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Magazine

18 April 2022
LGBTQ Surplus Value

Felipe Rivas San Martín

For several years now, a disturbing phenomenon has been occurring, namely, the increasingly close relationship between the marketplace and LGBT communities. This is disturbing for both conservative groups and critical activists. On the one hand, it is said that the overpowering omnipresence of neoliberalism undermines traditional social structures, tearing down outdated customs and prejudices in its aim to keep society up to date with democratic and liberal cultural ideals. On the other hand, from a more anti-establishment point of view, it is evident that neoliberalism has no progressive cultural political program, and that it is able to coexist without any real problem with authoritarian regimes and repressive environments. Interest in these minority communities is merely economic and expresses a characteristic of neoliberalism, that is, the tireless expansion towards new consumer niches.

This gaypitalism or pink capitalism builds its genealogy from the first underground venues for homosexuals and lesbians at the end of the 19th century to the bars that served as meeting places or were the epicenter of revolts in the second half of the 20th century, consolidated and expanded within the last decades. Among the factors that explain this transition from the margins to mainstream are, for example, a greater LGBT public visibility, the passing of progressive laws and the increase in purchasing power that allows the development of consumption patterns initially enjoyed only by the white cisgender gay men of the upper-middle class but which has currently been extended to other LGBTQI+ groups, especially with the rise of personal electronic devices and information networks and data personalization, which work under a dual dynamic of expression and, at the same time, an expanding categorization of subjectivity.

This process is probably linked to transformations both in capital and in the dynamics of business marketing. On the one hand, the neoliberal turn of capitalism in the 1970s and 80s implied a shrinking of government and a greater privatization of social services, and the market began to be seen as a provider of social welfare.[1]Brian Cañizares. “La responsabilidad social empresarial como estrategia de reproducción social”(Corporate Social Responsibility as a Social Reproduction Strategy.) In: Revista Cátedra … Continue reading  At the same time, new commercial marketing shifted the importance played by “visual essentialism” based on brand logic (associating a brand with a product or an image/logo) towards multiple strategies that comprise all the communicational acts of complex corporate branding, that is, brand strategy.[2]Cristian Gómez Moya. “Branding ontológico. Estrategias comunicativas de responsabilidad social para el diseño de Ciudadanías Corporativas” (Ontological Branding. Communicative Strategies of … Continue reading The current hegemony of corporate branding can be explained as a struggle for “symbolic capital,” as Bourdieu described it, that is, capital that provides stability, meaning and legitimacy to the rest of the forms of capital, for example, economic capital. A corporation validates its economic capital by increasing its symbolic capital.

A synthesis of the social role of the company that at the same time is part of branding (brand strategies) is called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR has an internal aspect (for example, in the use of renewable production technologies or in the company’s work dynamics) and also an external aspect in the brand’s public support for certain causes. The LGBTQ agenda was incorporated into CSR themes and was added to a list that includes protecting the environment, helping minority communities and financing art contests.

In an article on the website compromisoempresarial.com, Mónica Moro, creative director of McCann, a global network of advertising agencies with offices in 20 countries, states that, for today’s companies, “positioning yourself on an issue such as homosexuality is CSR, and in this case it’s not about doing or donating anything… it’s about saying who you are and being that. ‘Being’ is just as responsible as ‘doing’.”[3]“Agencias de publicidad y empresas debaten sobre el rol social de la marca” (Advertising Agencies and Companies Discuss the Social Role of Brands). On line: … Continue reading Positioning yourself on the LGBTQ agenda is good business for companies since it is not necessary to spend a lot of money, a declaration of principles and a good advertising campaign are enough. We know that advertising is not a field of countercultural production. On the contrary, even the most ‘aggressive’ or ‘transgressive’ advertising campaigns rely on certain minimum frameworks of common sense to achieve their goal, that is, to sell the product. The marketplace is consensual and advertising cannot go against common sense, otherwise it would not sell.

After decades of hard, painful and difficult work, subjected to great obstacles and violence, global LGTBQ activism managed to create enormous legal, symbolic and cultural transformations that are impressive in their magnitude and capacity for expansion. The fight is not over, but change is evident. Over the years, from the first wave of the homosexual movement in the second half of the 19th century to today, LGBTQ communities and cultures have undergone significant positive value change, at least in the context of the world’s progressive democracies.

I propose to interpret the magnitude of this change in the symbolic valuation of the LGBTQ economically, to state that what companies do today by integrating sexual diversity in their campaigns and marketing strategies is the quintessential capitalist operation, that is, the appropriation of surplus value, but of a particular type that we will call LGBTQ surplus value. For Marxist theory, work is a human activity that has the exclusive capacity to transform raw materials and produce value. For its part, surplus value is the monetary surplus that a salaried worker produces as a result of their work, in addition to their salary, which the capitalist appropriates. Therefore, surplus value is the differential equivalent to unpaid work, the range of exploitation and the basis of capitalist accumulation.

In a free use of the theory of work and surplus value, we could say that activism is a form of human work that transforms culture instead of raw materials. Hence, the symbolic, legal, material and cultural transformations that reversed the negative values (hidden, shameful, unmentionable) of LGBTQ existence into positive values of integration and diversity, constitute the product of the accumulated and unpaid work of LGBTQ activism, among other factors.[4]As can be inferred, my idea of activism as work is in solidarity with other critical readings of the Marxist neglect of domestic, care, and reproductive work of women, which is also relevant in the … Continue reading Why have companies decided to support sexual diversity today when they didn’t in the 1980s or 1950s? Simply because, at that time, activism hadn’t done enough work to transform the social value of sexual minorities and to generate enough LGBTQ surplus value to be appropriated by capitalists.

 

(Highlighter Image:“Celebrate Pride” filter on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile image, 2015. This multi-colored flag filter went viral the day the United States Supreme Court authorized same-sex marriage across the country. Screenshot, personal file).

 

References
1 Brian Cañizares. La responsabilidad social empresarial como estrategia de reproducción social”(Corporate Social Responsibility as a Social Reproduction Strategy.) In: Revista Cátedra Paralela. Num. 10, 2013, Argentina. pages 256-279.
2 Cristian Gómez Moya. Branding ontológico. Estrategias comunicativas de responsabilidad social para el diseño de Ciudadanías Corporativas” (Ontological Branding. Communicative Strategies of Social Responsibility for the Design of Corporate Citizenships). In Comunicación y Medios. Num. 18/2008. Pages 177-193.
3 Agencias de publicidad y empresas debaten sobre el rol social de la marca” (Advertising Agencies and Companies Discuss the Social Role of Brands). On line: https://www.compromisoempresarial.com/rsc/2015/05/agencias-de-publicidad-y-empresas-debaten-sobre-el-valor-social-de-la-marca/ . Accessed December 15, 2017.
4 As can be inferred, my idea of activism as work is in solidarity with other critical readings of the Marxist neglect of domestic, care, and reproductive work of women, which is also relevant in the magnitude of surplus value, as Silvia Federici points out.

Felipe Rivas San Martín is a Chilean visual artist, essayist and sexual dissidence activist. He holds a Master's degree in Visual Arts from the University of Chile. He currently lives and works in Valencia, Spain, where he is pursuing a PhD in Art at the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), as a scholar of the National Agency for Research and Development, ANID.
His work emerges from the intersection between queer activism, technology and decoloniality. His work has been exhibited in Chile, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Peru, Colombia, United States, Austria, Ecuador, Mexico, Switzerland, Uruguay, Serbia, Nicaragua and France. Between 1998 and 1999 he was a member of MASALEF, a cell of the Communist Youth that brought together students from the National Institute of Chile. In 2001 he participated in the Comité de Izquierda por la Diversidad Sexual, CIDS [Left Committee for Sexual Diversity]. The following year, in 2002, he founded with Pedro Sanzana and Karen Castillo, the Colectivo Universitario de Disidencia Sexual, CUDS, a Latin American group of activism, artistic experimentation and critical reflection. He is editor of Torcida.com magazine, co-editor (with Francisco Godoy Vega) of the book Multitud Marica, activaciones de archivos sexo-disidentes en América Latina (2018) and author of the book Internet, mon amour: infecciones queer/cuir entre digital y material (2019). About his work has been published the monograph Estatutos de la disidencia (2021), both by Écfrasis Ediciones.

Articles

18 April 2022

LGBTQ Surplus Value

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