digital rhetoric

affective economics

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins writes about "affective economics:" 

which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions. In many ways, affective economics represents an attempt to catch up with work in cultural studies … There is a crucial difference, however: the cultural studies work sought to understand media consumption from the fan’s point of view, articulating desires and fantasies that were ill-served by the current media system; the new marketing discourse seeks to mold these consumer desires to shape purchasing decisions. (62)

Jenkins’ observation resonates for me with Deleuze’s accounting of the emergence of the "control society" as a micropolitical refinement of the panoptic techniques of Foucault’s disciplinary society. As Jenkins has it, affective economics is about establishing interactive brand communities, for example, the cross media excitment around American Idol.

So, of course this cuts in many ways. On one level, if you are a fan of
a TV show or whatever, it might be exciting to get to interact. It
could be cool, I guess, to be part of a target demographic and have
major media conglomerates spending billions to entertain you. On the
other hand, it might be "cooler" to be on the fringe in a less
commercialized culture where you are even more directly responsible for
your own entertainment and knowledge.

(As an aside, I wonder what the Brittanica pundits think about experts
in this context. Should amateurs leave the entertainment business to
experts? I’d think not, particularly when most of the fare is "reality"
programming anyway.)

In fact, it’s almost by definition cooler to be rolling your own
entertainment. That’s what cool-hunting is all about, right? Getting
out ahead of the trends and monetizing them somehow. So I suppose
there’s a kind of trade-off here. In a way, it sucks if there aren’t
any movies or tv shows or music or clothes or food that you like in
your neighborhood. On the other hand, it can be ambivalent at best to
walk into a Target and think "Gee, they’ve got some cool stuff here."

The cultural studies perspective has long offered us a way to critique
affective economics. Jenkins offers some interesting investigation into
how citzens, as emerging prosumers rather than consumers, might take up
the opportunities of the network in a positive fashion. One might scoff
at this notion, but as Jenkins points out, "The debate keeps getting
framed as if the only true alternative were to opt out of media
altogether and live in the woods, eating acorns and lizards and reading
only books published on recycled paper by small alternative presses"

(248-9). I like the humor of that quote. Moreover, I appreciate the basic notion that one option we might consider is that it’s possible to live sane, ethical lives in the context of mobile, convergent media networks. Furthermore, that such tactics might be learned and passed on to others.

Clearly the micropolitics of affective ecnomics are pervasive and powerful. We have seen from Foucault and Derrida how imaging political power as a circuit is effective in demonstrating how "empowerment" relates to control: the ambivalence of being plugged in to cultural power. However, we can now also imagine political power as an informational network, which in some ways is more precise and extensive in its control, but also  allows for information to flow in different directions, among different nodes in the network. I don’t want to take the analogy too far, but you can see the possibilities of the interactive culture Jenkins is exploring here.

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