COMMODITY SIGNS

The commodity-as-sign operates when images are allied to particular products and the product-images are then deployed as signifiers of particular relations or experiences. Suppose we begin with an image of "successful mothering." A particular mental image of being a successful mother is detached from the total context of being a mother and attached to a particular product so that the image appears realizable through the purchase and consumption of the good: it might be attached to toothpaste, mouthwash, detergent or frozen food. The signified, being a good mother, has been separated from the totality of relations within which its real accomplishment must take place and been transformed into a discrete image. This image is then arbitrarily attached to a product which has itself been detached from the customary relations of usage formerly associated with it. In the process, the product becomes equivalent to the discrete image (e.g., toothpaste = successful mothering) and begins to function as a sign of that image, so that when we think of the product we think of the image and when we think of the image we think of the product. The original totality of the signified slips from view. The immanent relationship between act and context is "bracketed" (it cannot be abolished) and replaced with the appearance of immanence between product and image: the product gives rise to the image. The true nature of the product is also obscured. It is disengaged from its context, stripped of its content, divorced from the labor process employed in its production and arbitrarily associated with the image.