Enjoyed yesterday’s Contemporary Issues lecture — we starting with an explanation of the Market Society and Commodities, then the talk moved on to discuss mass-production / mass-consumption and Fordist / Post-Fordist modes of production. How this approach was applied to cultural outputs was covered via Motown’s Martha and Vandellas, Andy Warhol and lithographic printing.

What I found interesting was the explanation of Walter Benjamin’s idea of ‘aura’ whereby he argued that there exists a special ‘aura’ to a work of art when it is viewed in the flesh. So, for example a painting has a unique / genuine resonance when the viewer sees it in the context of a medieval church. The fact that it was a bit cold and your breath was steaming when you looked at the ageing picture makes this a genuine encounter that cannot be replicated. However, in an age of mass-production of images this ‘aura’ or authentic experience is undermined, the scarcity of this encounter is overcome by the fact that anybody can pop down to their local bookshop and look at an image of the same painting in a book. Good news right? No longer the preserve of the privileged few argued Benjamin.

But in our current consumer society saturated with standardized products, it could be argued that far from declining, the idea of ‘aura’ is alive and well today. Surely branding and advertising companies create ‘aura’ when they invest identical, standardised products for the mass market with certain symbolic value. For example, an iPhone is a symbol for urbane, cosmopolitanism, contemporary and technologically savvy. So, as Sam Heydt points out in his blog the question is; “although the aura alters once mechanically reproduced, does that necessarily suggest that it vanishes into thin air or could its reproducibility render an offspring that perhaps reinforces its value as a trademark image?”. Isn’t the commodity fetishism reflected by the sight of people camping outside a Mac store confirmation of the success of advertising and branding in the creation of a new order ‘aura’ through the reproduction, repetition and proliferation of images that reinforce the symbolic value of products?