September 18, 2012

Ecopornography - Commodity Fetishism

Bart Welling’s ”Ecoporn” exposes the commoditization of nature in the media. The following passage is representative of the main idea of the piece.

“Ecopornography is a type of contemporary visual discourse made up of highly idealized, anthropomorphized views of landscapes and nonhuman animals. While these images often are composed or manipulated to stress their subject’s innate similarities to the human body and to human social and power structures (such as the nuclear family, patriarchy, and the nation state), the images work to conceal both the material circumstances of their creation by humans and whatever impact humans may have had on the landforms and animals they depict

 Karl Marx coined the name commodity fetishism in his criticism of the political economy. Commodity Fetishism is objectified economic relationships in the guise of subjectively valued (in this case sexualized) relationships. The “apathetic consumerist response” of a typical media-saturated American falls victim to this manipulative form of visual rhetoric (Welling 56). Upon viewing such images as a majestic, tame mountain lion caring for its young in it its natural habitat, the consumer feels satisfied. This satisfaction is tied to the idealized human “nuclear family” it is associated with. This may motivate them to donate money to whatever organization places its name alongside this image.

What the consumer fails to see is what is going on outside the camera’s view. This view can be compared to a horse wearing blinders, these blinders imposed on them by the media’s control over what they are viewing. The organization is paying money to travel to the place where the video will be shot and for a film crew and equipment. They invade an animal’s natural habitat, potentially endangering it, and provide a limited view with a particular gaze—promoting empathy and, consequently, economic support. Such exploitation of a non-consenting nonhuman or natural landscape for material gain and such manipulation of information are problematic and key issues addressed in this piece as something needing attention from environmentalists.  This issue is only a microcosm of the large-scale fundamental issues of the material-driven economic system of Capitalism.

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