Consumer capitalism places itself right in the nexus of this tension, emphasizing individual choice while at the same time aiming at mass comsumption of similar products. Remember that Marcuse saw this feature as defining consumer capitalism: the paradox that we seem to believe that we are all unique individuals when we all wear the same garments, eat the same food and listen to the same music. This exploitation of an ideological false consciousness was, for Marcuse, the reason to see consumer capitalism as a form of totalitarianism.
…The overall picture we get from this is that of culture as an accent. Most of what we do in organizing our lives is oriented towards conformity to others. This is a compelling thing, because we need this level of conformity in order to be recognizable by others, in order to make sense to them. Culture, after all, is that which provides meaning in human societies. But at the same time, we continuously create ‘accents’ in relation to the standards we have to submit to: we construct very small spaces of uniqueness, of things that we believe we do not share with others. I also wear a suit but with a different necktie; and I wear a Breitling watch which, to some, will tell that I’m in fact and deep down a non-suit person, someone who loves the outdoor, a rugged man of action. Armed with these paraphernalia, we enter the daily social arena in search of recognition, both as someone who fits a broad category, and as someone who deviates from it. It is because of these deviations that others will perhaps find me more interesting than most, a more layered and mysterious character, someone creative and inventive – so creative and inventive that I create ‘my own style’ by means of a unique combination of features, all of which can be read metonymically in relation to social categories, and all of which will provoke judgments by others.
To paraphrase a recent quip by Hadley Freeman, so much academic writing is just stating the obvious with extra jazz hands.