Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Talk Ideology

Dr. Christopher Craig's guest lecture on our class's central blog emphasizes ideology in understanding Marxism and Marxist theory. I'd like to first offer a big thank you to Dr. Craig for taking time out of his schedule to help our class further understand Marxism.

Dr. Craig's lecture pushes ideology as a central tennent of Marxism than we yet have in class. Definining ideology as "the representation of one particular group’s, or more specifically, one class’s outlook, values, and interests, as if they are 'universal' to all," Dr. Craig explores and explains the ways in which ideology shapes and perpetuates political and economic situations with an eye towards literary ideology.

A prominent example from the lecture is that of the image of Che Guevara, now sold by major corporations and bought by consumers to symbolize rebellion. These shirts are everywhere. Che became a popular man in the last decade or so. These shirts are also terribly ironic. Guevara's ideals have been marketed completely, becoming a part of ruling class ideology as a means by which to feel rebellious. For the consumer to feel this surge of adrenaline, though, he must first make that which he would theoretically rebel against more powerful by paying the company.

And so ideology has us locked in a system whereby we are constantly feeding the elite. I take issue with this, though. Does the fact that we recognize it not mean that we are free from it? Does it not provide for an opportunity to be a smart consumer? And isn't that enough? Or does Marxism want us to believe that we are not free until we've overturned the entire system? I disagree with this notion, if it is the case. An ability to see a system at work, perhaps through literary studies or perhaps through just good ol' astuteness should be enough to consider myself free - maybe not immediately free from the shackles of the system, but free to make a way within it.


Mae Dupname said...

I really enjoyed your post and I agree that recognizing ourselves as part of this system is important. I don’t think we can look at texts objectively until we acknowledge this. I don’t know if we can consider ourselves “free” as long as we are in this system because our ideas are always being shaped and changed to suit to needs of the elite. It may not be possible to overturn this system, but becoming critical of it could prevent us from being controlled by it.

Rachel C said...

I agree with mae. I don't think anyone within an ideology can call themselves free just because they are aware of it, a "smart consumer" is still a consumer. However, I do think the point of marxist criticism is to make ourselves aware of this ideology and to constantly question the values of this system. I struggled with this point as well. How can we ever overcome the system if all our ideals are socially constructed and influenced by this dominant ideology?

Das Kapitol said...

One thing that we may have overlooked: I am not claiming that there is no way out. Quite the contrary, I'm suggesting that whatever revolutionary ideas we have are in opposition to ruling class ideology. Yes, that means that ruling class ideology necessarily informs my thinking. But it doesn't mean that I am bound by it. Revolution, true revolution -- overthrowing the capitalist system -- is possible. If we know our history we know that this has already happened. But that kind of revolution can be possible only when the masses are able to free themselves (because the ruling class surely won't free them)from their literal and metaphoric chains. This process begins by recognizing those chains. For many in the underclass, those chains are only too apparent. But for many in the middle class, people who struggle to achieve the "American Dream" but believe in the very system that keeps them oppressed, the chains are mystified by the kinds of ideologies about which I wrote. Of course, theorizing this kind of radical change is one thing, putting it into practice is quite another. Marxists believe that the practical application of Marx's theories is essential to change.