Philip K. Dick: Consumer Culture Theorist par excellence

Prolific cultural studies scholar Fredric Jameson calls Philip K. Dick “the Shakespeare of Science Fiction.”

Philip K. Dick stands among some of the most insightful philosophers and writers of both consumption and reality in the twentieth century. In my first presentation at the Association for Consumer Research, I was treated to a paper by Jonathan Schroeder on the works of Andy Warhol. Jonathan took the position that Warhol was a consumer researcher who revealed a lot about consumer society and culture through his art, his life, and his marketing of himself.

“His eye, trained in art, and focused on mainstream success and fame, gave him ‘an uncanny gift for selecting motifs from the glut of visual information characteristic of a modern industrial society overwhelmed by consumer products, newspapers, magazines, photographs, television, and the cinema’ (Livingstone 1990, p. 118). Warhol was a shrewd marketer of both his work, and perhaps more significantly, his image. His background in advertising assisted him in knowing what sells and how to sell it.”

I believe that we can say much the same about Philip K. Dick, particularly in terms of how he looked at consumption phenomenon and, as I wrote yesterday, ontology. Jameson finds that Dick’s work is “one of the most powerful expressions of the society of the spectacle and pseudo-event, in which [and here he quotes Guy Debord, the Situationist thinker) “the image is the final form of commodity reification.” Rather than being trained in visual arts, as Warhol was, I believe that Dick had a type of “perfect pitch” that attuned him to consumer society and enabled him to read it and depict it in philosophical and theological terms. Philip K. Dick wrote a subtle brand of science fiction that many critics and scholars have recognized as significantly different from the simple spaceships and robots stories that characterize the worst of the genre.

Dick made several unsuccessful attempts during his life to leave science fiction’s poor reputation behind him by breaking into mainstream fiction. Although never successful as a mainstream author, he compensated for the weaknesses in his field’s reputation by using its marginal status to take risks and develop complex theories of social reality. Each book in a sense takes a central proposition and seeks to illustrate and develop it while weaving it into a central plot. Taken together, these novels form philosophical expositions with common themes and elements.

I’ve done readings and analyses of several Philip K. Dick novels in a style that blends cultural studies sensibilities with consumer culture theory perspectives. I hope to be publishing them soon.

In the meantime, I’ll offer up an overview analysis of one Philip K. Dick novel and read it in terms of its implications for understanding marketing science, brand management, and consumer culture.

Philip K. Dick, Consumer Culture Theorist par excellence. Coming very soon to a blog near you.

2 Comments

  1. theloniousnunc June 15, 2007
  2. Robert Kozinets June 15, 2007

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