The “off-road” vehicle is advertised as a gateway to the life you wanted, however ambiguous that might be. In fact, the more ambiguous your dream-life is, the better the situation for the marketing. As a potential buyer you are meant to think, “if only I could buy this SUV and get that kayak …” The advertisement plays on the romanticized notion of nature, in which one “gets away from it all.” There’s something humorous and sad about advertisements that sell the idea of escape. People have such dreams because they feel an inadequacy in their lives, but it’s far too opaque for them to understand it. Their dreams for improvement are mediated by the same commodity form that dictates their daily lives. The phenomenon of American off-road nostalgia is merely the appearance of discontent in society. Social relations seem to have lost their essence, and all is thrown away in a regressive eschewal. If only those who run to the woods could see past the fetish that is presented to us by every commodity. Adorno saw this potential: “Even the most stupid people have long since ceased to be fooled by the belief that everyone will win the big prize. The positive element of kitsch lies in the fact that it sets free for a moment the glimmering realization that you have wasted your life.”
I just attended art historian T. J. Clark’s lecture, “Capitalism without Images,” at UChicago’s Logan Center, as a part of the Art History Department’s Smart Lecture Series. The picture above is from my view, where I sat on the floor due to the room being completely full. It was a great lecture, and I wish he’d visit the university more, because there was clearly a sense that his lecture was merely scratching the surface of his thesis–which argues that images are used to prop up the gap between the desired life and reality under capitalism.