Dickens’ Capitalist Legacy

Dickens and Gaskell set the stage in texts such as A Christmas Carol and Mary Barton to consider food as a capitalist commodity, as they depict it in a style likened to contemporary and modern advertisements. Food becomes a symbol of class status—no longer the simple sustenance provider that our bodies biologically consider it to be. High class food—expensive meats, cheeses and wines—have the same physiological impact on the body as less expensive foods, much as less expensive clothes provide the same function as more expensive clothes, and less expensive smartphones utilize the same internet and wireless technology as more expensive smartphones. But that is the role and work of commoditization. Capitalism thrives off of classism and separatism—producing the maximum amount of profit from each level of society, as the “basic needs” are increased in price to represent the theoretical spending power of those who purchase them. Thus it is that entire holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, are generated to test that very theoretical spending limit—to truly assert class structure within the domestic space by pitting families against each other to see who can have the most elaborate meal and presentation.
But while this sort of classism strategy has reduced pre-existing holidays to mere shows of capitalist strength—businesses have banded together in solidarity in recent years to create their own holidays in the most institutionally appropriate way possible: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And while most would argue that these aren’t holidays in the classic sense of family value or religious meaning—they work squarely within the modern context of “holiday” to achieve name recognition, particular cultural habits, and spending power. They actually function no differently from any other holiday within a capitalist consideration—and ironically they exist as a means to prepare for the ultimate capitalist holiday: Christmas. And while Dickens and Gaskell represent a time in history in which the financial strength of a family could not be demonstrated at the materialist degree that it can today—they did their part to instigate a sort of thought process where commoditized items, like food, represent the holidays through spending capability. And they did so while professing to critique the very systems that they fed into.

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