Monday, September 21, 2009
Image: Whole Foods Market Corporate Headquarters in Downtown Austin, TX
Henry Ford once said that a successful business is predicated on a combination of goodwill and necessity. While a hundred years of innovation and abundance seem to have removed necessity from the success quotion, goodwill seems to be a bigger factor than ever before. But goodwill, as rudimentary as it seems, is the net result of complex social constructions which have more to do with public relations than benevolence (after all sweatshop labor is highly efficient.)
This paradigm shift is best exemplified by the rise of consumer consciousness and the growing adoption of "fair business practices" by major corporations. This this trend towards corporate "transparency" is described by Sturken and Cartwright in overly optimistic terms and while I wouldn't argue against the "good" this new found consumer morality has had on the world at large I think it is worthwhile to consider these issues under a more critical gaze.
One of the greatest misnomers of the Internet age is that the democratization of information will debunk myths and discredit liars, but while the web might work against the amateur disinformant it has make the seasoned scammer all the more pervasive.
If we are to apply this discerning pessimism to the issue of a "corporate consciousness" we have to ask to what extent it is real; not only in intent but to extent. As described in the text, corporate consciousness is the result of consumer advocacy which is pitted as explicitly "good" and above all "powerful." This understanding of consumer advocacy groups and their effect on corporate practices implies a power structure I am either too cynical or inherently pessimistic to accept.
The assumption that consumers have become more powerful than the brands they buy points to a metapsychical shift from a state of hyperreality (reality by proxy) to one of reality and it seems to me that is an incredibly dangerous assumption. By entrusting too much faith in the consumer, we stop questioning the authenticity of the information we are receiving and make ourselves vulnerable to even more pervasive fictions.