The Apparent Paradox of Self a Semiological Analysis of the Role of Consumption in the Life of Atrainspottings@ Mark Renton

ABSTRACT - The postmodern self is so engaged in the new symbolic rationality of consumption that many authors in a variety of disciplines have argued that consumption defines the self. Symbolic interaction theory, recognising the social negotiation of meaning, throws its considerable weight behind the argument that consumption is role supporting. A third body of researchers has attempted to reconcile these views, arguing that consumption can simultaneously support both. It is the thesis of this paper that all consumption is tribal and role supporting. Consumption cannot define the self. A review of the literature on postmodernism, the self and tribal linkage is followed by a new addition to the debate, the Rubix Cube of Postmodern Consumption. This model places the power of self definition squarely in the psychic powers of the individual and not in the realms of consumption. It is argued that consumption supports the roles the giddy postmodern consumer plays in todays postmodern tribes. Evidence to support ths thesis is provided in the form of a semiological analysis of the role of consumption in the motion picture Trainspotting. Three semiotic codes are used to conduct a scene by scene analysis of the consumption patterns of Mark Renton. Renton uses consumption as a means of transition from membership of one tribe to another. As the roles change so too do the consumption practices. That consumption does not define the self is evidenced in the form and content of the continuous stream of consciousness and thought displayed by Rentons monologues throughout the motion picture. The implications of this paper for marketing practice and research are many. It requires a recognition of the infinite capacity of the human mind and the realisation that all consumption is tribal and no act of consumption is purely individualistic. Dismissive comments arguing that the postmodern consumer is irrational must be replaced with an understanding of the symbolic rationality of consumption. Decisions to maximise role congruency using a constellation of symbolic consumption elements are no less rational than a decision to maximise utility based on economic value.



Citation:

Conor Ryan and Damien McLoughlin (1999) ,"The Apparent Paradox of Self a Semiological Analysis of the Role of Consumption in the Life of Atrainspottings@ Mark Renton", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 257-263.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 257-263

THE APPARENT PARADOX OF SELF

A SEMIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE ROLE OF CONSUMPTION IN THE LIFE OF "TRAINSPOTTINGS" MARK RENTON

Conor Ryan, Guinness Ireland

Damien McLoughlin, University College Dublin, Ireland

ABSTRACT -

The postmodern self is so engaged in the new symbolic rationality of consumption that many authors in a variety of disciplines have argued that consumption defines the self. Symbolic interaction theory, recognising the social negotiation of meaning, throws its considerable weight behind the argument that consumption is role supporting. A third body of researchers has attempted to reconcile these views, arguing that consumption can simultaneously support both. It is the thesis of this paper that all consumption is tribal and role supporting. Consumption cannot define the self. A review of the literature on postmodernism, the self and tribal linkage is followed by a new addition to the debate, the Rubix Cube of Postmodern Consumption. This model places the power of self definition squarely in the psychic powers of the individual and not in the realms of consumption. It is argued that consumption supports the roles the giddy postmodern consumer plays in todays postmodern tribes. Evidence to support ths thesis is provided in the form of a semiological analysis of the role of consumption in the motion picture Trainspotting. Three semiotic codes are used to conduct a scene by scene analysis of the consumption patterns of Mark Renton. Renton uses consumption as a means of transition from membership of one tribe to another. As the roles change so too do the consumption practices. That consumption does not define the self is evidenced in the form and content of the continuous stream of consciousness and thought displayed by Rentons monologues throughout the motion picture. The implications of this paper for marketing practice and research are many. It requires a recognition of the infinite capacity of the human mind and the realisation that all consumption is tribal and no act of consumption is purely individualistic. Dismissive comments arguing that the postmodern consumer is irrational must be replaced with an understanding of the symbolic rationality of consumption. Decisions to maximise role congruency using a constellation of symbolic consumption elements are no less rational than a decision to maximise utility based on economic value.

1. THE APPARENT PARADOX OF SELF: TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING

Dualism, dialectic, dyad, duality, dichotomy, this interesting alliteration comprises many of the terms used in academic literature to describe the postmodern phenomenon of simultaneously seeking absolute individualism and tribal linkage. Many researchers agree that consumption has a pivotal role to play in the life of the giddy consumer seeking to reconcile this apparent paradox of self. This paper seeks to gain an understanding of the role of consumption in the life of the postmodern consumer. The academic world is largely divided regarding the role of consumption in this area. Belk (1988) argues that consumption of objects defines the self in that those objects become an extension of the person that consumes. Solomon (1983) takes his lead from symbolic interaction theory espousing that products are in fact social stimuli supporting the social roles of individuals. A growing body of research suggests that self definition and tribal linkage are in fact two sides of the same coin (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg Halton, 1981). To date the most plausible treatment of the subject is the model of "Cosmic Consumption" in Cooper and McLoughlin (1998) wherein individualism and tribalism form a continuum. Cooper and McLoughlin (1998) perform a semiotic analysis of consumption in "The Simpsons", a postmodern, hyperreal family. This work dichotomised the roles of consumption based on what the authors describe as the "Southern Schools Ideology". The authors believe that "no longer do consumers look to broad society as a source from which to take their meanings, rather they look to tribes: symbolic and unstable groupings of individuals" (1998, p.9). Cooper and McLoughlin identify four roles of consumption in hyperreality; products representing valued traits, tribal linking products, mediating products and hyperreal role products. The one area in which their work is found to be lacking is in the quality of the application of semiotic methodology. This paper builds largely on the work of Cooper and McLoughlin and their analysis of consumption in a hyperreal environment. It is the hope of this author that through a more detailed treatment of semiotic methodology, the subsequent analysis may provide further insight into the role of consumption in the life of the postmodern individual. It is the thesis of this paper that consumption defines tribal linkage. It will be argued that self definition is a purely intellectual, psychological process of thought wherein awareness of ones existence is reached. The thinking here is influenced by Descartes and the Cogito Ergo Sum principle. Consumption develops or reinforces roles. Roles exist only in the context of a social system or network wherein meaning is socially negotiated. A collection of roles create a tribe the membership of which ma occur consciously or unconsciously. The self is defined before consumption. Hence consumption defines tribal membership. This paper draws on a variety of academic fields including consumer behaviour theory, psychology, sociology and philosophy. We shall begin with a quick treatment of postmodernism. This will be followed by a review of the current literature examining self definition and tribalism. We will then develop a framework of the role of consumption which will be applied in the semiological analysis of the consumption of Mark Renton in the motion picture "Trainspotting".

2. METHODOLOGY

Our analysis borrows much from the methodology employed by Hirschman and Holbrook (1993) in their analysis of consumption symbolism in Beverly Hills cop and Holbrook and Graysons (1986) analysis of Out of Africa. The analysis of Trainspotting began with numerous viewings of the film on video cassette. A body of notes was compiled detailing certain key scenes. The video-cassette reviews were complemented with a detailed examination of the Trainspotting script and character stage direction. The script review executed with forensic precision, facilitated the development of an extremely detailed body of notes on consumption in Trainspotting. The resultant notes were then studied using three semiotic codes which were applied on a scene by scene basis for Mark Renton. The semiotic codes used were: actor / outcome, consumption and role codes.

3. LITERATURE REVIEW

Today the individual is freer than ever from the bonds of traditional society both in physical and philosophical terms. Many termed the late modern period the triumph of individualism. Postmodernism however, in true "amphisbaena" fashion has been divided between those who see our era as the triumph of the individual and those who argue that we are witnessing the re-establishment of the social link. The preceding pages highlight the diversity of opinion and research regarding consumption’s role in self definition and tribal linkage. Both however acknowledge the central role of consumption in realising the former or the latter. Recently scholars have sought to reconcile these apparently dichotomous concepts. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) produced an inspired work examining the meaning of things in which they argue;

"the cultivation of individuality serves a larger goal of integration because the intention to differentiate oneself from others still needs other people to give it meaning. If pursued as an ultimate goal, differentiation would eventually result in chaos, not uniqueness, and so even differentiation has a purpose within and for the integrated life of the community" (1981,p. 33).

Dollinger et al. (1996) used autophotograhical methodology to examine how individuals depict their relatedness and individuality photographically. The purpose of the study according to the authors was to shed light on the relationship between individuality and social connection or relatedness. Their findings portray relatedness as being the opposite of individuality. Dollinger et al. quote Lamphere and leary (1990) who argued concerning the public and private self, "relatedness and individuality may be more usefully viewed as two orthogonal dimensions rather than opposite poles of one dimension" (1990, p.1274). The authors conclude by announcing their agreement with Guisinger and Blatt (1994) describing individuality and relatedness as a fundamental dialectic. Cova (1997) examined the rise of neo-tribalism. He argued that postmodernity, which was largely seen as the triumph of the individual, also comprised attempts at social recomposition; "the individual who finally managed to libeate them from archaic or modern social links is embarking on a reverse movement to recompose their social universe on the basis of an emotional free choice" (1997, p.300). Cova then attempts to offer a blueprint of the characteristics of the new tribes;

"These postmodern communities are inherently unstable, small scale, affectual and are not fixed by any of the established parameters of modern society; instead they can be held together through shared emotions, styles of life, new moral beliefs, senses of injustice and consumption practices" (1997,p.301).

Cova also recognised the central role of the concept of self as a catalyst in the creation of these tribes pointing out that; "In postmodernity, the conquest of self has become inescapable, and each individual, wherever they come from must accomplish the feat of becoming someone by showing their difference" (1997, p.299). Cova describes the postmodern individual as a nomad of the present free from social links and aided in their quest by technological developments such as the internet. But attempts at social recomposition are manifest throughout society. Cova emphasises the role of consumption in the life of the postmodern quoting Elliot (1994): "the postmodern individual...........is on a never ending identity quest, a quest for the meaning of their life"( 1997, p.305). The Northern Anglo Saxon school of thought sees consumption as self defining whereas the Southern, Mediterranean School espouses the view that products are services are consumed as much for their linking value as their use value.

Cooper and McLoughlin (1998) forward a model for the analysis of consumption as an expression of the self and as a system of meaning enabling linkage to social tribes. Cooper and McLoughlin see individualism and tribalism as points on a continuum. They argue:

"some consumption acts are done with the focus being the individual, a conflict within the mind or a need to express an individually felt feeling such as love, whereas other acts are performed predominantly to provide a link to tribes, such as displaying symbols that are recognised by the tribe" (1998, p.9).

Consumption they argue will simultaneously affect both elements to varying degrees. This argument is similar to Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg Haltons (1981) view that individualism and integration through consumption are two sides of the same coin. In an effort to shed further light on this subject we have produced a model of consumption in the life of the postmodern consumer. The model discussed in the following sections will form a key element of the semiological analysis of Mark Rentons consumption.

4. THE RUBIX CUBE OF POSTMODERN CONSUMPTION

"If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I ?" (Fromm, 1976, p.294). This simple question challenges the foundations of the belief that consumption can define the self. If we may be so bold as to offer a potential answer to this question, you are not what you have, you simply are. The self exists regardless of consumption. Definition of self is an intellectual, psychological process of thought in which one becomes aware of ones existence in the universe. One becomes aware of who and what one is. The self is the stream of consciousness of the individual. Just as I am aware of my self now, I am also aware that it is the same self that supported my existence when I was 10 years old and that it will continue doing so.

Rene Descartes (1641), in order to prove his own existence to himself approached the problem by deciding that e would not believe anything that could be doubted (i.e. only lending credence to absolute facts). Descartes wanted to figure out how he could be sure that he was not a character in a dream, or that he was being convinced that he existed by some powerful entity.

"But there is I know not what being, who is possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me. Doubtless then I exist, since I am deceived; let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something. So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind (Descartes, 1641: Trans John Veitch 1901)" .

And thus we make the argument that the self exists and is defined without consumption. All consumption defines tribal linkage as consumption supports a role. For example driving a BMW is seen as a status symbol, a symbol of achievement, superior quality etc. These symbols are socially negotiated and agreed upon. Roles exist only in the context of a social network. The variety of roles which various products and consumption practices support and reinforce allow the postmodern consumer to be as giddy as he likes regarding tribal membership, with the average person performing several roles in several tribes. The self continues to exist unchanged by this consumption, what changes is membership. Regarding possessions James (1890) wrote; "the empirical self of each of us is all that he is tempted to call by the name of me. But it is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw" (1890, p.291). The line may be difficult to draw but it exists. McClelland (1951) believed that objects/possessions become a part of self when we can exercise control over them. If possessions are viewed as part of self, it follows that loss of possessions should be regarded as a loss or lessening of self (Belk, 1988). Taking this argument to the extreme if someone loses everything in a fire or through war does that person no longer have a self ?

FIGURE 1

THE RUBIX CUBE OF POSTMODERN CONSUMPTION

So which is it ? Does consumption define who we are ? Do we define who we are ? Do we differentiate to integrate or to separate ? Am I me?, or is my self some function of objects with varying degrees of importance in my life ? What follows is our contribution to the debate. We have developed a framework depicting the role of consumption in the life of the postmodern individual. This model attempts to build on the work of Cooper and McLoughlin (1998) and Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg Halton (1981). The model comprises four elements "The Self", "Consumption", Roles" and "Tribes". It is represented graphically in Figure 1.

4.1 The Self

Definition of self is a purely intellectual process of thought in which one becomes aware of ones existence in the Universe.

4.2 Consumption

Numerous authors have argued that consumption defines the self. As the previous paragraph highlights, we disagree. Consumption occurs in a culturally constituted world within which meaning is socially negotiated. As no man is an Island, all consumption is role defining and role supporting. The self exists. The roles change.

4.3 Role

If as we have argued all consumption is role defining then it is the roles which link the individual to the one or more tribes that person is a member of. Roles and consumption reinforce each other in that roles only exist in the context of a social network. Thus all consumpion has an "effect" consciously or unconsciously within this wider social network.

4.4 Tribe

Thanks to the diversity of consumption practices which the individual may engage in, the individual can play numerous roles in numerous tribes. These postmodern tribes are ephemeral. As for the metaphor of the tribe,

"it allows us to account for the process of disindividuation, the saturation of the inherent function of the individual and the emphasis on the role that each person is called upon to play within the tribe" (Maffesoli, 1996, p.6).

5. SEMIOLOGICAL TRAINS OF THOUGHT

Trainspotting follows the exploits of five friends in Edinburgh, three of whom are drug addicts, another becomes a drug addict and another is a violent psychopath. The film centres around the life of Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor). Rentons partners in crime and addiction are Spud, Sick Boy, Begbie and Tommy. The group lives a miserable existence, addicted either to heroin or violence. Renton decides to kick the habit realising the futility of his situation. The following sections apply the rubix cube of postmodern consumption to Mark Renton..

5.1 The Self

Renton has a constant self that remains unchanged by his consumption patterns. Evidence of this appears in the continuous stream of consciousness that he displays throughout the film primarily in the form of his various monologues. It is interesting to note that many of Rentons monologues deal with consumption. We believe this is why many argue that the self is defined by consumption. In our opinion the crucial point is this; the individual must in todays society apply a great deal of his psychic powers to consumption, however it is the psychic powers, the consciousness of self, that defines the self, the application of these powers to consumption is a secondary process. A quote from one of Rentons monologues may help to illustrate the point.

Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics....... Choose your future. Choose life. But why would I want to do a thing like that ? I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin.

Thus we see Mark Renton philosophically deciding on "life". His mind examines numerous elements of consumption. The key here is the idea of choice. He can choose leisurewear or heroin. The phrase " I chose", is Mark Rentons self making a decision, it exists prior to the choice. The consumption that the self chooses is tribal, not self defining.

5.2 Consumption

Trainspotting opens with blistering energy as Mark Renton speeds down the street with Spud trailing and two security officers in hot pursuit. Stolen merchandise fall from the collective pockets and jackets of Spud and Renton. All the while we hear the pulsating and energising rhythm of Iggy Pops "Lust for Life" interrupted only by what must be one of the most famous voice overs of all time. In three short paragraphs Mark Renton philosophically highlights the paradoxical complexity and simplicity that characterises modern western society. He also highlights his loathing for such a so called existence. The importance of consumption is paramount in this motion picture.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind numbing spirit crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all pissing your last into a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish fucked-up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

Mark Renton defines "life", by the presence or absence of the above. He differentiates himself from this tribe of traditional society through the consumption of heroin. One of the most enigmatic questions regarding Rentons character was the role of heroin in his life. If the thesis of this paper holds true then injecting oneself with heroin is not a purely individualistic self defining act, but an act of tribalism. But where is the tribalism in being drugged on the floor oblivious to all around you? The answer lies not in what the effect of heroin is but in understanding why it is consumed. Renton explains it as follows:

People think its all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid. At least we’re not that fucking stupid.

It is interesting that throughout Rentons explanation he refers to "we", denoting the tribes collective consciousness. He continues:

Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still no where near it. When you’re on junk you have only one worry: scoring. When you’re off it, you’re suddenly obliged to worry about all sorts of other shite. Got no money, can’t get pissed. Got money, drinking too much. Can’t get a bird no chance of a ride. Got a bird too much hassle. You have to worry about bills about food, about some football team that never fucking wins, about human relationships and all the things that don’t really matter when you’ve got a sincere and truthful junk habit.

Thus it is our understanding that taking heroin is tribal in that it is an escape from the reality of other tribes. It is also interesting to note that all of Rentons philosophies revolve around different acts of consumption whether it be consumption of objects, people, places or indeed ideas. This highlights the crucial role that consumption plays in the life of the postmodern individual.

5.3 Role

Rentons consumption reinforces a number of different roles during the film. The greatest variation in his consumption patterns occur when he oscillates between drug addiction and recovery. He is on a consumption rollercoaster as his tribal membership changes. Some of the primary roles Renton plays, often simultaneously are as follows: Drug Addict; Thief/Criminal; Son; Estate Agent.

5.3.1 Drug Addict

Renton is first and foremost a drug addict. All of his consumption revolves around his relationship with drugs, taking them or relinquishing them. While satisfying his addiction he steals from family and friends, and the society that surrounds him. Taking heroin frees Renton from the concerns of traditional society. As a drug addict Renton rejects the advice and ideologies of life of his frends and family. He spends a great deal of time in Swaneys flat. In fact Swaneys is a sanctuary for the drug addict tribe.

5.3.2 Thief/Criminal

The opening scene of the motion picture shows Renton running down a street in Edinburgh with pens, tapes, CD’s and sunglasses falling from his pockets. He stole valium and money from his mother, a personal video from Tommy, a TV from a hospital, a car stereo, a prescription pad from a doctor, money from an American tourist and the money from his so-called friends drug deal. The vast majority of Rentons criminal activity is directly attributable to his heroin addiction. However at the end of the film he begins his new life by stealing the drug money from his friends.

5.3.3 Socialiser/Friend

Renton attends dance clubs and bars with his friends. They regularly drink together whether celebrating or commiserating. Rentons most immediate friends both drug addicts and non drug addicts share a common appreciation of football. The early scenes of the motion picture show the group playing football. Socialising whether on the sports pitch or in the bar is trans-tribal, again highlighting the numerous roles the postmodern person plays and the potential for multi-tribal membership.

5.3.3 Son

Renton ate dinner at his parents house. They explained their concerns regarding his drug usage. Following the suspension of a custodial sentence by the Judge Renton drinks in the bar with his parents and friends. His parents are relieved and reminisce about Rentons childhood. After his near fatal drug injection his parents take him home and lock him in his old room in order to help him recover.

5.3.4 Estate Agent

Rentons consumption changes markedly as he assumes the role of an estate agent in London. He wears a suit and tie. He does not take heroin or other drugs. He eats pot noodles, and fast food and watches TV. He engages in correspondence with Diane and begins to worry about all the stuff that doesn’t really matter when you have a sincere and truthful drug habit. He asks Diane if she is pregnant. He is revulsed to discover that Sick Boy "stole" his TV.

Compiling all this information together we can produce a Rubix Cube of Postmodern Consumption for Renton, highlighting the variety of the roles that he plays, while maintaining a self undefined by consumption.

5.5 Tribespotting

Trainspotting is full of tribal interaction. The tribes themselves are inherently unstable and ephemeral as evidenced by the facility with which membership of tribes alters so often. The boundaries that differentiate one from another are often blurred or unclear. As we have seen Renton plays a wide variety of roles throughout the motion picture. In an effort to paint a more complete picture of the role of consumption in the motion picture Trainspotting we have identified a number of distinct tribes in the film. The previous analysis highlighted the consumption patterns which signify membership of numerous tribes. We will now discuss the nature of these tribes. This adds the final missing element of the rubix cube of postmodern consumption. The two most important tribes in the context of the motion picture are the drug addicts and the tribe of traditional society or the human tribe (a distinction made by Renton). As previously highlighted membership of these tribes occurs through role performance which in turn is a function of the consumption patterns of the individual. Regarding postmodern tribes Cova (1997) wrote:

These postmodern communities are inherently unstable, small scale, affectual, and are not fixed by any of the established parameters of modern society; instead they can be held together through shared emotions, styles of life, new moral beliefs, senses of injustice and consumption practices (1997, p.301).

The following analysis will highlight the manifestation of these tribal characteristics in the tribes of Trainspotting. In the discussion of both the drug addict tribe and the human tribe particular emphasis will be placed on how consumption is the basis of tribal membership and a key indicator of tribal transition.

5.5.1 Drug Addicts:

The primary consumption practice of the members of this tribe is intravenous injection of heroin, usually in Swaneys flat. The tribe is characterised by a nihilistic outlook on everything in life except the pleasure of the "high", following the injection of heroin. Renton explains the creed of the tribe:

People think its all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all we’re not fucking stupid. At least we’re not that fucking stupid.

Being a heroin addict dramatically affects all other consumption patterns. Every act is geared to the satisfaction of the addiction. Renton points out that "When you’re on junk you have only one worry, scoring". Leaving the drug addict tribe according to Renton places the focus of consumption on all the things that "don’t really matter". The drug is seen to have almost human qualities by Sick Boy who says "heroins got great personality". Those not taking heroin (such as members of the human tribe) have to apply their psychic powers to numerous other "problems". Renton eloquently explains it as follows:

When you’re off it you’re suddenly obliged to worry about all sorts of other shite. Got no money, can’t get pissed. Got money drinking too much. Can’t get a bird, no chance of a ride. Got a bird, too much hassle. You have to worry about bills, about food, about some football team that never fucking wins, about human relationships and all the things that don’t really matter when you’ve got a sincere and truthful junk habit

The tribe is oblivious to the danger that surrounds them. Sharing filthy needles in Swaneys flat is commonplace. It is interesting to note that Swaneys flat is almost devoid of possessions, reinforcing the tribes indifference to everything except heroin. Members of the tribe steal to support their habit. They steal anything, a TV, car stereo, prescription pads, drugs, money etc., in Rentons case even from money from his parents. The only thing that is important is heroin and the addicts will go to any length as an unsuspecting American tourist discovered to his peril. In a particularly disturbing scene we see baby Dawns bloated face. The child died from neglect because her mother and father (Allison and Sick Boy) were continuously drugged up. On discovering the baby the tribe are incapable of dealing with the situation. Renton said: "I wished I could think of something to say, something sympathetic, something human". His only response was "I’m cookin’ up". Renton uses the term "human" on a number of occasions when discussing the tribe. He sees those outside his tribe as human. The mothers response to the childs death was to take a "hit" of heroin as quickly as possible. Members of the drug addict tribe have little or no loyalty to each other. Sick boy came off heroin at the same time as Renton in order to lessen Rentons struggle. Despite the fact that Allisons baby had died, Renton made sure that he got a "hit" before she did. Renton gave Spud speed in order to make sure he would fail a job interview. Sick boy and Renton were perfectly prepared to run with the money from the drug deal and Renton eventually did. The only element that unifies this tribe is the pleasure of the "high". Morality, emotion and even friendship are superseded by heroin. This is an example of the ephemerality of postmoderntribes.

5.5.2 Human Tribe:

We have decided to call traditional society, the human tribe, due to the distinction Renton makes on numerous occasions when he discusses drugs. The human tribe is characterised primarily by the opening and closing monologues. The monologues discuss many of the elements that comprise the everyday life of most people; a career, a family, washing machines and fixed interest mortgage repayments. Members of this tribe include Rentons parents, Tommy (before his drug addiction) Lizzy and Gail, and numerous others in group scenes throughout the film (the bingo scene for example). Rentons parents live in a miserable home, watch gameshows, play bingo in social club. Lizzy and Gail (girlfriends of Tommy and Spud respectively) are only concerned with human relationships and sex. In many respects the juxtaposition of the human and drug addict tribes leaves the viewer seriously questioning which tribe leads a worse life. The energy and vitality of the drug addicts makes the passive existence of the human tribe seem unbearable. The human tribe rejects those who engage in non-conforming consumption practices. The consumption practices of the drug addicts are illegal. Members of the drug addict tribe are prosecuted with prison sentences. Rentons prison sentence is suspended on condition that he continue participating in a recovery program run the human tribe. Tommys transition to the consumption practices of the drug addicts is met with absolute rejection by the human tribe. Tommys new apartment is vandalised. The words "plaguer", and "aids junky scum" are painted on outside walls. Tommys new consumption practices, moral beliefs, style of life and emotions are no longer compatible with the those of the human tribe. In an interesting parallel Tommy changes membership from the human tribe to the drug addicts while Renton performs exactly the opposite transition. Leaving the human tribe and adopting the consumption practices of a drug addict eventually lead to Tommys destruction. Leaving the drug addicts to join the human tribe frees Renton and allows him to live as a "good citizen" (albeit with sixteen thousand pounds stolen from his friends). At the end of the film Renton decides to chose life. He walks confidently towards the camera which is complete contrast with the opening scene in which he runs frantically toward the camera. He says:

I’m going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m going to be just like you. The job, the family, the fucking big television.........

He chooses to join another tribe, that of traditional society. He will join this tribe by consuming as they do. A subset of the tribe of traditional society is the business community. This tribe wears suits and ties, operates out of offices and is purely focused on cash. Renton explains what the business tribe meant to him:

I quite enjoyed the sound of it all. Profit, loss, margins, take-overs, lending, letting, subletting, subdividing, cheating, scamming, fragmenting, breaking away. There was no such thing as society, and even if there was, I most certainly had nothing to do with it.

Once a member of the business community Renton began to worry about the things that originally separated the drug addicts from others. He was appalled to discover that his TV had been stolen and sold by Sick Boy. This is in direct to contrast with Rentons theft of a TV from a hospital while a drug addict. He saves over two thousand pounds as an Estate Agent in London. This is in contrast with his stealing money from his parents to purchase drugs.

6. CONCLUSIONS

This paper has attempted to highlight the value of pushing off from the shore of more traditional, modernist research methodologies, and chose to follow a course plotted by Hirschman and Holbrook (1993), Holbrook and Grayson (1986), Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg Halton (1981), and most recently Cooper and McLoughlin (1998). The rubix cube of postmodern consumption is another tool which can be used in understanding the role of consumption in the lives of the postmodern consumer. It is a simple tool which at once recognises the many parts the actor plays, while simultaneously allowing for the existence of a powerful self behind the masks and make-up.

The implications for marketers and researchers alike are many. It has long been recognised that the study of consumption as the economic maximisation of utility is of little value in the context of the omnipresent symbolism in modern society. This thesis has attempted to show that consumption reinforces roles which link consumers to tribes. The next step however is to arrive at an understanding of why people choose to perform particular roles in particular tribes and how tribal membership evolves over time. What is the motivation for role performance? Is it sociological, psychological, philosophical, emotional, cultural or a combination of a multitude of contributory elements. This research question by its very nature will require and would benefit greatly from a multi-disicplinary and multi-national approach. This semiological analysis of Mark Renton offered some clues such as extreme emotional and social problems leading to experimentation with drugs, the desire to improve oneself leading to membership of the business community or drug addiction being a rejection of traditional society and an escape from the mentality of that tribe.

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Authors

Conor Ryan, Guinness Ireland
Damien McLoughlin, University College Dublin, Ireland



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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