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European Planning Studies Vol. 16, No. 7, August 2008 The Brave New World of thePost-society: The Mass-productionof the Individual Consumer and theEmergence of Template Cities BAS SPIERINGSÃ & HENK VAN HOUTUMÃÃ Ã Department of Human Geography & Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, UtrechtUniversity, Utrecht, The Netherlands, ÃÃDepartment of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Institute forManagement Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands (Received December 2006; accepted May 2007) ABSTRACT Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (Longman, Harlow, 1932/1991) portrayed apost-human world, a world where human beings were mass-produced like clones and kept incomplete happiness through an endless variation of seductions and pleasures. This essay exploresparallels in contemporary urban society by analysing why and how we consume—goods, places,and ultimately ourselves—in our daily shopping spaces. In today’s post-society, new fashions,representations and make-overs are introduced onto the global market at breakneck speed.
Globalization implies an inexhaustible resource for change in local consumption spaces, creatingcontinuous opportunities to transform our personal identities as well as our urban environments. Inour world of globalization, hyper-capitalism, and mass-individualism, there seems to be no escapefrom having and parading a personal identity, no escape from the commercial template forseductive urban shopping spaces. Are we in control of our own destinies? Who are we fooling whenwe hide in the consumerist maze of fiction and fantasy? What brave new world are we living in? Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932/1991) portrays a post-human world, a worldwhere human beings are mass-produced like clones and kept in complete happinessthrough an endless variation of seductions and pleasures. If these do not suffice, there isalways the anti-depressive drug soma, plentiful and freely available. The remaininghuman beings who are not produced in factories are called “savages” and live in abarbed wire-enclosed reservation; they reflect the society of the early twentieth century Correspondence Address: Bas Spierings, Department of Human Geography & Urban and Regional Planning,Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Email: B.Spierings@geo.uu.nl ISSN 0965-4313 Print=ISSN 1469-5944 Online=08=070899 – 11 when the novel was written. In the novel, it is the savage, John, who protests against the(in his eyes) dystopian, artificially fabricated state of happiness, the relief from pain, andthe achievement of sexual, individual and material fulfilment. If this is civilization,John argues, he claims the right to be unhappy, to have real feelings and real freedom.
In writing Brave New World, Huxley was inspired by the changes of his time: the indus- trial revolution which brought mass-production, the Russian revolution which broughtcommunism, and World War I which disclosed the destructive power of extreme nation-alism. Not surprisingly, the dystopian future was an apocalyptic forecast and mockery ofthese modern totalitarian regimes—of communism (everything and everyone belongs toeach other), fascism (the mass-production of “pure” humans within a strict hierarchicalorder) and modern capitalism (i.e. Fordist mass-production).
In Huxley’s novel, the entrepreneur Henry Ford is the founding father of the brave new world. The new society is based on the economization of human life—the principles ofassembly line mass-production introduced by Ford at the beginning of the last centuryto produce his Model T cars. Ford is worshipped as the new God in Huxley’s novel.
The old God is declared history (and “history is bunk” as Ford would say). Whenexcited, members of the new mass-produced civilization appealed to Ford rather thanGod: “Oh my Ford!” they would exclaim. The symbol “T” had replaced the Christiancross. The starting date for the calendar is the year Henry Ford introduced his model T:1908. Dates are prefaced by A.F. (After Ford).
Huxley’s Brave New World has inspired dystopian narratives of the mass-production of human quasi-biological beings, genetic engineering and human cloning, the ethics ofwhich are regaining importance in our present society. As Francis Fukuyama haspointed out in his new book Posthuman Future (2002), the topic of genetic engineeringis still overshadowed by the cruelty of fascist regimes’ eugenic research. But the fear islosing ground and is being replaced by a new optimism. Here Huxley’s novel has inspiredthe works of the French writer Michel Houellebecq. Especially the novels Atomised(1998/2000) and The Possibility of an Island (2005) refer to a dystopian—yet at thesame time utopian—new world where human beings are produced quite literally (as inHuxley’s novel) in a factory.
This essay sheds a different light on Huxley’s novel. How does Huxley’s brave new world, a master chronicle of the early twentieth century, speak to our world of today—the world of globalization, hyper-capitalism, mass-individualism, the parading of individ- Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 ual identity? What brave new world are we living in? How is the neo-liberal space offlows, the space oddity of the network society that Manuel Castells predicted in the1980s, affecting our identities? How has the circulation of money, goods and informationinfluenced identities in “glocalized” places? Is neo-liberal globalization the ultimate post-ideology as Fukuyama predicted? Have we really left the arena of the ideologies and thegrand narratives (Lyotard, 1979/1984) of the twentieth century? Or is liberation from agrand narrative itself a grand narrative? Is it the case, as Z we are living in a post-narrative world, the world of post-ideology and post-politics? Orhas this post-society itself become the dominant paradigm, a grand narrative totalitarianiz-ing our daily lives and practices? What are (thinking in Foucauldian terms) the powerscripts and subjectifying normative disciplinizations of today? Put differently, whatechoes of Huxley’s totalitarian brave new world do we see in today’s post-society? We would argue then that it does not take much imagination to connect Huxley’s tale of human beings produced by a grand machinery to the hyper-economic world of today.
The grand machinery, however, should not only be seen in a morphological sense. It needsto be understood more broadly, as imagination, as a disciplining idea. Seen in this way, itcan be argued that today’s grand machinery is the dominant and almost undisputed ideol-ogy of mass-consumption. What has happened over the past century—as has beendescribed by numerous scholars (for instance, Urry, 1990; Glennie & Thrift, 1993;Miles, 1998)—is a revolution in our socio-economic landscape. We have in fact turnedthe production system upside down. We have moved from an economic system ofmass-production, often described as modernism and Fordism, where products were stan-dardized and made on an assembly line, to an economic society of mass-consumption,often described as flexible specialization, post-Fordism or post-modernism, in which theconsumer is believed to set the standard.
Accompanying the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism has been the break-up of society as one and indivisible. A significant feature of the new system is the emphasison individualism. The dogma of free individual choice on which the system is basedrequires that human beings are individuals. Everybody is required to be somebody.
There seems to be no escape from having an identity in the brave new world of mass-individualization. The question that remains is whether we as mass-individuals living invarious locales of the globalizing world have real power. Are we really in charge andin control? Do producers really depend on our desires and needs? Is not the whole ideaof managerialism, marketing and serviceability, so significant in “western” capitalism,merely producing a myth, a fantasy of control? Is this not precisely what producers ofvariation want us to believe? Do we really own ourselves? Do we really have freedomof choice? Do we really have free will? Or have we again become slaves, this time ofan intelligent marketing-controller? To begin to shed light on these questions, we focus first on our daily consumption practices in our shopping spaces. We try to find out who we are and who we want to beby analysing why and how we consume. We explain how the production of the “I” is acontinuous process of construction and reconstruction which reflects an endlessdynamic interplay between local and global dimensions. Finally we return to the largerquestions that tickle our imagination, trying to trace the ghosts evoked by AldousHuxley’s grand dystopian narrative that still haunt us today.
Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 Human beings buy objects not only to consume them but also to establish and reproducestatus and identity. People shop for “identities” in a variety of urban contexts, thereby col-lecting and consuming many dimensions of the “I”. Increasingly, the “I” itself has becomea product to buy. Consumer goods and shopping environments are consumed to create newidentities as well as to select those already on the market. In doing so, we as consumershave adopted a mobile lifestyle to find commodities, people and places to materialize apreferred status and lifestyle (see Spierings, 2006). Consumer goods and shoppingenvironments we (do not) want construct our identity. We need something, someoneand somewhere to belong to, to demarcate ourselves from, to define ourselves.
Guy Debord observed in The Society of the Spectacle ((1969/1994) that what is con- sumed in contemporary “western” society is actually images of objects, through whichconsumers imagine themselves to be subjects. But the identity of the image of theobject can never be fully attained. Buying and consuming an object is only a temporary and discontinuous attempt to establish the identity provoked by the image of the object.
The desire is never fulfilled, for it is the constant production of new desires that definesand drives the economy. Hence the desire to consume, to occupy the image of newly pro-duced objects, is endless; there remains a constant lack in the subject that makes thesubject differ from the ideal image of the object. The desire to be someone, to be whole-some, to fill the lack (Lacan, 1966/1989) is therefore perpetual. What do we do in anattempt to fill this personal lack? And where do we “shop” to find ourselves? As consumers we stroll around in consumption spaces to gaze at, contemplate and perhapsalso buy goods to define ourselves, to distinguish ourselves from others, and to make our-selves recognizable to members of the group we aspire to belong to. Strolling and gazing,however, need not result in acquisition. Deliberately not entering shops and not buyingcertain goods also gives us an identity. The act of shopping as such is a stage act, a per-formance to show oneself to others. As Shields puts it, “everyday shopping activities areforegrounded as if on a theatre stage, to be observed by passers-by who may vicariouslyparticipate in the bustle and lively activity of consumption without necessarily spendingmoney” (1992, p. 6). On shopping streets and within shops we have the opportunity tolook, dream and spend time without an obligation to spend money. Yet freedom in thisconsumer paradise is largely an artefact; seduction is the key to understanding this pro-duction of artificial freedom. The opportunity to look is meant to seduce to buy, and itis through seduction that the modern human being is turned into an artefact of themaster producer: a consumer of endless seduction (Bauman, 1993).
The layout of consumption spaces is designed to keep visitors contemplating commod- ities for as long as possible (Gottdiener, 1986). As Goss puts it bluntly, “. . . the goal is totrap consumers in the world of consumption” (1993, p. 32). According to Lash and Urry(1994), consumers have learned to approach consumption spaces as worlds of seductionand illusion in a “cool” manner. They are “just looking”. Obviously, attempting to keeppeople strolling and gazing is not done without reason. Crawford argues that “by extendingthe period of ‘just looking’, the imaginative prelude to buying, the mall encourages ‘cog-nitive acquisition’ as shoppers mentally acquire commodities by familiarizing themselveswith a commodity’s actual and imagined qualities. Mentally ‘trying’ on products teaches Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 and disciplines consumers not only what they want and what they can buy, but also, moreimportantly, what they don’t yet have, and what they therefore need to learn to desire”(Crawford, 1992, p. 13).
To put it in another way, people are invited to step into the ready made dream world of the shopping zone, forget worrisome reality and spend timeless time in the space-lessspace of the consumer paradise. It is a fantasy world made imaginatively real. In thiszone, everything is aimed at consumers who are expected to enter shops and perform“just looking” behaviour, along with trying (on) commodities and spending money ontheir purchase (Gregson et al., 2002). Looking around and trying commodities shows usnew possible identities, a better and happier “I”.
Through the consumption of commodities, we as human beings can realize who we are as well as imagine what we could become. “Identity is momentarily stabilized even whilethe image of a future identity begins to take shape, but the endless variation of objectsmeans that satisfaction always remains just out of reach” (Crawford, 1992, p. 13).
In this masterminded machinery of the shopping paradise, the urge to imagine and create anew and better “I” is continuously produced. The local offer of commodities in consumptionspaces constantly changes and reveals the latest trends in global fashion, and hence keepsus strolling and gazing. The result is that shoppers can never be satisfied in their desirefor an up-to-date identity. As a consequence, “. . . goods and practices become things tobe played with for a while, then ditched as we move to something else” (Corrigan, 1997,p. 179). The “I” is never found and is always “not yet”; the desire of becoming is endless.
While moving among the shopping crowd, consumers observe others and sense the urbanatmosphere. In this context, Lynch argues that “moving elements in a city, and in particu-lar the people and their activities, are as important [for the image of the city] as the station-ary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part ofit, on the stage with the other participants. Most often, our perception of the city is not sus-tained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns. Nearly every sense is inoperation, and the image is the composite of them all. We are not simply observers of thisspectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants” (1960, p. 2)By consuming a city’s “moving elements”, shoppers are looking for places to feel “athome” in, to belong to. Innovative places are especially desired as they are expectedto showcase trendy people and practices. Consumers are looking for social groups toconnect with and disconnect from at the same time. To become an “I” that does not floatin a vacuum, shoppers need other I’s in a certain spatial context to compare to, to bethe same with, to be slightly different from (see van Houtum & van Naerssen, 2002).
By taking part in the hustle and bustle of shopping, people today co-perform the “specta- cle” they observe (see Debord, 1969/1994)—a spectacle, “. . . marked by the exchange oflooks and gazes, complements the theatrical display of goods and commodities” (Shields,1992, p. 7). Shoppers not only want to observe other shoppers; they want to be observed(Urry, 1990; Oosterman, 1993)—the branded bags they carry and the branded clothesthey wear. As consumers, we also produce and sell ourselves as commodities (Clarke,2003). More specifically, we sell our identity as a commodity which can be bought byother shoppers to acquire the same status and to become members of the same group.
Global fashion trends affect us when we compare ourselves with and sell ourselves to Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 other consumers in cities and consumption spaces. New street cultures from anywhereare marketed and copied everywhere, generating generic scripts for mass-consumptionand creating what we would like to refer to as “template cities”. Global fashions spreadeasily across the globe and strongly impact on who we are and want to be as consumers.
The result of this system of endless competition between fashions and products and thecontinuous production of desire is that we all become the same—for instance, we alldress according to the latest global fashion trends—while believing in our difference.
The sameness is comforting, as it produces order, identity and continuity. It is also discom-forting, as it threatens the uniqueness and wholeness of the “I”. Hence it leads to newdesires, to new needs to be different from other I’s and to be “one”. Again, as with shop-ping for commodities, the result is an endless cycle of revolving sameness and difference.
We are products that are not finished and never will be.
What is more, increasingly via spectacle-media such as You Tube, Hyves and Google Video, we have become marketers of our own product—our face and image—to produce an identity of the self for ourselves, to re-centre and de-fragment the subjects we havebecome in the post-society. It is a way to end what Jameson (1983) and later Deleuzeand Guattari (1983) have described as cultural schizophrenia, which in their view is anepiphenomenon of the fragmented social subject of the post-Fordist era. For Jameson,the schizophrenic lacks personal identity and is unable to differentiate between self andworld and to experience continuity over time. It is a state of egolessness (Peretti, 1996).
In “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”, Jameson writes that the schizophrenic “iscondemned to live in a perpetual present with which the various moments of his or herpast have little connection and for which there is no conceivable future on the horizon.
In other words, schizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected, dis-continuous material signifiers that fail to link up into a coherent sequence. The schizo-phrenic thus does not know personal identity in our sense, since our feeling of identitydepends on our sense of the persistence of the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ over time” (1983, p. 119).
In our desire to have an unfragmented identity and not to be disconnected and isolated— to be someone—the private world of the subject is opened up to be communicated to thepublic. In wanting-to-be-someone, as wannabees, we have fallen in love with the camera,the eye of the consuming other. Illustratively, it is telling that George Orwell’s dystopiannovel Nineteen Eighty-four (1949/1984), which portrays a nightmare world governed bythe all-controlling panopticon eye of Big Brother, has in our commercial age become amu-sement, a television show watched by millions. Participants in the television show BigBrother volunteer to be locked up and watched by camera 24 hours a day; through thelens, we the public, the other, is watching. We have become our own Big Brother andwe seem to love it. It is as if our identities exist only if they can be communicated publicly,if they can be published. Our names, our faces, our reputations, our images—all havebecome products to be consumed by others. Our identity has become preˆt-a-porter.
But we do not only commodify our faces and images in a metaphorical sense. We increasingly reshape our faces and bodies as well, as can be seen in the growth of theplastic surgery industry and “make-over” reality TV. We shop for piercings, tattoos,noses, boobs, hair, blood, organs, chins and waists. If we do not buy new body-parts, wego to the gym to live up to the image of the “trendy body”. Never satisfied with thepresent, we endlessly seek the illusory ideal. Body shopping has become an acceptedway to commodify one’s image and corpus; we have become like the marketing on the pro-ducts we buy: “New and Improved!” The production and consumption of our images and Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 bodies have further blurred the distinction between production and consumption. We havebecome both master and slave of our own commodification.
While strolling around cities, the built shopping environment is visually consumed as acommodity (Urry, 1995; Crewe, 2003). Physical features—such as shop exteriors andinteriors, street furniture and billboards—are consumed alongside fellow consumers andgoods in shopping windows (Schroeder, 2002). And the displayed goods are not alonein revealing the latest global trends. New retail development projects embody the latesttrends in “urban fashion”. The current vision of the functional and morphological structureas well as the architectural style of shopping complexes is to provide consumers withentertainment and fantasy (Hannigan, 1998). It is all about making the search for a newidentity as much “fun” as possible because “fun” sells. In fact, cities are also “shopping” for identities. By comparing themselves with and copying physical and functionalelements from other places, cities aim to offer up-to-date shopping fac¸ades and facilitiesfor visitors to consume (Spierings, 2006). For cities, the search for an urban identity withinglobalization is a continuous exploration, much like the search for personal identity amongindividuals.
In searching for new comparisons and pleasures, we as consumers do not stay put— mobility has become central in our endless endeavour to fill the lack, to be whole andunique. Identities are constantly created, confirmed and contested while visiting places(see Uitermark et al., 2005); we visit more and more distant and “exotic” places to findand create “ourselves” (Rojek & Urry, 1997; Terhorst & van de Ven, 1999). Weexplore consumption spaces to spend leisure time, to re-create, to re-construct, todecode and recode ourselves, for “bargain hunting, discovering new lines, new fashions,new ‘product ideas’ and new forms of fun. . .” (Gabriel & Lang, 1998, p. 69). We travel tocreate our own, individual consumption spaces—an ever-changing selection of places,other people and goods (Hajer & Reijndorp, 2001; Gregson et al., 2002)—whichsupport current identities and are expected to introduce possibilities to construct new ones.
It is no wonder then that what we believe to be our “free time”—our non-working hours—have become subject to intense commercialization as well. Tellingly, tourism isalso one of the fastest growing sectors in the economies of our favourite destinations.
Travel destinations and consumption spaces now compete to offer the highest net happi-ness by selling themselves as the newest, hippest and trendiest spaces. In their attempts toattract consumers and to keep them coming, continuous urban update is necessary; atten-tion for any city or consumption space fades quickly when global trends materialize fasterelsewhere. The result is a constant search for new consumable city brands through theserial plastic surgery of local environments. The new and improved rat race betweencities for consumers and their spending is endless (Spierings, 2003). The result of thiscontest for consumption flows between cities is the creation of longed-for fantasies,made seductive and easily accessible through the blowing up of products and brands.
The commercial shopping world produces a seductive hyper-reality, a seemingly neutraland socially accepted emptiness that is appealingly easy to buy and consume—the overtand short-lived banality of appealing bar-coded brands, un-coverings, images, advertise-ments and representations that seduce to consume here and now. It could all be labelledtopoporno (van Houtum & van Dam, 2002).
Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 Having travelled to foreign cities and countries, shoppers believe they have purchasedexclusive commodities and unique, new identities. But disappointment waits at thelocal city centre, for they will find the same commodities and identities (which they hadnot noticed before) could have been acquired by staying at home. Here we witness the con-tinuous recoding of cities, the use of often locally invented templates for new fashiontrends, food cultures and electronic gimmicks that are, if successful, copied and insertedin localities elsewhere (Crang et al., 2003; Goonewardena & Kipper, 2005).
As constantly renewed generic scripts are continuously and at increasing speed downloaded in an ever-growing number of locales, the earlier global-local dichotomy isbreaking down. Template capitalism can insert itself anywhere and everywhere as adecoder and recoder. Deleuze and Guattari argue: “[o]ur [capitalist] societies exhibit a marked taste for all codes foreign and exotic . . . this taste is destructive and morbid.
While decoding doubtless means understanding and translating a code, it also meansdestroying the code as such, assigning it an archaic, folkloric, or residual function”(1983, p. 245) Capitalism works as a polymorphous destroyer of codes and a constructorof a generic recode; it continually breaks down the cultural, symbolic, and linguistic bar-riers that limit exchange (Peretti, 1996). Paradoxically, the stress on global competitionresults in the growing uniformity of local desires and consumption spaces. Everybodyclaims authenticity, which then becomes a uniform script. The choice is not betweenthe global and the local anymore, if it ever was; the two are increasingly interwovenand what is more, increasingly intrinsic to one another.
It seems that no place or adventure remains pristine in the speed-race of hyper-capitalism.
You cannot permanently outrun the speed of travelling commodities and experiences bytravelling yourself. Each and every urban configuration anywhere in the world that is inany way commodifiable will become subject to endless commercial decoding and recoding.
Our contemporary “experience economy” (Pine & Gilmore, 1999) bears witness to this.
Locally taken pictures, digital films and souvenirs become items to materialize our experi-ences gained by travelling to specific destinations. The films and souvenirs are evidence ofour new and improved personal identities. Look at me! Here I was! But buying into theunique experience, the unique adventure—to escape the sameness of other local I’s—is ashort-lived fantasy. Precisely the belief in this fantasy is the oil that lubricates the machineryof our current brave new world. And what is more, we deny it is a fantasy, thereby paving theway for further urban templatization.
Conclusion: Resisting Ourselves in the Post-society We have created a new post-society of mass-consumption. However, the world controllerin Huxley’s modernist brave new world is now absent; the grand leaders of thetwentieth century, promising us freedom through equality and similarity, have beenreplaced by a hyper-individualistic and hyper-democratized globalizing world. In a tota-litarian Foucauldian move, we have internalized hierarchical power through a system ofmass-democratization. Huxley’s novel warned readers against communifying totalitiesincluding communism and fascism, standardization and mass-production, and todefend individual rights and freedoms. However, individuals in the current era of Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 mass-individualization (where personal freedom is the new God) have not beenempowered. While we have not become subjects of a master-controller—a leadertelling a grand narrative promising a world of tomorrow—we have become the subjectsof our own selves. The God of Huxley’s world, Ford, has now been replaced by theimage of the larger and whole “I”. We no longer worship the mass-producer leader,but adore our greater “I”, a whole and unified “One”.
We have become consumers of the “One”, a socially fabricated fantasy “I”. As consu- mers we try to shop for, construct and reconstruct our fantasy “I” by consuming goods,places, and others, and by producing and publishing our own names, images, faces andbodies. The desire to become “One” creates personal uncertainty, a constant unrest tokeep up with the latest trends. This uncertainty and unrest—the unceasing need toconsume goods, explore places, and observe people—is created and exploited by theconsuming and producing others that make up the “market economy”. New goods areintroduced and “marketed” at breakneck speed. Thus goods, travel destinations and body parts may no longer be “hot” when purchased, rendering the acquired identityold-fashioned. The cities we just consumed may already be outmoded, with old quartersdemolished to make way for new development projects and architectural styles designedas urban “selling points”.
All of these urban developments reflect the interplay of the local and the global. We are predominantly locally-embedded shoppers: we usually shop at nearby consumption spacesand sometimes visit more distant places. Yet, the goods, places and people we consumeincreasingly reflect global trends which reach us through transnational networks. The glo-balization of urban economies implies an inexhaustible resource for change within localconsumption spaces, creating further opportunities to adopt and transform our personalidentities. Due to the continuous decoding and recoding of cities and consumptionspaces, we are continuously encouraged to search for new goods, places and people toconfirm and help us reproduce our identities. Popular social groups we want to join losetheir prominence; previously unpopular groups become trendy; new groups arise. In theface of our urge to belong to certain groups and to be distinguished from others, the“market economy” uses our “branded bodies” to make and break the popularity ofgroups. In short, in the brave new world of the “One”, the totalitarian mode is nolonger a system for the masses as communism, fascism and Fordism was, but is now asystem of the masses. We have become mass-producers of our selves.
The result is that we are living in a new mass-individualized urban society. In this new world it is not equality, sameness and standardization that matter, but difference, uniquenessand variation. We are free to choose, free to do what we want. And we choose to both produceand consume ourselves. The individualized advertisements, the homepage fetishism, YouTube and Google Me, the body shopping and the almost daily opinion polls have created ahyper-sensitive societal arena in which every voice and vote counts. We have become watch-ers of our moves, of our motives, of our selves. The importance of marketing and beautyshops and clinics in our economy is telling. Advertising the experience of goods and servicesseems to have become more important than the actual goods and services themselves. Theseare the features of our present brave new world. This is our fairytale, our current utopia, ourdreamland. And hence we “shop till we drop”, constantly seeking new pleasures, followingnew desires, consuming ourselves. Making a choice from the incredibly diverse offer ofcommodities only temporarily relieves us from the stressful desire to constantly update ouridentity. And if the world does not give us what we long for, if we can no longer bear its Downloaded By: [University Library Utrecht] At: 09:46 15 August 2008 consumerist pace, if we are in danger of falling off the high-speed track of consumerism,we take the Huxleyian soma of our time—an anti-depressive like Prozac or Seroxat.
So where does this leave us as individuals if we are both the subjects as well as the pro- ducers of our own desire? For Deleuze and Guattari, the egolessness of the schizophrenicis not the core of the problem of capitalism (as it is for Jameson), but its solution. Theschizophrenic in their eyes is a radical, revolutionary, nomadic wanderer freed from allbeliefs, who resists all forms of oppressive power. Hence they see schizophrenia ascentral to a subversive post-modern politics capable of bringing down capitalism(Peretti, 1996). Yet we argue that the costs of schizophrenic existence are too high. Theoppressive system, causing fear and anxiety, can be overwhelming. Living as anomadic schizophrenic does not address the lack, the gap between society and the self.
What remains then is the lack, the fragmented self that in order not to become psychotic,needs some form of control over oneself and one’s environment, some relief from theanxiety and fear that a totally fluid and groundless society implies.
We need some kind of control, some kind of balance between control and freedom. At issue, then, is the unravelling of one of the great paradoxes of our time—that we sacrificeourselves and our bodies in order to gain ourselves. Maybe we should begin by asking whywe pursue the rat race at all? Who are we fooling when we hide in the consumerist mazeof fiction and fantasy? Why don’t we try to escape the intoxicating and illusionary systemof personal freedom and pursuit of personal happiness that makes fabricated consumers ofourselves and template cities of our locales? To find possible exits, we need to start areflective process that goes beyond ourselves. That is, we need to resist ourselveswithin the context of self-created and controlling myths and beliefs of how we shouldwant to be. The question then is: Do we wish to break with the route to a post-humanbrave new world? Do we, like the savage in Huxley’s novel, wish to break with civilizationas we know it? Do we then also “claim the right to be unhappy, not to mention the right togrow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have toolittle to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what mayhappen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakablepains of every kind?” (Huxley, 1932/1991) Do we really wish to escape the brave newworld of today? Can we resist the lure of cities to continuously decode and recodeourselves? Well, can we? An important part of this article is based on research undertaken by Bas Spierings atthe Department of Human Geography at the Radboud University Nijmegen in theNetherlands. This contribution, centring on the production of Template Cities, is recentlyfollowed by a discussion—focussing on the construction of Barcode Humans—in theedited volume Urban Politics Now. We would like to thank the editors of this specialissue in European Planning Studies and BAVO, the editors of the volume, for theintriguing opportunity to reflect on the many different ways in which Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley speaks to our contemporary time and age.
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