The Roles of Commodities in Contemporary Culture

In The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof, Karl Marx (1867) notes that the mysterious character of commodity stems from its exchange value, not from its use-value, and he calls this phenomenon as commodity fetishism. The aim of this paper is to scrutinize what roles commodities do play in contemporary culture in an attempt to unveil the secrets of commodities.Before proceeding to the analysis of commodities’ roles. three key concepts, namely commodity, commodity fetishism and culture must be described briefly. According to Marx (1857), the basic definition of a commodity is as follows: an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. Hence, for him, the commodity is a sensuous and material thing with useful qualities, catering any kind of human needs and wants. Furthermore, Marx, divides the essential properties of commodities into two categories of having use value and exchange value. In ‘Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), he describes use-value as an aspect of commodity and he gives wheat as an example of useful things with different properties. In this sense, use-value denotes the immediate physical entity, which serves social needs but does not express social relations of production. For Marx (1859), contrary to use value, exchange value is irrespective of commodities’ natural form of existence. However, through the exchange, the use-value is transformed into exchange value, and becomes the commodity, which is the embodiment of universal labor-time in a particular use-value. Thus, the exchange value expresses the human labor bestowed upon an object.Nevertheless, although commodities are mere products of human labor, this social relation is hidden from the eyes by means of fetishism and the process of material production is veiled under its mystical veil. In exchange, this social relation between men, appear as relations between things, due to what Marx called commodity fetishism.