Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Mary Valentis

Abstract

Title: Social Media Fetishism: The Substitution of Life, The Disavowal of Death, and The Zombie Syndrome Statement: I am studying social media as a symptom within a culture of fetishism, where social media has become a substitute for human interaction under the concepts of fetishism outlined by Marx, Freud, Kaplan, Debord, and Baudrillard because I want to find out why people have fetishized social media so that one can understand how to rectify the underlying issues causing the fetish. In the past decade, social media has become fetishized by a select group of users, characterized by hours a day spent on these websites, and failed attempts to delete their accounts permanently. I analyze both fetishism and social media in order to understand the implications of social media fetishism. I start with fetishism. I open up the discussion of fetishism by tracing the concept’s evolution from its origins in native cultures as a worship of talismans and other charms in substitution for a physical presence of their Gods. From there I analyze fetishism through the lens of Marxist commodity fetishism both to apply the concept of commodity fetishism to the current social media culture, and also to further illuminate the substitutive nature of fetishism through highlighting commodity fetishism’s substitution of human sentiment by a material object or objects. I continue to analyze the substitutive nature of fetishism through Freud’s sexual fetishism, in which objects or body parts are used as substitutes for sexual arousal as well as for intimacy. After establishing a basis for fetishism in these three historical contexts, I re-contextualize fetishism from the modern perspective of Louise Kaplan, author of Cultures of Fetishism. Then, in order to establish the link between fetishism and social media, I analyze Facebook and Twitter as fetishized spectacles, through the lens of Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle.” This connection also builds upon Baudrillard’s theories on simulation, analyzing social media as a simulated reality. After firmly establishing this line of reasoning, I seek to prove that the avoidance of human interaction or desire for mediated interaction, as well as the creation of a social media identity, is a direct response to anxiety characterized by the fear of death. I posit that since one cannot maintain stable identities in the real world due to criticism as well as the potential for physical death, one seek to create more stable, lasting, enduring, and potentially indestructible personalities on social media sites that by characteristic of being on the Internet, have the potential to exist outside the boundaries of human existence and the human lifespan.

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