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The Disposition of NatureEnvironmental Crisis and World Literature$
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Jennifer Wenzel

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823286782

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823286782.001.0001

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Consumption for the Common Good? Commodity Biography in an Era of Postconsumerism

Consumption for the Common Good? Commodity Biography in an Era of Postconsumerism

(p.49) Chapter 1 Consumption for the Common Good? Commodity Biography in an Era of Postconsumerism
The Disposition of Nature

Jennifer Wenzel

Fordham University Press

This chapter considers the limits of disseminating knowledge about the harms of neoliberal globalization as a strategy for creating change. It examines three documentary films (Life and Debt, Darwin’s Nightmare, and Black Gold) as commodity biographies. Offering an alternative to complicitous consumption (where one’s life is subsidized by others’ suffering), these films urge a shift from overconsumption to postconsumerism, which privileges products that dare to tell their own stories. Such value-adding narratives function less as defetishization than as new objects of consumerist desire. Nevertheless, moments of reflexivity, in which documentary subjects appear as consumers of commodities or film, disrupt too-easy binaries of First World consumption versus Third World production. The chapter situates these films about fair trade within longer histories of consumerism and its ethical conundrums, including the nexus of commodity knowledge and desire in Moby-Dick, and lessons in ethical consumption and viewership in Dziga Vertov’s experimental films.

Keywords:   Black Gold, citizenship, commodity biography, consumerism, Darwin’s Nightmare, commodity fetish, documentary film, fair trade, globalization, Life and Debt

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