Gargantua: Manufactured Mass Culture
Rabelais’s tale the giant prince Gargantua is a vast and inescapable cluster of qualities and activities; his violence, greed and incontinence are incomparable. In the old giant’s size, ubiquity, gluttony, vast knowledge and warlike nature, we can recognize qualities of our contemporary culture.
In this brilliant polemic on our visual mass culture, Stallabrass argues that culture’s status as a commodity is the most important thing about it, affecting its form, its relation to the viewer and its ideology. The great diversity of choice masks the extent to which this choice is managed by an ever-shrinking number of powerful owners. Stallabrass shows how the consistent and unifying capitalist ideology of mass culture leads to an increasingly homogeneous identity among its consumers. Even in marginal and radical cultural activities, like graffiti writing, can be found the tyranny of the brand name and the reduction of the individual to a cipher.
Starting with an analysis of subjects which concern specific groups—amateur photography, computer games and cyberspace—Stallabrass works out to wider aspects of the culture which affect everybody, including cars, shopping and television.
Gargantua raises profound questions about the nature and direction of mass culture. It also raises a challenge to the postmodern theorists’ adherence to subjectivity, indeterminacy and political indifference. If manufactured subjectivities are always shot through with the objective, then their plurality may not be merely a colourful but meaningless postmodern smorgasbord, but rather the accurate reflection of our current cultural situation, and a map showing paths beyond it.
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action activity Adorno advertising adverts aesthetic allegory amateur photography appear arcades architecture argued artists audience become Benedikt brand names camera capital centre character colour commercial commodity complex computer games consumer consumption course criticism critique cyberpunk cyberspace Dialectic of Enlightenment display dream driving economic effect elements environment fiction film fragments Frankfurt School Gargantua graffiti high art Horkheimer human Ibid ideal identity ideology industry J.G. Ballard Jean Baudrillard Le Corbusier linked London look mall mass culture material matter Max Horkheimer meaning medium ment merely modern modernist nature objects particular player political postmodern present programmes radical reality screen seen sense simulation social sometimes space street structure surface television Terry Eagleton theory things tion Todd Gitlin trans trash urban utopian viewer virtual Virtual Community vision visual Walter Benjamin writing