Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Social Media and Marxism

Marxist Literary Criticism is not an easy thing to define, where do I start? I suppose I will start with the beginning: Marxist theory began with a man named Karl Marx (go figure!) and a man named Friedrich Engels during the 19th century.  These men were primarily concerned with economics, political, and philosophical issues and worked out explanations of the capitalist theory and mode of production. Marxist Criticism writes from the standpoint of Marx’s philosophical ideas, and from his view of history in which the class struggle is fundamental. Society is broken into two major sections: the superstructure and the base. The superstructure contains an overarching form of social consciousness called ideology, which infiltrates into the base, infecting every mind in society with the ideology of the rich. People are mindless zombies (well, maybe that's a hyperbole) absorbing the information that's floating in and around the material world—"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness" (Eagleton 2). Art is an interesting piece of the puzzle because it's part of the superstructure, it's a form of ideology, but it taps into every layer of the cake. In Eagleton's words, "to understand literature, then, means understanding the total social process of which it is part". In other words, analyzing artwork means analyzing the world in which it was created. Fascinating! I love charts and I made a chart to help me understand the hierarchy of society:

I made this chart using information from Althusser's article.

While reading the three articles for Critical Theory, my mind kept wandering to social media—what would Marx or Engels say about the accessibility of the world? Is social media degrading our minds into mushier, less aware blobs? Or is it facilitating the discussions we, as people, need to have in order to create social change? I found an article at the Huffington Post that expands on this topic. I, personally, believe social media (twitter, specifically) is an incredible catalyst for discussion and facilitates connections between people who would never join forces if it wasn't for this platform. So, while it might not be the artiest art piece, I decided to upload a postmodern screenshot of my twitter home page as an example of people connecting across the world. I am a feminist and I like to post feminist articles that I find. As a result, another feminist has found and followed me, and she's connected to a whole bunch of other feminists! If it wasn't for twitter, then I wouldn't even know these people exist. Furthermore, there is another site I like called Medium. Anyone can go here and write an article about anything they'd like! All sorts of people write articles: famous screenwriters, scientists, TED Talk speakers, feminists, data analysts, fiction writers, etc. I think Marx and Engels would jump in excitement if they knew about this social platform—it's made by the people and written for the people! Recently, I read an article about the vaccine paranoia and measles outbreak by a person with autism who is upset that people would rather have children die than develop autism (plus, vaccines do not cause autism)—it is great!

In conclusion, Marxism is layered and interesting, interesting because it forces people to evaluate their lives and the role they play in it—even if it's difficult to change. I think the first step towards social change is awareness, awareness about the world and how it works. What do other people think about social media? Is it helpful or detrimental? Is it dangerous to personalize celebrities?

"But they're just normal people! I can be like that! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. I'll just emulate everything they do." Unfortunately, no.


  1. Love the chart and screenshot-- such an engaging post, visually speaking. And I like the dialectical way you describe the base and the superstructure, though Marx would probably claim-- as in the Engels quote you choose-- that it's more the base that engenders the ideologies than the other way around. The dialectical materialist position, though, is that the ruling class and the oppressed constitute each other, much the same way the superstructure and the base define and constitute each other (like Althusser's Subject constitutes and is constituted by its subjects). LOVING all your social media questions, and the fundamental question of what Marx would say about the interwebs in general... so fun to ponder...

  2. I really like how you connected Marxism to social media, I would've never thought to do that. Social media plays a huge role in modern life, and personally, I think it can be both helpful and detrimental. It all depends on how you use it. However, I wonder if Marx/Engels would dislike social media due to the extent with which it spreads cultural hegemony on a larger and quicker scale? Just a thought.

  3. Thanks for your nice comment :) and—yes!—I think you have a great point. Did you read "The Theory ToolBox" in Studies in English? At the time, I didn't like reading the book because it felt patronizing to me, but now I'm really thankful I read it. There's a chapter called Space/Time and it talks about a "panoptic" society versus a "synoptic" society. Our culture used to be a panoptic society—the one watches the many—and in a lot of ways it still is, but we're also transitioning into a synoptic society—the many watch the one—thanks to social media. I think it's cool that people all over the world can connect to each other and share ideas, but like you said, this also isn't really a good thing. We're stuck in a catch-22.

  4. @Professor DeRosa—thanks for your comment, too :)

    So, the base and the superstructure are dependent on each other? Is this relationship called dialectical materialism? For example, Althusser writes that "the Army and the Police also function by ideology both to ensure their own cohesion and reproduction, and in the 'values' they propound externally" (3). He's saying: people who work for the government enforce ideology as their job because they need to support themselves, but they also demonstrate ideology in the way they live their day-to-day lives. Is this correct? In this sense, ideology infiltrates into our lives at all angles, making it unavoidable despite my level of power or influence? I think I'm starting to understand dialectical materialism, but I'm not sure because every time I look it up online I get a lot of information.

  5. Yes yes to all of that. Materialism is a philosophical approach that hopes to identify the real, and understand it empirically and objectively. But for Marx, that has most everything to do with crediting the lived conditions of people's lives with the production of consciousness in general. The dialectic is a term from Hegel which means a back and forth dialogue (Hegel called it a "thesis" and a "counterthesis"; the resolution is a "synthesis," which then becomes a new thesis and the dialectic restarts...). You can think of the Marxist dialectic as a relationship between specific classes (bourgeoisie and working class, for example) (this is materialist because classes of people are being defined by their material conditions) or as a structural relationship (for Althusser, between the Subject and the subjects; for Marx between the base and the superstructure; etc.). All of these are dialectic relationships that center on the role of the human real/material/lived conditions/experiences. Don't try to nail this down to a simple dichotomy. Marxist dialectic includes a lot of layers and we want you to understand the theoretical aspects that Eagleton and Althusser are interested in as well as the more concrete examples from Marx and Freire....