Living Rhetorically in the Real World

November 12, 2009

Lifestyle Editing: Participatory Culture

What constitutes a sell-out?

In my Rhetorics of Identity class, we have been discussing the concept of participatory culture. This is the notion that we all are involved in the culture around us, and we can’t help it. Even if we don’t buy into a product, because we are aware of it and we understand the meaning and universal discourses associated with the product, we are participating.

The example used in class was the iPod. Even if we don’t own an iPod, even if we don’t like them, we still know what they are, and we still recognize them when we see them. When we do buy the product and support it, we are both participating and consuming.

One of my classmates made the point that even things such as grocery store “club cards” are an act of consuming within participatory culture. It’s an act of identification, as well: we say who and what we are by what we support or are involved in. Clothing is an interesting part of this. We support certain brands if we wear their logos on our t-shirts, but even when we don’t have the brand name on our shirt, we’re still supporting them. Even the material that the shirt is made of and where the shirt was made says what our values are. We don’t have to actively, consciously consider whether or not we agree with something to be participating in the culture. The brand of food that you buy and the store you bought your desk lamp from are both elements of participatory culture.

It doesn’t so much matter what you *really* believe; if you are involved with a company or value, you automatically represent them. I don’t necessarily like the company that my apartment building is affiliated with or the fact that this company is buying every building in the nearby vicinity, but because I am still living in the apartment building, I’m demonstrating that I don’t disagree with them enough to leave. I might shop at one grocery store because it’s the nearest one to my house, but it doesn’t matter what my reasons are: what matters is that I am shopping at that particular grocery store at all.

I recently travelled to California at the expense of a certain company, with whom I was impressed with, but I also got a few sidelong glances regarding the trip from people back home. Don’t you feel like a sell-out?

Yes. In part. But no more than I do when I go shopping at one grocery store over another.

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