Landscapes of Global Capital
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The power of science to control nature was the epistemological strategy that drove the Enlightenment project. Scientific discovery and industrial technology underwrote modernity as these technologies reorganized the social and economic landscapes. The principles of science also gave form to the cult of Positivism, and the belief that scientific methodology could be applied to social organization to make it work more efficiently and more logically. Once the laws of human behavior were laid out, they could be mastered and a good society based on those laws could be constructed. The scientific paradigm and its strict methodologies slowly but surely displaced religion as the Western worldview. And while the horrors of industrial capitalism impassioned the writings of Karl Marx and Charles Dickens, the achievements of industrial capitalism inspired reformers and writers like Edward Bellamy.

As Marx and Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto (1848), the bourgeoisie had released more capacity for production in a hundred years than humankind in all the previous centuries. This power of transformation made possible by scientific discovery and application is a primary tenet of all modern narratives. But then the application of science seems to have gone awry. Huge military machines moved across the globe in two world wars culminating in Hiroshima. But even then America arose as a superpower proclaiming democracy and economic success for all. And while the US put a man on the moon it also fell prey to its own mythology in Vietnam. With the series of economic, political, and cultural crises that followed the Enlightenment project that had become intertwined with American appeared to have collapsed. The Western grand narrative that began in Europe seem to die in the colony it spawned.

Throughout the 20th Century, the United States has been identified with technology, and it dominated the world, in some large measure, because it ruled the technological roost. Especially in military technologies, the US consistently maintained the upper hand. And, beginning early in the century Capital and its representatives began associating Capital with advances in technological control and mastery (See Roland Marchand). By mid century, GE's slogan, "Progress is Our Most Important Product," had gained hegemonic status. Though the slogans have changed, the gist -- and that's really all there is now -- of the message remains largely unchanged circa 1998. Ideologically, many of the ads under observation continue to push what Jurgen Habermas (1970, 81-122) described as civil privatism where a system of depoliticized, technocratic rule draws its legitimacy from providing rewards geared to privatized needs. Stuart Ewen has charted the transformation in American life from the citizen to the consumer. Beginning in the 1920s, but greatly accelerated and intensified in the postwar 1950s, material abundance was cast as a product of highly efficient automated technologies "brought to you" by corporations such as GE, RCA, and GM. Disneyland's, the original Disneyland -- and not any of the bigger, better, newer Disney thing parks -- epitomized mass media accounts of how science and technology made for a more satisfying personal existence and a better society to boot. Walt Disney loved technology, just loved it and he built "Tomorrowland" as an homage to the promise of a utopian future built around the intelligent discoveries of Science applied to our daily lives in the form of commercial products. Even then in the late 1950s, Disney caught a stark, cold glimpse of a future mediated by the commodities developed and delivered by corporations -- he captured a sense of the privatism of the family as a consuming unit, cut off visually from any wider community or society, encased in diorama and modern science. Sleek and clean, insulated (cut off) from all surrounding life -- engaged in leisure moments -- this was the utopian vision of the future.

In the 1970's Disney's vision took new form with the building of Epcot Center. Here, corporate sponsorship of the Disney pavilions collapsed entertainment, education, and public relations. The pavilions were part museum, part arcade, part theater, and part corporate show room. Each celebrated the achievements of applied science as indicators of human progress. Many commercials in our data set use the same signifiers found in Disney pavilions, such as light beams, robotic labor, and voice-over narratives of progress. These commercials mimic Disney's myth of progress by constructing elements of a technotopia without any underlying contradictions associated with technoscience.

© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey