May 22, 2017

"Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere/An investigation into a term that seems to perfectly capture the indignities and absurdities of the modern economy."

By Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic.
A job advertisement celebrating sleep deprivation? That’s late capitalism. Free-wheeling Coachella outfits that somehow all look the same and cost thousands of dollars? Also late capitalism. Same goes for this wifi-connected $400 juicer that does no better than human hands, Pepsi’s advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner, United Airlines’ forcible removal of a seated passenger who just wanted to go home, and the glorious debacle that was the Fyre Festival. The phrase—ominous, academic, despairing, sarcastic—has suddenly started showing up everywhere.

This publication has used “late capitalism” roughly two dozen times in recent years, describing everything from freakishly oversized turkeys to double-decker armrests for steerage-class plane seats. The New Yorker is likewise enamored of it, invoking it in discussions of Bernie Sanders and fancy lettuces, among other things. There is a wildly popular, year-old Reddit community devoted to it, as well as a Facebook page, a Tumblr, and a lively Twitter hashtag. Google search interest in its has more than doubled in the past year....
Read the whole thing to understand how the usage of the term has changed over time. It used to be more of an intellectual, analytical, dark Marxist term. Now, it's more just gesturing at various absurdities of whatever it is we're doing these days.

I loved the Tumblr page, by the way. The total effect must be experienced at the link. I'll just pass on one perfect image:

43 comments:

Will Cate said...

A fool and his money are soon parted. Honestly, some things never changed, no matter what the vernacular-of-the-day.

Brookzene said...

Late capitalism. Very late. Extremely fucking late.

Fernandinande said...

Sounds like someone is trying to create one o' them fancy viral meme gizmos. Good luck!

"Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere

"Everywhere" being FakeNewspeak for "hardly anywhere".

Lucien said...

Marxism seems so much less relevant than it used to. Maybe the rise of Islamic extremism has just supplanted it as a dangerous current in the world (one for which I'm not sure Marxism has much of an answer). Maybe it's the fall of the Soviet Empire.

When free nations trade with each other, they have to do it on a capitalist basis (willing buyer + willing seller = transaction), which means that if they want to compete, they must have effective & competitive economic actors which implies (more or less) the economic freedom characteristic of capitalism. When the Soviet Empire subjugated other nations, it was possible for them to trade on a non-capitalist basis because you had unwilling buyers and sellers compelled to do deals at gunpoint.

You can still see the remnants of Marxist countries here and there, characterized by the need to build walls topped by machine gun towers to keep everyone from fleeing the workers' paradise. (The exception being Cuba, which doesn't need walls.)

Rene Saunce said...

One man's late capitalism is another man's idiocracy.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Late capitalism may have its downsides, but it sure beats the hell out of the late socialism that Venezuela is currently enjoying...

Rene Saunce said...

Marxists loathe capitalism, mock it, then they zoom off in Capitalism's carriage, using its devices.

Rene Saunce said...

Nancy Pelosi laughs as California Democrats chant ‘F*ck Donald Trump!’ raising 2 middle fingers

Fuck late capitalism! and Russia and stuff.

tcrosse said...

The term Late Capitalism has superceded the term Stuff White People Like.

Rick said...

Now, it's more just gesturing at various absurdities of whatever it is we're doing these days.

As usual capitalism's critics confuse the relationship. Capitalism is satisfying the absurd needs of elites to distinguish themselves from those they condescend to. These critics are mocking their supporters (and often themselves) yet are too convinced of their own superiority to realize it.

Fernandinande said...

Fernandinande said...
"Everywhere" being FakeNewspeak for "hardly anywhere".


Google search seems to have made a change so that, after getting an initial huge fake number returned as "About A GAZILLION results", the true number of search results results is harder to find.

Anyway, I got 199 actual results returned for "late capitalism", which is the same number I got for "42 cylinders".

Perhaps the Atlantic scribbler can explain
Why the Phrase '42 cylinders' Is Suddenly Everywhere.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Bringing up the guy being dragged off the plane is stunningly stupid if you are trying to point out the down-side of capitalism. Yes, that was bad decision-making by the company. But the market has reacted, the company that made that decision will suffer for it, and no companies are likely to make the same mistake in the near future.

Problem solved, without any need for government intervention.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

As opposed to the indignities and absurdities of the pre-modern economy, I guess. You know, when people were much, much poorer, had less control over their market choices, fewer choices (of products, of possibly employment, of most everything), and were more constrained in any number of ways, right?

I'd guess that massively increased diversity of choices/products/niches combined with massively increased connectivity/breadth of communication opportunities (internet, website communities like Reddit & tumblr, etc) mean that apparent "absurdities" are more prevalent and more visible than ever before. That fact doesn't say anything about how MEANINGFUL those "absurdities" are, though.

I mean Bernie Sanders-loving folks might think it's absurd that we have a choice of 20 deodorants at the supermarket. Ha-ha, late capitalism--too many choices and minute product differentiation where it's not necessary, etc!
Me, I think taking a nation that should be prosperous and turning it into a starving, violent hellhole, as has been done to, say, Venezuela is more absurd and more of an indignity to human life than any of the silly examples provided in the excerpt...but maybe that's just me.

Saint Croix said...

I love that crazy tennis court way up in the sky.

bring an extra can of balls, would be my advice

that's a long walk to get your damn balls

Imagine playing the U.S. Open up there.

And John McEnroe's opponent keeps knocking the balls over the fence. So you have to walk down to get your damn balls. And John's yelling at you the whole way. "You cannot be serious!"

Matthew Sablan said...

"Late capitalism may have its downsides, but it sure beats the hell out of the late socialism that Venezuela is currently enjoying... "

-- In one, the poor have to relocate to less nice neighborhoods with government assistance, in the other, people literally smuggle food into the country.

Hagar said...

Yes, that was bad decision-making by the company.

Actually by a "cabin attendant," then followed up by the action of an O'Hare Airport police officer (City of Chicago, IL>)

Saint Croix said...

some of those images are just mocking the dumb

but other snaps are really on point and cool

Saint Croix said...

"Marxism and Autism" was pretty funny

they're probably not doing that one in Venezuela

Saint Croix said...

Marxism seems so much less relevant than it used to.

That's because Germany gave up and Russia gave up and China gave up and Vietnam gave up.

We're pretty much left with North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.

They are so fucking poor that nobody wants to look at them.

Horrible idea. Up there with Nazism as far as bad ideas go. It's more slow starvation than mass execution. Unless Mao or Stalin is in charge for a couple of decades, in which case it's slow starvation and mass execution. It's just such a shitty idea that Marxists living and working in capitalist societies should really be fired for being such a bad teacher. If you can't judge the stupidity of Marxism at this point, no way should you be instructing the young.

Fen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

"Late capitalism" is a term used by academics and lefties who yearn for socialism. It is a phrase like "dialectic" that is tossed around in leftie circles by people who do not know and are not interested in knowing what it means

harkin said...

If Late Capitalism results in some fools overpaying for a good or service and Late Socialism results in people being forced to eat their cats and rioting for basic goods then I'll stick with Ol Adam Smith and continue to ridicule the clueless left.

Karen of Texas said...

I note that that New Yorker article briefly detailing the capitalistic glory of Whole Foods was written in 2006. Once the dominant player in the yuppie organic world, I think I read somewhere that Whole Foods is struggling now to maintain market share. Ah, the vagarities of the consuming public. Evolution happens, even in the late capitalistic world.

Farm to fork is a real deal around some parts. Multiple restaurants in our area engage in the practice. They are not being frequented by the poor.

harkin said...

"Late Capitalism" is term used by readers of The Nation who used to travel to the Soviet Union and/or Cuba to witness the miracle of Communism but still made sure to pack their own toilet paper, coffee and aspirin.

Karen of Texas said...

Btw, should it bother me that I knew that was Trump as a boxing glove?

Rae said...

My favorite "new" or recently in vogue term is "neoliberalism". Which I take to mean "not socialist enough".

"Late capitalism" sounds like socialists implying that capitalism is about to fall. Like it has every year since 1917.

Recently I'm pondering what could take the place of capitalism, that isn't socialism? In the coming decades robots (meaning automation in general) and things like advanced 3d printing will put pressure on the labor markets. Even a lot of "desk jobs" will be replaced by computer programs. What then? Universal guaranteed income?

Michael said...

Capitalism has a few more centuries to run, at least. It is socialism that is "late" - in the sense of defunct.

brylun said...

Capitalism is by far the greatest economic system. Most of human existence is characterized by starvation, wars, deprivation, short life-spans and much death. Enter capitalism and we have obesity, overabundance, long life-spans and plenty.

I guess you never appreciate what you have until you experience the opposite. For those capitalism critics, go live in socialist Venezuela where the average person has lost 20 pounds because of food scarcity. And get your medical procedures done in Cuba.

MadisonMan said...

That is an awesome tumblr -- thanks for the link. I particularly like the one at the end, with the google street view of someone falling.

Noel Harrison said...

There's mildly ironic, there's extremely ironic, and then there's a Late Capitalism blog posting a photo of protesters in Venezuela.

mockturtle said...

Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere

Everywhere within the NY bubble, perhaps....it's the first I've heard of it.

traditionalguy said...

Late Capitalism means the Environmental Marxists are ready to roll out World Governance. They even have Pope Francis in the Late Catholic Church auditioned and ready to become head of Gaia's World Church.

And then along comes Trump to stop everything in its tracks. He is standing his ground in Bastogne and saying Nuts to The Environmental Marxists' surrender demands

Birkel said...

I am given to understand The Atlantic is given away for free, only accepts donated articles and charges advertisers no dollars while placing no cookies on my computer. Is that true?

Otherwise, The Atlantic can kindly acknowledge they are part of capitalism or be quiet. Or both.

YoungHegelian said...

Late Capitalism is a phrase that Lefties can use & make it seem as if it's a problem with those assholes, over there.

Cultural decadence is phrase that implicates everyone, especially including the Left, in its critique, & so is best avoided.

To understand the post-Marxist Left it is important to understand they think they have a moral Archimedian Point that they stand on to judge history & the rest of us. Thus, the projection of malaise onto something outside their purview, such as "late capitalism".

Graham Powell said...

My guess is that things people want to spend money on these days are either more expensive (housing) or cheaper (cars, electronics, most everything else), and that the categories they want to spend in are narrower. There used to be people who spent thousands on hi-fis or big TVs with stereo surround-sound.

Plus, let's consider the lessons of the past, in the form of the Bass-O-Matic. Weird junk that some people feel they need has been around for 50 years at least.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Rae,

I literally haven't heard "neoliberalism" since the mid-80s, until about a week ago. I'm assuming it doesn't refer to the Second Coming of Gary Hart, but what does it mean? Tell me that "neoliberal" isn't going to become as hopelessly convoluted as "neoconservative." I mean, I know what it used to mean -- a thinker who started on the left and then headed right, like Podhoretz and Horowitz and Fr. Neuhaus -- but today it's just a generic synonym for "right-winger."

JMW Turner said...

Making dumb economic choices doesn't prove the failure of Capitalism. Actually, it demonstrates the glory of free will of the individual in a free society. This freedom comes with the willingness of this individual to take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. This unwillingness indicated by various "consumer" laws is emblematic of Late Capitalism.

mockturtle said...

MDT says: Tell me that "neoliberal" isn't going to become as hopelessly convoluted as "neoconservative." I mean, I know what it used to mean -- a thinker who started on the left and then headed right

To me, a neoconservative is a free-spending globalist military interventionist free-trader. IMO, they ruined the GOP.

Alex said...

Anyone who went to university eventually read Karl Marx and knows that Marxists always believe we're on the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution komrades. Any day now...

Alex said...

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

― Karl Marx

Conservatives never learn and they keep trying to appease the Democrats(who are closet Communists) by conceding on 'progressive taxation', capital gains taxes, welfare programs, etc...

Even Donald Trump is no friend of free market capitalism. When did he ever say anything about freedom for businesses? All I ever hear from him is protectionist talk. He's a fascist and the Democrats are communists. They're all fucking scum!

William Chadwick said...

"I literally haven't heard 'neoliberalism' since the mid-80s, until about a week ago. I'm assuming it doesn't refer to the Second Coming of Gary Hart, but what does it mean?"

"Neoliberal" a term I first saw in a book by some European socialist as a negative term for those of us in the pro-freedom camp. I did have to respect her, however, for remembering that "liberal" (nowadays a bastardized code word for "tax-happy, coercion-addicted, power-tripping State fellator") meant something different once upon a time. Although I've also read that in Europe "liberal" still retains some of its original connoation. (If so, why not just "liberal" instead of "neoliberal"?)

tcrosse said...

So Late Capitalism means that there are people who spend their money on stuff I think is foolish.

The Godfather said...

Another reason why "free enterprise" is a better name for the system than "capitalism". You can say "late capitalism" or even "post capitalism" and some people will think you're sophisticated, but if you say "late free enterprise" or "post free enterprise" you highlight that what's lost is "freedom".