In class on Thursday afternoon we discussed the value of booking a trip to Paris to see the original Mona Lisa at her home in the Louvre. Why pay so much money to stand in front of a disappointingly small painting surrounded by heavy duty glass when the image can easily be found online, on an umbrella, or even a tote bag? The point is to get the overpriced souvenir in the gift shop that lets people know that you can afford to go to Paris and that you are cultured. These possessions are commodities with social value; they identify individuals of a higher social standing. The same principles are in effect when college students decorate their dorm rooms.
Consider the student with a poster of Starry Night hanging over their bed, or a postcard with Monet’s Water Lilies. These students are interested in presenting themselves as cultured, whether they personally say these famous works in person or not. This last point is crucial: what about the students who have the poster but didn’t get it from the souvenir shop? What do these decorations have to say about them? Are these still commodities because they too have social value?
The fact of the matter is that there are students who have posters with images from famous films that they haven’t seen before. For example I once complimented a student on their Casablanca poster who later confessed that she never watched it. Why would someone have one of these posters if they haven’t seen the movie? Though it’s not incredibly certain whether or not these posters function as commodities, they do however serve as proof of a sign of the success of an imposed mass culture.