanity it spreads, through media and social life, is summed up in circus impresario PT Barnum’s famous saying: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. The demeaning cheapness this implies is taken for granted. But the quality of life such an anti-social outlook generates is cheap.

There’s a deadening cheapness wherever we look. It’s there in my own life shopping at the corner Checkers. The pre-packaged items on the shelves. The alienated atmosphere. The drawn, pinched faces of the staff. The beep beep of item scanning. The stale lab-tested quality of the product. When I caught a yuletide Mango flight, cheapness reigned. They bunched us in the entryway. The seat in front crushed my knees. That peppy in-flight promotional video. The bus-like scale of the plane. It was an entirely soulless experience. Travel reduced to a function of cost-cutting accounting. So much in our lives is treated in the same demeaning way. The cheapness of video games and fast food. The cheapness of reducing human response to a “like” button.

When the legitimating myths of a nation and a social system, the ANC government and capitalism itself, are seen to be false, proven by everyday life to be bankrupt, they become oppressive. Cheapness descends. We have to live as if they still apply, knowing they have no compelling content to make our conformity and consent intelligible. We are forced to cheapen ourselves to carry on.

capitalism sucks

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RESPONSES (15)
  1. Onan the ambidextrous says:

    Who wrote this excellent piece? More! More!

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  2. Anonymous says:

    There’s no byline on here, but I’m guessing edmonds because of the CAPITALISM picture and that two thousand full-stops he uses per paragraph.

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  3. Ring Dings says:

    He’s at it again, folks! See the journalistic wonder who can take one word – in this case “cheapness” – and use it as a metaphor throughout the whole piece to say the same thing he’s been saying for years (capitalism = bad, some other thing that I don’t know what = good; also, my life is quite empty but that’s the engine of my journalism) … as a metaphor.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    shame, you have feel alienated at the Checkers….and Mango isn’t classy enough for you? Seriously?

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  5. Ring Dings says:

    “Alienated in Checkers.” A new novel by Brandon Edmonds

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  6. Onan the ambidextrous says:

    Quick, someone call Cnut! These two assholes are soon gonna run out of cheap shots and will need backup.

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  7. Sleep says:

    Stylus stuck in groove. capitalism, exploitation, misery, inhumanity, blah blah blah,… Yawn, click, yawn, click, yawn, click, yawn, click, yawn

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  8. vicknoire says:

    ja full stops hey who needs them?

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  9. Vince Peace says:

    I can see a whole bibliography of novels to be released by Edmonds. All are essentially the same story – some alienated, middleaged loner suffering sudden bouts of apoplexy in everyday places. (PS: Capitalism plays the antagonist in every book)

    1. Alienation at the Checkers
    2. Das Alienation, Vol II
    3. I Couldn’t Afford to Buy Woolsworths Prawn Cocktail Chips Today But My Friend Who Went to Law School Could, And Now I Feel Alienated

    Anyone got any other ideas for Edmonds?

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  10. vicknoire says:

    The Free Market Made me Fat

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  11. Max says:

    I feel sorry for all you dipshits commenting.

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  12. US of Arseholes says:

    Nice one Brandon, again.

    The comment threads on Mahala these days make me want to move over to news24. The commentators here made me think about this article on the Guardian:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/05/daily-mail-calls-rightwingers-stupid

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  13. JM Koet$ee says:

    You dolts who rip into Edmonds need to go and read some. You are ignorant.

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  14. Nope! says:

    yeah cheap flights are the worst!! imagine how affordable AND dichotomously luxurious flights would be in a Marxist utopia..

    What is your goal here? Writing for Adbusters?

    You are supposed to be a journalist. Where is your argument?? What is your point? Where is your list of sources? What is your alternative idea?? Have you any idea how being a journalist differs from being a politico/talking head/lay-philosopher/opinionated undergrad?

    My advice is to get a job at a capitalist coffee shop!!!

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  15. Wolf Larsen says:

    Hi! I’m Wolf Larsen! I’m the author of Capitalism Sucks!

    Capitalism Sucks is a book about the evils of – you guessed it – capitalism. Capitalism is responsible for endless misery across the world in the form of mass unemployment, endless wars, and the unfair distribution of wealth between the workers and the super-rich. In addition, capitalism perpetrates racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and homophobia.

    Capitalism Sucks talks about these problems and what can be done about them. Capitalism Sucks is available at Amazon.com and other online retailers, and is available in both print and e-book editions.
    http://www.amazon.com/Capitalism-Sucks-Wolf-Larsen/dp/1456726404/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1329829776&sr=1-13

    Capitalism Sucks can also be read for FREE on my blog Capitalism Sucks: http://capitalismsucks.blog.com
    Simply scroll down to page 3 of my blog Capitalism Sucks and begin reading the entry entitled “Capitalism Sucks, or How I Became a Communist Sympathizer.” All the entries after that are from the book Capitalism Sucks.

    Also check out my YouTube channel SucksCapitalism: http://www.youtube.com/user/SucksCapitalism
    I promise not to bore you for one second! Anyway, it’s free!

    There is also my twitter channel SucksCapitalism: http://twitter.com/SucksCapitalism/

    I have been familiar with evils of capitalism from the time that I was a child. I was born and raised on the South side of Chicago, in a neighborhood completely surrounded by inner-city poverty. Later, I worked on commercial fishing boats in Alaska, and also as a longshoreman in the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Ever seen The Most Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel? It takes place in and around Dutch Harbor. I’ve also traveled to over 50 countries, and seen firsthand the poverty and endless suffering that capitalism has caused around the world.

    Anyway, have a great day! And please tell others about my book Capitalism Sucks. Or tell them about my blog or my YouTube channel where they can view Capitalism Sucks for free!

    Who is Wolf Larsen?
    Wolf Larsen is a novelist, playwright, and poet who has traveled through over 50 countries. Wolf has lived in Chicago, Wisconsin, New York City, Brazil, Peru, and India. He worked for nearly twelve years as a seasonal laborer in Alaska. Wolf has written over thirty works of literature, many of which are available at Amazon.com. His fiction and poetry has been published in literary magazines around the world. Capitalism Sucks is Wolf Larsen’s only work of nonfiction.

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