Ideology and Everyday Life
Ideology is not a cloud that floats somewhere above our everyday reality. Each ‘worthy’ step we take is not a small ascension in the direction of our ideals. Rather, according to Louis Althusser at least, ideology traps us with one foot in our imaginations and the other in the real conditions of our existence.
This is to say that ideals are produced by society, as much as ideals produce society. For Althusser, “Ideological State Apparatuses” (material institutions and practices such as schools and the arts) do the work of producing, disseminating and maintaining ideologies – while keeping critical analysis of them at bay. Cumulatively these ideological apparatuses contribute to the continuation of existing class relations. Ideology is, in part, about the maintenance of the fiction within. Althusser writes:
In ideology the real relation is inevitably invested in the imaginary relation, a relation that expresses a will (conservative, conformist, reformist or revolutionary), a hope or a nostalgia, rather than describing a reality.
Under Capitalism, perhaps we could consider television as an example of a practice/ritual/apparatus, through participation in which the subject (us) is sent spinning between their real conditions of existence and their fiction (will, hope and nostalgia). Watching Giada de Laurentiis cook on The Food Network, we become convinced of the myth of the achievable gourmet and the disappearance of labour – the labour of cooking transforms into pleasure in the seeming ease of the act, while the labour of cleaning the dirty dishes is nowhere to be seen.
In watching Giada we oscillate between the real conditions of our existence and the imaginary of our existence, feeding our ideology with our fantasies/delusion. For Roland Barthes, the very nature of ‘myth’ is that the politics are assumed, not overt. Barthes’ myth-reading is an oscillation of its own: a criticality arises in recognising the instability (the wonky oscillation) between the signifier and the signified in his notion of a sign. It is in ‘reading myth’ that we disrupt the smooth consumption of neutralised ideology, drawing attention to that which has become normalised under the assumptions and apparatuses of Capitalism.